Fern Canyon Day Hike

Made famous by its lush foliage and a cameo in the Jurassic Park franchise, Fern Canyon registers high on many hikers’ bucket lists. And, with some of the most beautiful forest country in the lower 48 states, it’s easy to see why. 

Inviting green corridors—hallowed by millennia of erosion—are covered by sumptuous tapestries of sword ferns, five-fingered ferns, lady ferns, and more, with some species dating back over 300 million years. Babbling waters invite you into the canyon’s depths, coaxing you to see what’s around the next corner, so bring your sandals and be ready to get your feet wet!

Nestled in the Northwest corner of California, the Fern Canyon Trail is a relatively easy 1-mile out-and-back / lollipop day hike in Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park. As the name implies, Prairie Creek is home to a plethora of old-growth redwoods in addition to the popular Fern Canyon Trail. 

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Due to its prominence on social media, Fern Canyon has in recent years moved to a permit-only, timed-entry system for visitors who wish to drive to the Fern Canyon Trailhead at Gold Bluffs Beach. Hikers without a permit are still allowed to make the 11-mile round trip to Gold Bluffs Beach from the Prairie Creek Visitor Center. 

Rugged, isolated and practically dripping with primeval ambiance, Fern Canyon offers one of the highest payoffs in proportion to physical effort of any hike, anywhere. 

Fern Canyon Trail Overview 

  • Distance: .7 miles (roundtrip), 200-foot elevation gain 
  • Hike Time: 1 hour
  • Difficulty: Easy to moderate
  • Best Time to Hike: April through October (rain season can bring flash flooding and unfavorable conditions)
  • Trail Map

What to know about hiking the Fern Canyon Trail

The ultra-scenic Fern Canyon Trail is an incredible main attraction, but there are additional options to extend your outing and soak in some of the state park’s towering old-growth redwoods. One option is the 4-5 mile moderately challenging James Irvine/Clintonia/Miner’s Ridge loop, which offers stunning forest scenery and a route that can start or end in Fern Canyon. 

Some of the best views of Fern Canyon are to be found in its interior. With Home Creek running year-round, the potential for water crossings is almost always a certainty. As such, water shoes or sandals (Tevas/Keens/Chacos) are highly recommended. The creek also produces seasonal, flood-caused logjams that may pose an obstacle to forward progress up-canyon. Be sure to use caution and take your time when negotiating these potential hazards.     

Fern Canyon Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park Humboldt County California

To address overcrowding and enhance the visitor experience, a permit system to access Gold Bluffs Beach and Fern Canyon was launched in the Spring of 2022. Currently, you’ll need to make a reservation to access Gold Bluffs Beach from May 15th to September 15th—these reservations are available exclusively online.  

In addition to the Gold Bluffs Day-Use Area, camping is also available by reservation at the Gold Bluffs Beach Campground—however, those with camping reservations do not need a permit to enjoy the day-use area, including Fern Canyon. Pets are allowed to be leashed on Gold Bluffs Beach, however, no pets are allowed within Fern Canyon

wall of ferns on the fern canyon trail


What is the best time to visit Fern Canyon?

Visitors are likely to find more solitude in the morning hours, so if having Fern Canyon all to yourself is a priority, consider camping at Gold Bluffs Beach Campground or getting an early start. As mentioned above, rainy weather can make the canyon’s interior impassable, so opt for a clear, sunny day when the impressive biodiversity will sparkle with the billions of drops of iridescent forest dew. If hiking Fern Canyon in the rain is your only option, use caution and proceed slowly to account for unseen factors. Do not proceed in a torrential downpour, as Home Creek can flash-flood with enough upstream precipitation. 

Can beginners hike Fern Canyon?

With only 200 feet of elevation gain and a 1-mile round-trip length, the Fern Canyon Trail is very beginner-friendly. However, with numerous stream crossings, rugged terrain and a sense of adventure built into the route, children should be supervised at all times and adults should have a low-to-moderate level of fitness to undertake the short trek.  

How much does it cost to get into Fern Canyon?

Visitors who are intent on driving to Gold Bluffs Beach will need to purchase a $12 day-use reservation. From May 15th to September 15th, visitors are also required to book a permit, which includes the day-use reservation as part of its $12 cost.  

Those with camping reservations are not required to attain a permit. Camping at Gold Bluffs Campground is $35/night. 

See more bucket list day hikes, like the family-friendly Franklin Falls Trail.

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Sam Morse

Sam is an outdoor-focused wordsmith and a survivor of Peter Pan Syndrome. Creatively, he draws on his lived experience to distill stories that inspire and delight. He loves deep snow, long hikes, spicy food, diving in tropical waters, and all manner of riverplay/exploration. He’s also the co-author of The Ski Town Fairytale, a children’s book (for adults). Currently he lives and plays in Salt Lake City with his golden retriever pup, Blue.