The hiking book: Hiking the Redwood Coast (Falcon Guides)
The distance: 7 miles
The CityGirls rating: 8

For Labor Day weekend, T-Bell ventured up to Fort Bragg for a weekend getaway. In between some harrowing sessions of leisurely brunch and reading on the porch in the sunshine, she managed to squeeze in a hike with the parents.

The highlight of the Fern Canyon hike was all the interesting trees, along with a pretty little waterfall thrown in just for fun.

The trail wandered through second-growth Redwood forest with a couple steep—but pretty short—climbs.

Russian Gulch State Park was one of the earliest logging sites on the Redwood Coast, and the loggers had to develop new techniques to fell the old-growth giants that lived there. They had to notch footholds in the base of the tree and climb up 4-10 feet to make the cut where the trunk was a bit more narrow than at the base of the tree. You can still see the foothold notches in many of the old-growth Redwood stumps that remain.

Fun Trees

The highlight of the hike was the great variety of interesting trees we encountered. Not the “wow! there are a bajillion-zillion different species of trees here!” sort of variety—it was pretty much all Redwoods and pines. No, this second-growth forest had quite a few individual specimens that caught the eye with their unique and intriguing configurations.

Apparently the pine trees had the same idea as the loggers and used the old Redwood stumps to get a leg up. Though this one really looks more octopus than tree.

Then there were tentacles of a different sort sticking out of another tree.

Many of the pine trees—or rather, the pine snags—had these shelf-like mushrooms growing out of their sides. In fact, the mushrooms quickly became the easiest way to tell if a pine was alive or dead. The dead ones all had mushrooms growing on them.

Fire is a common part of Redwood forest ecology, but this pair of burnt Redwoods puzzled us all the same.

Standing so close to each other, we couldn’t tell which of them sported the living branches we could see up in the forest canopy.

Both trees were nearly completely hollowed out where they were most badly burnt, but despite the fire damage, we could see living trunk beneath the charred bark, affirming once again that Redwoods are amazing.



By the waterfall was a downed tree that had become its own little ecosystem, with plants growing out of its side. It was almost like modern art. Or the result of guerrilla gardening.


While the waterfall was one main attraction of Russian Gulch State Park, the other was a natural formation called the Punchbowl, a large sinkhole caused by waves carving a tunnel through the rocks along the bluffs at the shoreline, which then caused a whole section of the bluff to fall in.

We were entranced watching the tide surge in through the tunnel, creating a wave that fanned out and crashed against the walls of the sinkhole.

The coastline all along this stretch was riddled with wave-pounded caves and tunnels and water-carved spires and rock bridges. We climbed down onto the rocks to try to see through the tunnel into the Punchbowl from the other side and discovered that it wasn’t a straight shot, but turned a corner where the water must have run into a sturdier sort of rock.

Geology is so cool! With enough time, nothing more than waves running over the rocks can create these amazing tunnels and bridges.

Ease of following designated hike: 9. It was a pretty straightforward double loop trail.
Best season to hike: The waterfall would be more impressive in winter and spring, though the trail may get muddy at those times.
Solitude: 3.