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Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park

Fern Canyon, James Irvine, Clintonia, Miners Ridge Trails
Loop through Fern Canyon 1 mile round trip; via Gold Bluffs,
Gold Bluffs Beach is 6.5 miles round trip with 500-foot elevation gain

Dim and quiet, wrapped in mist and silence, the redwoods roof a moist and mysterious world. Park trails meander over lush ground and the walker is treated to the cool feeling and fragrance of wood and water.

A couple beautiful “fern canyons” are found along the North Coast, but the Fern Canyon in Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park is undoubtedly the most awe-inspiring. Five-finger, deer, lady, sword, and chain ferns smother the precipitous walls of the canyon. Bright yellow monkeyflowers abound, as well as fairy lanterns, those creamy white, or greenish, bell-shaped flowers that hang in clusters. Ferns are descendants of an ancient group of plants which were much more numerous 200 million years ago. Ferns have roots and stems similar to flowering plants, but are considered to be a primitive form of plant life because they reproduce by spores, not seeds.

Gold Bluffs was named in 1850 when prospectors found some gold flakes in the beach sand. The discovery caused a minor gold rush. A tent city sprang up on the beach but little gold was extracted.

Gold Bluffs Beach is a beauty— eleven miles of wild, driftwood-littered shore, backed by extensive dunes. Sand verbena, bush lupine, and wild strawberry splash color on the sand.

This walk explores some of the highlights of Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park—Fern Canyon, magnificent redwood groves, and Gold Bluffs Beach.

Directions to trailhead: From Highway 101, three miles north of Orick, turn west on Davison Road. The dirt, washboard road (suitable only for vehicles under 24 feet in length) descends logged slopes and through second-growth redwoods to the beach. The road heads north along Gold Bluffs Beach. One and a half miles past the campground, the road dead-ends at the Fern Canyon Trailhead.

The hike: The path leads along the pebbled floor of Fern Canyon. In the wettest places, the route follows wooden planks across Home Creek. With sword and five-finger ferns pointing the way, you pass through marshy areas covered with wetlands grass and dotted with a bit of skunk cabbage. Lurking about are Pacific giant salamanders.

A half mile from the trailhead, the path climbs out of the canyon to intersect James Irvine Trail, named for a man who contributed much to the formation of redwood parks.

The James Irvine Trail crosses to the south side of the canyon and proceeds southeast with Home Creek. The trail reaches the upper neck of Fern Canyon and junctions with Clintonia Trail. (James Irvine Trail continues ascending through dense redwood forest to a trailhead near the park visitors center.) Clintonia Trail leads a mile through virgin redwood groves to a junction with Miners Ridge Trail. Bear right.

Part of Miners Ridge Trail is an old logging road, once used by mule-drawn wagons. The trail was also a pack train route for the Gold Bluffs miners. You’ll descend with Squashan Creek to the ocean.

It’s a 1.5 mile beach walk along Gold Bluffs Beach back to the trailhead.

Lucky walkers might catch a glimpse of the herd of Roosevelt elk that roam the park. These graceful animals look like a cross between a South American llama and a deer, and convince walkers that they have, indeed, entered an enchanted land.

© 2012 The Trailmaster, Inc.
From John McKinney’s
Day Hiker’s Guide to California’s State Parks
Trail descriptions and maps have been reproduced with the permission of the author.  To learn more about The Trailmaster and other related publications please visit their website at