There are already too many lists of things you should see, but I’ll make another one: sites so beautiful they exceed even the most hyped expectations.
First on my list is Burney Falls in Shasta County, a canyon-sized waterfall that’s getting more and more magical as California gets drier and drier.
But a very close second is Fern Canyon in Humboldt County, a place I’ve wanted to see for years after seeing photos of its towering fern-covered walls. And despite all this time of waiting and dreaming, it was even more impressive than I had hoped.
However, you have to work for this fear. It took me so long to hike to Fern Canyon because it’s so remote: Located in Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park in northern Humboldt County, the canyon is more than four hour drive from Ukiah. And with few accommodation options nearby that don’t involve camping, I couldn’t make the trip until a friend offered to drive me in an RV.
Once you drive into Orick there are two main ways to reach the canyon. The first is to continue for several miles on a narrow, windy gravel road to a mid-size parking lot, then hike a short distance to the opening of the canyon.
The second involves tons of extra walking (by tons, I mean hours and hours and miles and miles) because it requires you to park at Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park and then walk several miles up to the canyon loop trail. Round trip, the hike is at least ten kilometers long.
When my friend and I went to Fern Canyon last month, our only option was the marathon hike because this year the park instituted a reservation system for parking, prohibiting people from passing the gazebo on Davidson Road between May 1 and September 1. £30 if they hadn’t gone online and booked an hour in advance.
Another friend said he had reserved an hour for parking earlier this year because he had two young children, and “there was no way they would hike 14 miles.”
But if you can walk all those miles (my friend’s app said we were 14 miles by the time we hiked to the canyon and back) I highly recommend it because the James Irvine trail you use to reach Fern Canyon is another wonder worthy of a visit.
I have never hiked in such a vast forest and cannot describe the feeling of walking for miles and miles and seeing nothing but green fern soil and a sky full of redwoods . It was as immersive and overwhelming as walking under skyscrapers in San Francisco, all you hear is water flowing in the distance and all you can see are towering trees for 10 miles.
Once you reach Fern Canyon the water will flow under your feet so be prepared. Don’t be like the man I saw wearing slacks and moccasins, groaning as he tried in vain to keep them dry. The Fern Canyon Trail is advertised as a “one mile loop”, but it’s not a trail or a loop, really. It’s mostly a meander through the canyon, climbing over logs and bridges while many others do the same.
And how does it feel to see a canyon full of ferns up to 50 feet tall? I think my friend described it perfectly with a simple “Whoa”.
To learn more about our trip to Orick, which was a wonderful trip back in the days of payphones, go to https://bit.ly/3CZVICp.
If you are going to
Now that you no longer need a permit to park near the canyon, there may be even more people joining you these days. When asked recently how crowded the parking lot is, a park ranger said the best course of action would be to “come early” because while the kids are back at school, ” it’s the season when retirees travel, so the parking lot could suddenly fill up on a Wednesday, you never know.