There is an $8 entrance fee to the Gold Bluffs Beach Area (as of June 2015).
This hike starts on the Coastal Trail where it passes through Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park. The best place to access the Coastal Trail here is at the end of Davison Road. While the Coastal Trail passes between the beach and the road, there is not much parking unless you are camping at Gold Bluffs Beach campground.
This loop follows along the Coastal Trail as part of the Friendship Ridge Loop hike. During this section, you are not able to see the ocean. The trail follows a fairly straight path along the tree line and the prairie before you can reach the ocean. It is completely flat, and this section is very enjoyable. Along the way, you'll pass Gold Dust Waterfall as well as several other smaller waterfalls. I really liked this waterfall, probably because the rangers never told me about it when I checked in at the visitor center. It’s possible the ranger didn’t even know as many of them are seasonal part timers. I found this because I heard it. It is set back off the trail in a wooded area that is marked as Liermann Family Grove. It is a narrow stream of a waterfall and reminded me more of a tropical jungle. One down beside it, I was bit by more mosquitoes here than on my entire trip. As soon as I headed back onto the Coastal Trail, they were gone. This is only about 1.5 miles on the Coastal Trail from the Fern Canyon Trailhead at the end of Davison Road.
Turn right on the West Ridge Trail
and follow for 1.9 miles until your reach the Friendship Ridge Trail
. This section, from the Coastal Trail to the Friendship Ridge Trail
is a tale of two different trails. The first part, when ascending from the Coastal Trail is overgrown with tall fern and bushes. It is also steep in this sections. However, once you are on the ridge, it is one of the most enjoyable hikes in the park. It is an easy trail that meanders along the ridge through Oregon White Oak trees. That section was one of my favorites. However, the only way to experience this is by doing a loop hike from the Prairie Creek Visitor Center which is 12.5 miles or from the Fern Canyon
The Friendship Ridge Trail
is about 3 miles long and is usually done as part of a loop. The Friendship Ridge Trail
is a connector trail between the West Ridge Trail
and the James Irvine Trail
. The trail is well maintained and easy to follow. It really has no views except that of the forest which is also pleasant to see. A positive note is that most of the trail is an easy downhill in this direction. Because it is over three miles, the gradual descent is easy on the knees. I took this trail from West Ridge to James Irvine. From there you can link up with the Fern Canyon Trail which is a highlight of Prairie Creek.
A short hike down the James Irvine Trail
, and you'll enter Fern Canyon
. Negotiate the water and log jam for amazing views of the fern covered walls.