Hike Van Damme State Park

Rate this Adventure San Francisco Fern Canyon Trailhead

Added by The Outbound Collective

Explore giant ferns, old growth Redwood and Cypress trees, and a 100 year old Pygmy Forest.

The Fern Canyon Trail system is the main hiking vein of Van Damme State Park. This particular hike is on a mostly flat, wide trail through dense, green forest of California Redwoods, Cypress, Pines, and giant ferns. The trail is paved but typically carpeted in soft pine needles. Come in the rainy season for an overwhelmingly green experience.

After 2.5 miles on the trail you'll have the option of turning around for a 5 mile out and back hike. Or you can take the fork to the right, eventually reaching a wood planked path through Pygmy Forest. This is an area where old (and bad) soil has caused stunted tree growth. These trees look like saplings but are actually 100 years old, cone-bearing, and fully mature. It is hardly a visual spectacle - just scrawny trees - but a pretty interesting ecological phenomenon. Once you've gone right towards the Pygmy Forest, you'll loop through and reconnect with Fern Canyon after a couple miles.

Note: most of the elevation is gained in the final loop to Pygmy Forest. If you're not feeling like a challenge and uninterested in botany/ecology, head back after 2.5 miles and enjoy the serenity of Fern Canyon.

To find the trailhead, enter Van Damme State Park off of Hwy 1 and stay right on Park Road, following signs towards Fern Canyon. As mentioned, this is a very popular trail and will not be difficult to find once inside the park.

Wild Fish and Little River Inn Restaurant are great, super close options for a nice meal with local seafood. For something more casual, but just as tasty, make the 5 minute drive back to town and hit up Mendo Burgers for fresh cut french fries and organic beef patties.

Photos: JD Lasica, David McSpadden, mlhradio

Pack List

  • Hiking shoes
  • Water
  • Layers
  • Camera
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Skill Level:



Year Round

Trail Type:



7.5 Miles

Elev. Gain:

1654 Feet


Easy Parking
Family Friendly
Food Nearby

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over 1 year ago

If you love ecology, the pygmy forest is for you! Van Damme is a beautiful park regardless. Plenty of opportunity for sea kayaking nearby as well.

over 1 year ago

Added by The Outbound Collective

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