Our neighbor to the south often brings to mind crowded beaches, movie stars, smog. But there are certain parts of California that shine like a diamond in the rough, places that have a flair of rugged, untouched Oregonness. One of these places is Fern Canyon in Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park.
Located about 25 miles south of Crescent City on Newton B. Drury Scenic Parkway off of Highway 101, Fern Canyon is roughly a three-hour drive from Ashland through some of the best parts of California — soaring redwoods, the translucent Smith River, deep rock canyons, seals and elk on the same beach.
With its prehistoric look, Fern Canyon was used to shoot parts of "Jurassic Park 2." The Fern Canyon Loop Trail is an easy, one-mile walk along a creekbed beneath 50-foot-tall walls blanketed with thick, luscious, mist-covered ferns, including chain, five-ﬁnger, lady, deer and sword.
Home Creek gurgles noiselessly above a rocky floor. For parts of the year, you'll be ankle- or knee-deep in water, but during the summer months, park crews lay down temporary foot bridges to keep visitors dry.
Gold Bluffs Beach nearby was the site of a small gold rush in 1850 but turned bust when the gold proved too laborious to extract from the sand.
Even if it's not rich in gold, Prairie Creek State Park is rich in other ways. There are about 75 miles of trails, including the James Irvine Trail, a 41/2;-mile hike accessed off Fern Canyon Loop that wanders through spectacular redwoods. Flora and fauna abound, including wildflowers and edible salmonberries, endangered marbled murrelets, black bear, Roosevelt elk. Ranger Mike Poole cautions that elk can be dangerous at this time of year, when they're giving birth. If you see an elk with its young, be sure to back away.
Elk Prairie Campground has 75 family sites and hike/bike sites. For reservations, call 800-444-7275 or visit www.parks.ca.gov. Gold Bluffs Beach Campground has 26 tent or RV sites, and three non-reservable environmental sites.
There are two drives to Prairie Creek park. One is an hour longer but takes you through the mountains and the famed "Bigfoot Highway." The other winds down the coast.
From Highway 101, drive to about two miles north of Orrick and turn onto Davison Road. Follow through Elk Meadow and onto a dirt but spectacular scenic drive for six miles until you reach the Gold Bluffs Beach kiosk. Pay the $8 day-use fee (cash or check only). California State Park and National Park Service passes are accepted.
Follow the road along the beach for another three miles (fording through several small streams, do-able by car) until the parking lot at the end.
The trailhead to Fern Canyon is there, about 1/4 mile from the actual start of the canyon.
Amelia Covert Zeve is an Ashland High School student and freelance writer living in Ashland. Reach her via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.