Near the northern border of California, straddling an ancient redwood forest and the wild and windswept Pacific coast, Humboldt County is one of the most uniquely beautiful places in the world.
More than 45 percent of California’s remaining protected old-growth coast redwood forests are in Humboldt County’s Redwood National Park, and there are more than 110 miles of coastline.
Here’s our guide to some of our favorite stops in the old-growth redwoods and on California’s Lost Coast.
Fern Canyon and the Prairie Creek Redwoods
If it looks like a scene from Jurassic Park, that’s because it is – Fern Canyon is where a pack of turkey-sized compsognathi hunted down and ate Dieter Stark in The Lost World: Jurassic Park.
In this remote corner of Humboldt County’s Prairie Creek Redwoods, a shallow creek called “Home” runs through a narrow gorge, and the 50- to 80-foot walls are lined with a half-dozen types of fern.
In the summer, wooden planks crisscross the shallow creek, but it still takes some finesse to avoid getting your feet wet, so waterproof shoes are advised.
Small waterfalls cascade down the canyon walls and if you’re paying attention, you might even catch sight of a northern red-legged frog or Pacific giant salamander.
The canyon floor can be reached on foot, beginning at the Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park visitor center. Skip the five-mile hike on a dirt road that puts you within a quarter-mile of the gorge.
From the parking lot there, you’ll have to ford a stream, but it’s an easy walk along the creek into the canyon, ending with a stair climb out.
You can return to the parking lot along the canyon rim through a forest of Sitka spruce and Douglas fir, though many visitors prefer to retrace their steps.
While driving out of the Prairie Creek Redwoods, watch for herds of Humboldt County’s famous Roosevelt elk, which can often be seen grazing in the meadows and along the roadsides.
Elk Prairie on the Newton Drury Scenic Parkway, Elk Meadow on Davison Road off Highway 101 and Gold Bluffs Beach are the three top spots for elk viewing. Elk can be unpredictable, so keep a distance.