a sunflare near the walls of the fern canyon loop trail in redwood national park in california

Expert Guide to Fern Canyon Loop Trail in Redwood National Park

Fern Canyon is one of the most popular trails in Redwoods National Park. But ironically, it’s not the tall trees that bring it popularity. Instead, the lush canyon walls covered in green fern and moss make it a must-see destination for tourists along the Northern California coast.

The trail is short but sweet. Only a mile or so long, the Fern Canyon Loop Trail shows you nature’s brilliance and gives you plenty of sensory experiences, such as walking in water, balancing on logs, and touching the wet and soft moss.

Getting to walk through this mesmerizing area is a real treat, and one so many should aim to do in their life.

Below, you’ll find my complete guide to the Fern Canyon area.

Your Hiking Guide for Fern Canyon Loop Trail in the Redwoods

Quick Hike Stats

  • Length: 1.5 miles
  • Difficulty: Easy
  • Elevation Gain: 100
  • Time on the trail: 45 minutes to 2 hours
a log with lots of green ferns and plants in california
Photo Credit: Alec Sills-Trausch

Trail Report for Fern Canyon 

This one won’t be long, considering it’s not a long trail! 

We parked before the trailhead because I didn’t want to push my Prius’ limits. This was fine because it allowed us to get a little more hiking under our belts after sitting in a car most of the day, driving up from Yosemite and San Francisco. 

Before entering Fern Canyon, the first portion of the trail is a flat trail with nothing to really note. You will come to an informative sign about the area before getting to the mouth of the canyon. 

Related: My favorite hikes in Redwood National Park

After a quarter of a mile, you reach the entrance of Fern Canyon. For the next half mile, expect to get your feet wet. 

My girlfriend and I had our waterproof boots on, but we tried our best to keep from fully submerging them. This required jumping between logs and between dry spots in the Home Creek area. 

While the mosses and ferns were not as lush, it was still a charming hiking experience. To save our feet (and speed up the return trip), we hiked back on the Fern Canyon Loop Trail, which is above Fern Canyon. 

the fern canyon walls adorned with green shrubbery
Photo Credit: Alec Sills-Trausch

Planning your trip on the Fern Canyon Loop Trail in California

Make sure to get your Fern Canyon Hiking Permit

Established in 2022, Redwood National Park requires people visiting between May 15 and October 15 to obtain a free Fern Canyon/Gold Bluffs Beach permit. You can apply for these online. 

Get the Permit Here

Where is Fern Canyon Located

The Fern Canyon Loop Trail is in Prairie Redwoods State Park and Redwoods National Park. Surprisingly to many, the trail is next to Gold Bluffs Beach, with the ocean a mere hundred yards away. 

Finding the Trailhead

Getting to the trailhead is a chore. As I mentioned, it’s down on the beach, which requires a nice drive from Highway 101. 

After you turn off the Highway, you’ll have a seven-mile drive, which should take about 25 minutes. Additionally, this is a winding road, so large recreational vehicles or those towing a trailer are discouraged from driving. 

We had my Prius when we went, and most of the road was passable. Near the end, we did park before the main parking lot due to water on the road. I think we could have made it, but we couldn’t tell how deep it was and figured it was wiser to play it safe. 

Overall, there are two stream crossings where low-clearance cars can get stuck, so just take it carefully and know when to stop and walk. 

a small waterfall on the fern canyon loop trail. lots of green in the area
Photo Credit: Alec Sills-Trausch

Tips for hiking to Fern Canyon

The biggest tip is to either wear waterproof boots or to simply embrace the wetness and wear water shoes. If you do, you won’t have to bother with rock hopping. You’ll simply walk and enjoy yourself. 

Fern Canyon looks way better when it’s wetter during the summer, and the canyon can become the lush green it’s known for. I say summer because we came here in early April, and it didn’t have the green I’d seen in photos. It makes me think it was still a little too cold on the coast, and it hadn’t had time to fill in. 

If you’re not in a rush and want to spend more time in the water and Fern Canyon, ditch the loop mentality and return the way you walked in! 

A backdoor way into Fern Canyon

There is a second way into Fern Canyon, but it requires a much longer hike (but no permit). Hikers looking for more time amongst the gorgeous nature can opt for an 11-mile hike, which starts at the Prarie Creek Visitor Center.

You’ll take the James Irvine Trail, and it’ll drop you off into Fern Canyon. This trail has 1,400 feet of gain, with inclines near the beginning. 

How Hard is the Fern Canyon Loop Trail

The Fern Canyon Trail is one of the easiest hiking trails you’ll come across. It’s nearly completely flat as you’re walking in a small creek. That being said, if you try to keep your feet wet the entire walk, you’ll make it much more tiresome than it needs to be. 

