This California Canyon Is Hidden Among the Tallest Trees on Earth — With 50-foot Walls Covered in Ferns

·2 min read
Fern Canyon in Redwood National Park in Northern California
Fern Canyon in Redwood National Park in Northern California

Getty Images

Thanks to Photoshop, good cameras, and clever photographers, it's easy to make a destination appear more stunning than it really is. That's why it's so special when you stumble upon a site that somehow manages to be more beautiful than it looks in photos. Enter, Fern Canyon, a narrow two-story canyon with walls that are covered — from top to bottom — with cascading ferns in all shades of green. It's located about 300 miles north of San Francisco in Humboldt County, California's Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park.

A hiking trail passes directly through the canyon, surrounding visitors with lush green flora that seems to both crawl up and spill down the steep canyon walls. To add to the already idyllic nature of the site, a cool stream runs along the canyon floor and a herd of rare Roosevelt elk is often spotted in the area.

Nature detail in Prairie Creek State Park, California.
Nature detail in Prairie Creek State Park, California.

Getty Images

And while an afternoon spent in Fern Canyon will make you feel as though you've stepped into one of the Earth's most pristine and prized swaths of land, the site is more famous than most people know. The canyon was used as a real-life backdrop in "The Lost World: Jurassic Park," the 1997 sequel to Jurassic Park.

Beautiful Fern Canyon at the California west coast, Redwood National Park
Beautiful Fern Canyon at the California west coast, Redwood National Park

Getty Images

This magical place sits in the Gold Bluffs Beach Day-Use Area of Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park, which is actually part of the Redwood National and State Parks system. (The Redwoods are, as most Californians know, some of the tallest trees on the planet.) The canyon is accessible via a 1-mile "lolly-pop" loop that takes between 45 and 90 minutes and has an elevation gain of 150 feet. Access to the trailhead and parking requires a permit from May 1 to September 30. You can apply for the permit online, then pay the day-use fee of $12 (cash or check only) upon entry.

Those looking for an added challenge, can make their way to the canyon from the Prairie Creek Visitor Center. The 12-mile, round-trip journey follows the James Irvine Trail, a route that typically has fewer people and does not require a permit.

Horizontal image shows a detail view of the lush green fern branches.
Horizontal image shows a detail view of the lush green fern branches.

Getty Images

No matter how you make your way to Fern Canyon, make sure to wear waterproof footwear with good traction and bring along a pair of dry shoes to wear after the hike. (There are footbridges in the high season, but you might still have to cross Home Creek at some point.) And because a herd of wild Roosevelt elk is often found in the area, you might want to brush up on elk safety tips and always keep your distance.

Fern Canyon is just over six hours from both San Francisco and Sacramento and less than four hours west of Redding. The site is just over 45 minutes from the town of Eureka.