It's almost become cliché. Every year we ask, where's the best place to take your out-of-towners? And every year it's the same answer: Fern Canyon. Hey, it's good enough for Steven Spielberg's CGI dinosaurs ("Jurassic Park II" was partially filmed at Fern Canyon in the late 1990s).
But with the canyon's 50-foot walls covered in ferns that look nearly phosphorescent in daylight, and a pebbled floor beneath a snaking creek inside a dense, moist forest that you can feel in your breath, it's a beautiful and worthy cliché.
Hiking the half-mile trail can feel like a kind of rural gymnastics as you're forced to cross the creek by slippery wooden planks and fallen trees. The sooner you accept the fact that your socks and shoes are going to get wet, the better off you are. Trying to avoid a wetting invites disaster. Just ask my 50-something-year-old dad who sprained an ankle trying to stay dry. You can also hang back at the trailhead by the bubbling creek and watch the elk bathing in a pond in the distance.
This is all very lovely, but beware: If you're lucky, the winding eight-mile road down to the trailhead has been freshly graded. More likely, however, it will be mostly potholes. And it's so narrow, you'll suck it in when cars pass you going the other direction.
The Breakdown: Fern Canyon 15.6%, Away/Back/Home 9.8%, Patrick’s Point 6.8%, Avenue of the Giants 3.7%, Ferndale 2.8%. Category popularity: 13th.