Distance: 12.1 miles (19.5 km)
Cumulative Elevation Gain/Loss: 2685 feet (818 m)
Date Visited: July 18, 2017
James Irvine & Miner’s Ridge Trail Map (KTNP)
We woke up in our campsite at Gold Bluffs Beach in Redwood National & State Parks refreshed and ready to go. Our plan was to hike to the picturesque Fern Canyon, one of the most popular spots in the park. Ferns line its walls and a stream runs through it. Part of Jurassic Park 2 was filmed there due to its primeval appearance.
The trail to Fern Canyon is a 12.1 mile loop linking the James Irvine and Miner’s Ridge trails. We had read that it’s one of the best trails in the park due to its range of environments. From the redwood forest…to coastal sitka spruce forests…to the beach…to the fern canyon. Woody Guthrie would be proud.
If all you want to do is visit Fern Canyon, you can park in a (large but crowded) lot past Gold Bluffs Beach Campground. But we prefer the diversity offered by hiking in. The loop trail starts out at Prairie Creek Visitor Center on James Irvine Trail before arriving at Fern Canyon. After exploring the canyon, we hiked along the coast past Gold Bluffs Beach Campground, then headed back to the visitor center along Miner’s Ridge Trail.
Prairie Creek Trail
We should have left earlier for this hike. The lot at Prairie Creek Visitor Center was crowded, and only 30-minute parking was available. We settled for parking along the shoulder of a nearby road. From the visitor center, we followed signs for Prairie Creek Trail, which continued a short distance before intersecting with James Irvine Trail.
The start of Prairie Creek Trail features wooden bridges over Boyes and Prairie Creeks. Along the way were the first big redwood trees we had seen. Looking up at them was almost spiritual. Although we saw many redwood trees during our trip, I’ll always remember the first time we saw them, and the sense of wonder I felt.
Redwoods (Sequoia sempervirens) are the tallest trees on Earth. They can live for thousands of years and grow up to 380 feet tall. In 1850, there were two million acres of redwood trees along the California coast. For this reason, they are sometimes referred to as coastal redwoods. Today, there are just 110,000 acres of old-growth redwoods (trees that have not been cut down or significantly disturbed). This represents about 7% of the current total 1.6 million acres of coastal redwoods.
James Irvine Trail
Initially, we shared the trail with many other hikers, since it leaves from the visitor center. About 0.2 miles into the hike, we turned right onto James Irvine Trail. The trail is rolling without any huge sustained elevation gains. We left the majority of the crowds behind, but still ran into people occasionally on this part of the trail.
James Irvine, the trail’s namesake, lived from 1867 to 1947. He was a member of the Save the Redwoods League. His financial support allowed the league to purchase and protect more of the redwood forest.
The trail has ferns, redwoods, and other greenery everywhere. Being there elicited a mystical feeling and made me feel small, like a little kid. We kept stopping to admire the unique trees and say, “Wow, cool!”
The ground seemed to be covered with purple flowers. When we stopped to take a closer look, we discovered that they weren’t flowers, but purple leaves. It was the underside of Redwood Sorrel, which look similar to clovers. The top of the leaves are green and the bottoms are purple.
I enjoy looking for wildlife, but it can be tricky to get good photos. Some creatures make it a bit easier by moving slower. On James Irvine Trail, we found our first banana slug (Ariolimax columbianus). Later on, we found them all over the place, but it was always exciting to spot them. I know it’s a slug and all, but compared to the slugs at home it’s huge and bright yellow! So it’s special. The slug is widespread in the pacific northwest and can grow up to 7 inches long.
We passed the intersection with Miner’s Ridge Trail, which would be our return route. It would be another 4.4 miles until we reached Fern Canyon. Along the way, we also passed Clintonia Trail, which can be used to create a shorter loop (though you’d skip Fern Canyon and Gold Bluffs Beach). As we got closer to the coast, we saw fewer redwoods and more sitka spruce trees. Redwoods don’t like the ocean’s salt spray and wind, so they don’t grow near the coast.
As we approached the intersection with Fern Canyon Trail, a sign stated that the trail entrance was closed. I was pretty bummed, thinking we wouldn’t be able to see Fern Canyon. Kristin kept my spirits up as we continued hiking toward the coast.
Upon reaching the other side of Fern Canyon, we were relieved to find that it was accessible there. A steady stream of people headed into the canyon from the nearby parking lot. Home Creek flows through the canyon, with its pebble-covered sandy beaches on either side. The park service had placed seasonal wood planks over the creek so visitors wouldn’t have to trudge through water. Layers of moss and ferns lined the canyon walls, as rivulets of water cascaded down.
Deeper into the canyon we went, over fallen logs, across the creek. It was spectacular, undoubtedly the most memorable part of our hike. The trail only goes back so far before we reached downed trees, logs, and debris blocking the route further into the canyon. We assumed this was why we saw the closure sign earlier. We retraced our steps out of the canyon.
Gold Bluffs Beach
Immediately after passing through Fern Canyon, the trail brought us out into the sunlight. We were no longer surrounded by large trees, and we approached the beach. Our next stop would be Gold Bluffs Beach Campground, where we were staying. We had two route options: the gravel road, or along the beach.
The beach sounded like a more interesting option. The Coastal Trail runs along the beach throughout much of Redwood National Park, and we found the access trail by Fern Canyon Parking Lot (near the restrooms). Unfortunately, as we got closer to the beach, we ran into a flooded swampy area. We had the option to hike through it, but we chickened out and went back to the gravel road.
