Fern Canyon Loop, Prairie Creek Visitor Center, Redwood National and State Parks, California

Fern Canyon Loop - 1.2 miles

Prairie Creek Visitor Center

Leaning red alder and young Sitka top the walls of Fern Canyon

Leaning red alder and young Sitka top the walls of Fern Canyon

Round-Trip Length: 1.2 miles (distance may vary slightly by route in canyon)
Start-End Elevation: 15' - 187' (max elevation on loop @ James Irvine split)
Elevation Change: +172' net elevation gain (+187' total roundtrip elevation gain)
Skill Level: Easy
Dogs Allowed: No
Bikes Allowed: No
Horses Allowed: No
Related Trails:

Fern Canyon Loop - 1.2 Miles Round-Trip

The Fern Canyon Loop passes through a unique, steep-walled microhabitat near the mouth of Home Creek and Gold Bluffs Beach in Redwood National Park. These narrow 50' walls are covered in 7 fern species including Five Finger, Deer, Lady, Sword and Chain. Some ferns here are ancient species whose ancestry dates back 325M years.

Trail Map | Photo Gallery

Seeps and fog sustain moisture in this shady slot, providing essential habitat for tree frogs, dippers and salamanders. Bryophytes (non-vascular plants such as mosses) provide readily decomposable organic material and contribute to a healthy nutrient cycle.

A .3-mile path leads from Davison Road at the north end of Gold Bluffs Beach to the creek, where you'll turn up Fern Canyon and hike .3 miles through flowing water to stairs on the north side leading out and up to the James Irvine Trail (.6 miles : 187').

James Irvine returns you to the creek (.9 miles), which you'll cross to regain the trail and return to Davison Road to complete the loop (1.2 miles). 

Minor scrambling is required in Fern Canyon and obstacles are often slippery. Periodic floods carry debris that may obstruct travel or raise water to unsafe levels.

Davison Road is susceptible to floods and slides, and may be impassable at times. Call ahead for road and trail conditions before making the tedious drive to the trailhead.

A day-use fee is required to access Fern Canyon ($8).

Fern Canyon can also be reached from Prairie Creek Visitor Center via the James Irvine Trail, which adds 10.1 miles roundtrip (no day-use fee required). This considerably longer option passes through some of Redwood National Park's largest redwood groves, and is highly recommended for those with time.

Mining on Gold Bluffs Beach

Millions of years ago a retreating sea exposed mineral-rich cliffs along Gold Bluffs Beach. Water draining to the ocean carved deep canyons through the bluffs and carried sediments with traces of gold and platinum in to the sea. These sediments were continuously returned ashore, sifted and sorted by waves and currents.

Gold was discovered in thin layers of black sand along a 10-mile stretch of coast north of Orick in the mid 1800s. Mining operations quickly sprung, but this particularly fine grained gold was technically difficult and uneconomical to extract. Mines closed at the end of the Civil War, then resumed intermittently until ceasing in 1920.

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Interactive GPS Topo Map

Key GPS Coordinates - DATUM WGS84

  • N41 24.045 W124 03.929 — 0.0 miles : Fern Canyon Trailhead
  • N41 24.229 W124 03.822 — .3 miles : Enter Fern Canyon / cross creek
  • N41 24.100 W124 03.584 — .6 miles : Exit canyon via stairs
  • N41 24.162 W124 03.579 — .62 miles : James Irvine Trail split

Worth Noting

  • There is no designated trail through Fern Canyon. Anticipate getting wet. The canyon may be closed during peak rains and runoff. Call ahead for conditions.

Camping and Backpacking Information


There are 4 developed campgrounds in Redwood National and State Parks:

There's a $35 per-night fee to camp in developed campgrounds. Cabins at Elk Prairie and Jedediah Smith are $80 (winter) and $100 (summer) per night.

Reservations are strongly recommended from May - September in all campgrounds. Click links above to learn more about each campground and check availability through ReserveAmerica.com (1.800.444.7275).


  • Permits are required for all overnight stays in the backcountry. Permits are free and issued in-person up to 24 hours in advance at the Hiouchi and Kuchel Visitor Centers.
  • Fires are permitted in the backcountry with potential seasonal and location-specific restrictions. 
  • Proper food storage is required (in provided lockers, bear canisters or by hanging). 
  • Overnight stays are limited to 5 consecutive days.

Rules and Regulations

  • Dogs are not permitted on hiking and riding trails in Redwood National Park, including Fern Canyon.
  • A Day-Use Fee is required to access Gold Bluffs Beach and the Fern Canyon Trailhead ($8).
  • There is no fee to enter Redwood National Park or access trails at the Prairie Creek Visitor Center. 

Directions to Trailhead

Fern Canyon Trailhead is located at the end of Davison Road, 7.6 miles from Highway 101 in Prairie Creek State Park.

From HWY 101, turn into the Elk Prairie Day Use Area and drive .4 miles to the start of the dirt road. Continue 7.2 miles to the trailhead. A pay station is located 3.2 miles from the start of the dirt road. Use self-service pay envelopes if no attendant is on duty. 

Davison Road is a maintained graded dirt road, but rough with many potholes and susceptible to slides and floods. Call ahead for conditions. High clearance is strongly recommended.

Prairie Creek State Park is located on Newton B Drury Scenic Parkway off Highway 101, approximately 50 miles north of Eureka, 5 miles north of Orick and 25 miles south of Crescent City.

The Prairie Creek Visitor Center is located on the southern end of the Parkway, 1.3 miles from Exit 753 on Highway 101. Follow signs from the exit to the visitor center and parking lot.

Contact Information

Redwood National and State Parks
1111 Second Steet
Crescent City, CA 95531

Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park
127011 Newton B Drury Parkway
Orick, CA 95555

Thomas H. Kuchel Visitor Center (Orick, CA)

Jedediah Smith Visitor Center (Hiouchi, CA)

Hiouchi Visitor Center (Hiouchi, CA)

Crescent City Information Center

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