A Northern California Road Trip, May 2016
Gold Bluffs Beach Campground – We stayed here for this particular trip. It was early May so all sites were first-come, first-served. Reservations are available during peak season, usually mid-May to mid-September. We stayed at campsite 2, but really any spot would be just fine. You can easily walk over to the sand dunes and watch the sunset. The sites are $35 per night with fire pits, showers, and flush restrooms. If you stay here, Fern Canyon will either be at the beginning or end of your hike. We chose this campsite because we wanted to end our hike with Fern Canyon and watch the sunset back at Gold Bluffs Beach.
Prairie Creek Campground – This is also a beautiful campsite, but more inland. I stayed here in 2015 and we picked a site near the river. It was also first-come, first-served during our visit in April 2015, however reservations are available during peak season. If you camp here, Fern Canyon will be the middle of your trip. You can have a nice lunch at the picnic tables in the Fern Canyon parking lot in the middle of your hike.
Main Hiking Trail:
The James Irvine / Miners’ Ridge Loop, Approximately 13 miles round trip.
This is a beautiful hike that takes you up through old growth redwoods. It has a magical, fantastical, prehistoric feel like a cross between an idyllic storybook setting and the dinosaur ages. Think Snow White meets Jurassic Park.
To begin: From Gold Bluffs Beach Campground, start at the Miners’ Ridge loop. It’s an easy ascent up the ridge and you’ll cross multiple small bridges. This loop has a lot of small wooden bridges. You can cut the trip in half by looping to the Clintonia trail, but if you have the time, keep following the trail until you reach Prairie Creek Campground. Trust me, you won’t even realize how much you’re hiking because your simply surrounded by so much beauty. Each time you think you see the biggest redwood you’ve ever seen, there’s another one right around the corner. From Prairie Creek Campground, head back up the way you came, but instead of taking the Miners’ Ridge Trail, veer towards the James Irvine Trail. Follow this fun trail all the way down to Fern Canyon. Once you’ve have had your fun of wading through the water and climbing over fallen trees, you’ll end up in the Fern Canyon parking lot. You can continue to follow the road back to Gold Bluffs Beach Campground or you can walk over to the beach and follow it down back to the campsite.
Points of Interest:
Fern Canyon – This was the crown jewel of the trip. Water runs through this canyon and the walls are lush with green fern. You’ll be climbing over fallen trees and getting dripped with drops of water from the ferns.
Avenue of the Giants – A quintessential drive through old growth redwoods. As long as you’re not driving, don’t forget to look up and be amazed at just how tall redwoods can be.
Humboldt Redwoods State Park – After driving through the Avenue of the Giants, you should definitely make a stop at the park and do either Founder’s Grove or the Gould Grove Nature Loop Trail. I’ve come here the last five years to come and hug my favorite tree. Also. I recommend taking a short walk to Eel River where you can skip rocks and hang out on the beach. On a different trip, four years ago, we had crossed the river early in the morning to get to Grasshopper Peak. When we returned, however, the water was up to our chests and the current was strong. We used hiking sticks to get back across, but I was nearly swept away. I remember my friend back then telling me that when he saw my face, it looked like I had just realized I was not going to make it.
Day 1 – Friday
We drove up after my buddy got off work and we made some stops at Sports Basement (got new hiking boots to break in!), Trader Joe’s, and dinner at In N’ Out. Be warned the traffic from the Golden Gate Bridge up until Santa Rosa after work on Friday is horrendous. Be prepared to have full on conversations or listen to great tunes to take your mind off of how much traffic sucks. We ended up getting to Gold Bluffs Beach around midnight. The last few miles took the longest. It’s a really bumpy and heavily forested road up until the beach. We were able to find the last campsite for the night. We hastily made camp and immediately passed out.
Day 2 – Saturday
We woke up early the next day to park rangers making sure we paid the camping fee. We had an easy breakfast and then headed out for the hike. This was a full day of hiking, granted we took a leisurely pace. We had lunch at Prairie Creek hoping to catch some elk, but they must be away during that time of the year. After having an adventure in Fern Canyon, we attempted to walk back down along the beach, but couldn’t cross the stream of water without having to take off our boots. Without a log to cross, we turned back and tried to take a short cut through the woods and had a scare of poison oak. In the end it turned out to not be poison oak so we freaked out about nothing. We had intended to stay up late to hang out by the campfire, but because of our late night and full day of hiking and exploring we ended up passing out pretty early.
Day 3 – Sunday
We decided to pack up a little earlier than expected on Sunday. We stopped for lunch in Eureka at North Coast Co-Op. This place has a lot of awesome selections on food.
Afterwards, we made our way back to Humboldt Redwoods State Park and did the drive through the Avenue of the Giants. We stopped at the visitor center and did the loop in the grove across from the lot. We ended up back down by the eel river where we relaxed in the warm sun and skipped some rocks.
For dinner we stopped at a Taqueria attached to a gas station…of course I should’ve known better because I ended up having to use the restroom pretty badly.
Overall, this was a pretty solid road trip full of fun conversations, mellow hikes, and lots of exploring and adventure. If you ever get a chance to make it up to Northern California, make sure to see these places!
Cheers and happy hiking!