This hike is relatively flat for the first 2.5 miles as it follows alongside the Little River. At the end of this section is a sign showing the way up Fern Canyon. You can return via a fire road for a nice loop hike. This route is perfect for both long hikes, or a long trail run.
Hikers will start this trip at the Van Damme State Park parking area which is located at the end of a campground.
The first part of the hike follows Fern Canyon Scenic Trail
(name according to park map), which is a dirt road where motor vehicles aren't permitted. I found this portion to be very enjoyable and easy hiking, as the road follows a stream. This section is especially scenic when the banks are filled with lush ferns. There are about six picturesque bridge crossings where it is pleasant to view the stream that passes below. This first part of the trail is 2.5 miles long and relatively flat. It ends where two trails split to create a loop.
The Fern Canyon Scenic Trail
will become the Fern Canyon Trail
, and this route continues uphill for another 2.3 miles, where it ends at the Pygmy Forest Parking area. This section is quite nice, but the trail becomes singletrack and is steeper. Take the Old Logging Road Trail
to head down the mountain from the Pygmy Forest, and back towards the Fern Canyon Road. This section is about 1.2 miles long.
All told, the total distance would be about 8.5 miles. This distance is easy to calculate, as there are sign posts at each mile. However, conflicting information from my GPS (8.8 miles) and a park ranger at the gate (7 miles) makes the official distance a bit confusing. Just be prepared for a long hike. The highlight is Fern Canyon Road which is flat, and would make for a pleasant five-mile trip as an out-and-back by itself.