Updated: Sep 10, 2022
Tuesday, 26 July 2022, Crescent City CA
Fern Canyon, so I'd heard, is THE place to see in Redwood National
and State Parks. The NPS has instituted a reservation system (just as in parks like Yosemite, Rocky Mtn, and Zion) to handle the throngs of visitors. If you can nab a campsite reservation at Gold Bluffs Beach, you don't need a Fern Canyon reservation, but by starting too late, I missed that boat. Luckily, I snagged a half-day parking pass for today.
Half the adventure is getting there. The canyon and beach lie an hour south of Crescent City, where we had reservations for two nights. Since California has replaced 'summer season' with 'road construction season', we had multiple stops along US101 where road crews had squeezed it down to one lane. Once we reached Davison Road, we then had to negotiate six miles of an unpaved road, including three (shallow) stream crossings.
I saw why they needed permits when we reached the trailhead: it looked like only forty cars could fit in the lot. However, half the lot was empty when we arrived at 9:00. Ron and I grabbed our gear and set off down the trail - only 0.1 mile to Fern Canyon!
I had eagerly anticipated this adventure, even while not truly knowing what to expect. Descriptions focused on two things: lots of ferns, and your feet will get wet (so I made sure to wear crocs). As we entered the canyon with its 50' high walls covered with five varieties of ferns, we noticed the shallow stream winding across the narrow ravine.
'Bridges' - simple boards placed across the water - gave us access to the terrain.
The boards didn't last long. Whoever had installed them quickly gave up, allowing hikers to pick their own path up the creek.
You may take a step or two in water then land for a few steps, followed by scampering over a downed tree or over a boulder. At times I followed Ron, at other times chose my own path upstream.
The water was cool-to-cold, and often our feet submerged as we ascended a small cascade, but they would warm again in the air. All this time, we marveled at the lush ferns covering the walls of the cavern. (Trees may occasionally take a stab at growing in the canyon, but periodic floods wash them away.)
One feature that stole my breath was the 'drip-fall'. In wetter times, an actual waterfall tumbles down the green canyon wall.
At this drier time, all that came down was a steady stream of waterdrops - a mystical sight in this palace of nature.
After 20-30 minutes, we reached the end of the accessible canyon - impenetrable green blocked further progress. Instead, we followed the signs up steps and back onto a defined trail through the redwoods. We could turn at the top and return on that trail to the car - but that would be an anticlimactic end to this adventure. Ron suggested instead that we return down the steps and back out Fern Canyon to revel in it a bit longer. I heartily agreed.
All told, we spent about an hour in the canyon, soaking in the greenery and the beauty. When we reached the drip-fall, I pulled out my cell phone, set it video, and tried to capture the magic:
By the time we finished the excursion,
our feet tingled with the cold. Back at the car, we ditched the walking sticks and walked onto Gold Bluffs Beach. A wide swath of beach greeted us - looks like low tide - with a small belt of dunes achored by grass and plants.
A few large pieces of driftwood provided contrast. With temps lingering in the 70s, I figured to give my frigid feet a break and shucked my shoes to walk barefoot across the sand.
The sand hadn't gotten the 'cool' message. Baked by the sun, it radiated heat.
Ron had begun slowly moving down the beach, so I followed. Every twenty steps or less I would stop, burrow my toes beneath the hot surface to the cooler sand beneath and let them recover for 15 seconds. My feet needed a thermostat!
We didn't wander far. Further down the coast, we could see the coastline still shrouded in fog. To the west, we could see boats floating through the seas.
The noise of the surf added to the calm of the moment.
For the afternoon, we'd targeted Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park. The ranger at the Visitor Center recommended the Karl Knapp/Big Tree/Cathedral Trees loop,
a 3-mile jaunt to top off our day. We quickly found ourselves immersed in the tall trees once again as we followed a brook north.
When I saw a woman holding a camera as she considered a shot of a downed redwood's root, I hung back to not photo bomb her shot. She quickly said, "Please, go ahead. I need a person in there to provide scale."
"I can do that. Should I do a handstand, or make a funny face?" No, she didn't think that was necessary.
We continued to marvel at the forest giants,
and I stopped for many pictures on both trails.
At the start of the Cathedral Trees trail, I came upon a young man getting ready to snap a picture of his partner posing with outstretched arms by another downed redwood root. "Would you like me to take a picture of the two of you?" I offered.
He replied, "No, I think we're fine."
She replied, "Yes, we would!"
Making a spectacular recovery, he quickly added, "Actually, yes, we would LOVE to have you take our picture."
By the time we got back to the car, we called it a day. On the drive back - past the same flaggers guiding cars through the one-lane spots - we spent joking about the signs touting the tourist traps. "It's the 'Trees of Mystery', Glen. I think the mystery is why anyone would stop there!" "Ron! We're coming up on Confusion Hill! Funny, I feel like I spend most of my time there."
Getting back at a reasonable time gave us the opportunity to get to Seaquake Restaurant at 5:30. What? There's still a 45-minute wait for a table? So much for hitting the highly-recommended restaurant. Instead, Ron suggested a restaurant he'd enjoyed his last trip here, the Good Harvest Café. I soon found out why he wanted to return - he ordered chocolate cake for dessert, and they brought him a piece so large, he had the remainder for dessert the next two nights.