We recommend checking out the Coastal Trail if you can get there. The gravel road was nothing special, but it was easy going despite a few streams that crossed it. We had to watch out for the occasional car that trundled its way past us on the way to or from Fern Canyon.
Soon we arrived at Gold Bluffs Beach Campground, which finally felt warm and sunny! We decided to rest at our campsite for a couple minutes and just enjoy it. After walking to the beach, we wished we hadn’t already eaten our lunch. Then it was time to tackle Miner’s Ridge.
Miner’s Ridge Trail
The trail starts across the gravel road from the campground. It leads into the forest en route to Prairie Creek Visitor Center in 4.6 miles. By now we were tired, and we had a growing number of blisters on our feet. That’s what we get for not hiking much prior to the trip. We put some moleskin and band-aids on our feet and continued on.
Since we were near the coast, we began seeing more sitka spruce. But as we hiked inland, redwoods slowly started popping up again. Soon we passed a tsunami evacuation site. Signs on various trails warn that you’ve entered a tsunami area, so if ever the worst happens, head up Miner’s Ridge Trail.
Much of Miner’s Ridge Trail is similar to James Irvine Trail. We saw plenty of big trees, but after hours of hiking they just don’t seem as spectacular as they did at the beginning. It’s sad to say, but they were amazing again by our next hike. We saw wildflowers, crossed more bridges and streams, and enjoyed the sun streaming through the trees.
By the time we reached the visitor center, the parking lot was empty. The field nearby glowed as the sun began to set. There were no elk in sight, though it seemed like a good time and place to spot one.
We wished we had done this hike a bit later in our trip when we had gotten our “hiking legs” back. We also wished we had set out earlier in the day, since this hike is a longer one. Overall, it’s a fun hike that shows off many interesting and diverse park features.
James Irvine and Miner’s Ridge Loop Trail with Fern Canyon
Date Visited: July 18, 2017
Type: Lollipop Loop
Total Distance: 12.1 miles (19.5 km) round trip
Cumulative Elevation Gain/Loss: 2685 feet (818 m)
Time: 7.5 hours which includes lunch and rest breaks
Trail Markings: Trail signs at intersections
Difficulty: Strenuous, due to the distance
Crowds: Minimal, except at Prairie Creek Visitor Center and Fern Canyon
Water: The ocean, few creeks that are crossed, stream through Fern Canyon
Highlights: Large redwood trees, fern canyon, primeval forests, beach and ocean coastline, solitude, wildlife, streams
Note: You can do this hike in either direction. We don’t see an advantage to either. If the back entrance of Fern Canyon is open, you can hike through there without backtracking through the canyon. To get to Miner’s Ridge Trail from Fern Canyon, you can either walk along the road or try the Coastal Trail.
Directions to Prairie Creek Visitor Center: Google Maps Directions
- Mile 0.0 – From Prairie Creek Visitor Center, walk north until you see the trailhead sign for Prairie Creek Trail. Turn right onto the trail, and go over a bridge. Marvel at the redwood trees.
- Mile 0.1 – Continue straight at the intersection
- Mile 0.2 – Continue straight at the intersection with West Ridge Trail for 60 feet. Turn right onto James Irvine Trail.
- Mile 0.9 – Intersection with Miner’s Ridge Trail; keep right to continue on James Irvine Trail
- Mile 3.3 – Continue straight on James Irvine Trail. Clintonia Trail, to your left, could be used to make a shorter loop
- Mile 4.7 – Intersection with Friendship Ridge Trail; continue straight
- Mile 5.0 – Intersection with the back entrance to Fern Canyon Trail. If it’s closed, continue straight on James Irvine. If it’s open, you can go left onto Fern Canyon Trail. These directions assume the back entrance is closed.
- Mile 5.3 – Front entrance of Fern Canyon. Go in as far as you can, following Home Creek. Once you can’t go any further, double back to the canyon entrance
- Mile 6.1 – Once back at the entrance to Fern Canyon, turn left onto Gold Bluffs Trail
- Mile 6.3 – At the Fern Canyon parking lot; restrooms (outhouses) are available. Two choices: you can either take the gravel road (Gold Bluffs Beach Road), or you can take the Coastal Trail along the beach (access trail at the back of Fern Canyon parking lot). We chose the gravel road because the connecting path was flooded.
- Mile 7.5 – Take Miner’s Ridge Trail which leads into the forest on the left. You’ll see a tsunami evacuation site after a couple minutes on the trail. If you want to check out Gold Bluffs Beach Campground, it’s 500 feet beyond the Miner’s Ridge Trail and gravel road intersection.
- Mile 9.5 – At the intersection with Clintonia Trail. Continue straight on Miner’s Ridge Trail.
- Mile 11.3 – You’ve completed the loop and are back on James Irvine Trail. Continue straight.
- Mile 11.9 – Turn left at this intersection. 60 feet later, you’ll come to another intersection with West Ridge Trail. Continue straight.
- Mile 12.0 – Intersection with Prairie Creek Trail – continue straight
- Mile 12.1 – Back at Prairie Creek Visitor Center!
- Fern Canyon | 41.4016634, -124.0737641
- Gold Bluffs Beach Campground | 41.3835728,-124.0717255
- Prairie Creek Visitor Center | Newton B. Drury Scenic Pkwy, Orick, CA 95555
- Reservations for Gold Bluffs Beach Campground
- NPS Article on Banana Slugs
- NPS Article on Redwood Trees
- Save the Redwoods League – Coast Redwoods
- Orange Coast Article About James Irvine