This is because you’ll hop onto logs and look for dry places to cross instead of just walking. 

a female hiker balances on the log to keep from getting wet on the fern canyon loop trail
Photo Credit: Alec Sills-Trausch
canyon walls covered in green plants
Photo Credit: Alec Sills-Trausch

What is the hiking time into Fern Canyon?

The hike into Fern Canyon shouldn’t take you more than 75 minutes. It’s quite easy and short. I wouldn’t rush the hike, though. You drove a while to get here, so you might as well savor the experience. 

Are there any bathrooms?

Yes, there are bathrooms at the parking lot near the Fern Canyon Loop Trail. 

Are dogs allowed on the Fern Canyon Trail?

No, dogs are not allowed on this trail. This is a National Park area, and pets cannot access it. 

When is the best time of year for Fern Canyon?

You can hike this trail year-round, but summer is the best time of the year. The warmer weather allows the plants to grow more and turn the lush green it’s known for. I was here in early April, and it was gorgeous, but the Fern Canyon walls were not what I hoped for. 

sun rays coming through the ferns in redwood national park's fern canyon
Photo Credit: Alec Sills-Trausch

Will I have cell service? 

Cell service will be limited at best for the Fern Canyon Loop Trail. There’s not much in this area for them to have good cell towers, so expect little to no service while on this part of the California coast. 

What Jurrasic Park movie was filmed at Fern Canyon?

Jurassic Park: Lost World had a scene filmed here. It involved raptors and, I believe, someone getting eaten. (Go figure.)

What other hikes are nearby?

  • Trillium Falls
  • Cathedral Trees Trail
  • Prarie Creek Nature Trail
  • Elk Prarie Trail
  • Miners Ridge
a hiker looks out at the view in fern canyon
Photo Credit: Alec Sills-Trausch
Photo Credit: Alec Sills-Trausch

Where to stay near Fern Canyon

If you want to camp and find available reservations, you can camp at Gold Bluffs Beach Campground, just a mile from the Fern Canyon trailhead. These are highly sought after, though. I tried to grab some, but even in early April, I couldn’t find any availability. 

We camped a couple of nights at Emerald Forest Cabins and RV for our trip to Redwood National Park. It was magical getting to camp amongst the massive redwood trees. 

This location allowed us to hit the southern parts of the National Park and coastal areas before spending a couple of nights in a hotel in Crescent City. 

Unfortunately, there’s not much immediately around Fern Canyon, so expect to drive a bit to reach it. 

Photo Credit: Alec Sills-Trausch/Our campsite area

Lodging in Orick, California (Closest to Fern Canyon)

Explore lodging in the Orick area

Hotels in Trinidad, California (South of Redwood National Park)

Explore hotels in the Trinidad area

Hotels in Crescent City, California (Closest to Jedidiah Smith State Park and the northern border of CA)

Explore lodging in Crescent City

Leave No Trace

As you’re hiking, please remember to treat the area with respect and leave it in better condition than you found it. This means to pack out what you pack in. Luckily, this is not a trail where you should have to use the restroom on. 

Water Sources

There is endless water from Home Creek as you walk up the trail. But there’s no need to filter water, considering it’s such a short walk from your car (where you theoretically have water available). 

a bridge in the foreground with tall redwood trees and a hiker in the distance
Photo Credit: Alec Sills-Trausch

FAQ: Fern Canyon

How much does it cost to get into Fern Canyon?

If you have your America the Beautiful Pass, it will be accepted here. If you do not, it will cost $12 to enter. Do note that if you have to pay, it must be cash. Credit Cards are not accepted for this trail.

What gear to pack for your hike

You’ll only need your standard hiking attire for this short hike. Honestly, you probably only need a water bottle and your camera. You possibly might want hiking poles if that would make you feel more comfortable on the trail.

Waterproof Boots Suggestions:

Water Shoes/Sandals Suggestions:

water droplets on big leaves in fern canyon california
Photo Credit: Alec Sills-Trausch

Final Thoughts on the Fern Canyon Hike

While this was a really nice hike, I was disappointed in the lack of green lushness when we went. While I know the full power of people editing photos to look better than it is, the fact that it just wasn’t as filled in was a bummer.

It would have been more promising and beautiful if we had gone later in the year. 

With that being said, we still have a great time walking through the beautiful Fern Canyon. For how short the hike is, I recommend that those who take the time to visit Redwoods National Park make it a priority to visit this lush location.

Author: Alec Sills-Trausch

Title: Founder of Explore with Alec

Expertise: Hiking, Backpacking, Photography, and Road Trips

Bio:

Alec Sills-Trausch is a hiker, backpacker, landscape photographer, and syndicated travel writer. He enjoys showing off the beauty of the world through his photos, videos, and written work on ExploreWithAlec.com. Alec is also a 2x cancer survivor and bone marrow transplant recipient, showing the world that there is a future from this terrible disease.

He lives in Washington, where he gets to enjoy the stunning PNW mountains in addition to all the other places he attempts to visit each year! You can see more work on IG at @AlecOutside