About Gold Dust Falls and the Gold Bluffs Beach Waterfalls
Gold Dust Falls and the Gold Bluffs Beach Waterfalls comprised a trio of thin-but-tall falls along a quiet section of the Coastal Trail (also called the Davidson Trail) further to the north of Fern Canyon.
Technically, only the second of the three waterfalls was formally named Gold Dust Falls, which was apparently an acknowledgment of a short-lived 1850s gold rush when prospectors found such dust in the sand.
However, that rush ended almost as soon as it began because it turned out to be too much trouble to gain what little precious metal was available here.
Anyways, while it seemed like the vast majority of visitors only hiked to Fern Canyon, I was pretty much alone on my hike to the Gold Dust Falls.
In fact, I only encountered a few mountain bikers when I was almost done with my waterfalling and started to head back.
Perhaps a bit more thrilling (and potentially dangerous) was when I encountered a herd of elk that chose to graze right on the Davidson Trail.
After a fairly lengthy standoff (it probably lasted about 10-15 minutes but it felt longer), I ultimately had to maneuver around them in a wide berth through tall grass.
Hiking to the Gold Bluffs Beach Waterfalls
The first quarter-mile of the hike began from the end of the Davidson Road (see directions below).
If Squashan Creek happened to be running high or the erosion of Davidson Road was too severe, then it wouldn’t be safe for low-clearance 2wd passenger vehicles to attempt to cross the creek.
Thus, that would extend the hike by another 1.2 miles in each direction.
Anyways, that first quarter-mile stretch was pretty straightforward as it eventually reached the mouth of Fern Canyon.
However, instead of going upstream into Fern Canyon, I then crossed the plank bridge over Home Creek (the stream responsible for carving out Fern Canyon), and then I kept left to avoid going up the steps to the James Irvine Trail.
Next, I had to follow some use-trails that skirted alongside other parts of Home Creek while crossing it in others.
It was a bit muddy and had stream crossings of similar difficulty as that within Fern Canyon (especially without proper waterproof shoes or boots).
Anyways, because both Home Creek and Boat Creek crossed the Coastal Trail or Davidson Trail in this general area, I can envision some parts of the trail being lost if you happen to not be an experienced hiker (especially with the lack of signs here).
But eventually after getting across this tricky boggy part, the Coastal Trail then continued along a flat and obvious path.
This happened just as the terrain opened up and revealed bluffs on the inland side and tall grass with hints of the crashing waves of the ocean on the other side.
The semi-open and grassy stretch of the Davidson Trail persisted for about the next mile before the trail started to veer into a grove of trees accompanied with the sound of falling water.
This was where I encountered a herd of elk, which were probably grazing and getting sips from fresh water from the outflow of what turned out to be the first of the Gold Bluffs Beach Waterfalls.
Experiencing the Gold Dust Falls and the rest of the Gold Bluffs Beach Waterfalls
I’d imagine that the thicker vegetation and grove of trees also benefitted from the rather unique ecosystem when you mix freshwater with the windswept coastal savannah that I’d been hiking through to this point.
I spotted the waterfall from the Davidson Trail within the vegetation, but I also noticed some use-trails leading me closer to the waterfall’s base, where I finally got some clean looks at it.
After having my fill of this tall and thin waterfall, I then continued further up the Coastal Trail / Davidson Trail for another 0.2-mile before it veered into another grove of trees and ferns.
Eventually, I heard more sounds of falling water here I then started to glimpse the second of the Gold Bluffs Beach Waterfalls.
This particular waterfall was upstream from the Davidson Trail near a rest bench, and it seemed to be slightly taller and more voluminous as that first waterfall as well.
Given this infrastructure, I believe that this second waterfall was the officially named Gold Dust Falls though I didn’t see any signage nor other indications of its official name.
Nevertheless, after scrambling upstream on some use-trails from the rest bench, I then stood in front of the Gold Dust Falls where I finally got some clean looks at it.
Even though this waterfall’s context and size could be better appreciated from further back on the Coastal Trail, there were too many trees in the way to really appreciate it from there.
Finally, while it was tempting to return back to the trailhead from here, there was still one last waterfall to visit.
Just a little over a 100 yards to the north of the Gold Dust Falls along the Davidson Trail, it entered yet another vegetated grove where I once again heard the sounds of falling water.
Sure enough, I encountered the third and last of the Gold Bluffs Beach Waterfalls here, and there was another use-trail leading me closer to the base of its thin drop.
Of the three waterfalls that I saw during my visit, this one had the lightest flow, but considering that I was here in late November, I found it exceeded my expectations that it even flowed this late in the year in the first place!
After having my fill of this waterfall, I then returned back to the trailhead at Davidson Road, and overall, I wound up spending 2.5 hours on this 3.6-mile round-trip hike.
Of course, I did take a lot of time figuring out how to get around the elk herd as well as spending lots of time at each of the waterfalls so the actual moving time could be significantly less than this.
Experiencing Gold Bluffs Beach
When I returned to the trailhead at the end of Davidson Road, I rejoined my wife and daughter so we could spend some time at Gold Bluffs Beach.
It was a mere 1/4-mile walk past the restroom facility and picnic tables towards the dark-sanded but pristine beach.
And there was plenty of space to maintain social distance while also enjoying the mesmerizing yet turbulent motions of the ocean from the beach itself.
Technically, we could have walked along the Gold Bluffs Beach for as long as the eye can see (we can even join up with the Gold Bluffs Beach Campground and Day-Use Area over a mile further to the south), but we didn’t feel the need to.
Indeed, when all was said and done, we pretty much had a nearly all-day out that encompassed the Fern Canyon hike, the Gold Dust Falls hike, and enjoying the Gold Bluffs Beach in a span of just under 6 hours.
Gold Dust Falls and the Gold Bluffs Beach Waterfalls reside in the Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park near Orick in Humboldt County, California. It is administered by the California Department of Parks and Recreation. For information or inquiries about the area as well as current conditions, visit their website.
I’ll describe how we drove to Fern Canyon and Gold Bluffs Beach from Arcata since that was the most significant city or town before the Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park.
The village of Orick was actually closer to the entrance of the Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park, but I’d argue it wasn’t a significant enough town to act as a base.
So from city of Arcata, we drove north on the US101 for about 37 miles to the Davidson Road / Elk Meadow turnoff on the left.
This turnoff was about a mile north of Orick.
Then, we turned left onto the Davidson Road, where it became unpaved shortly after passing through Elk Meadow.
Next, we continued on the unpaved Davidson Road for about the next 5 miles to the Day Use Parking Area right in front of a gate before an unbridged crossing of Squashan Creek.
If the creek crossing is too risky to proceed in a low-clearance passenger vehicle, then this Day Use Parking Area would be the end of the drive.
However, if the creek had low enough flow, and the erosion on the road wasn’t too bad, then it’s possible to drive the remaining 1.2 miles to the end of the Davidson Road and park there.
Overall, it took us about 80 minutes to make this drive though we did have about a 5-10 minute delay when a herd of elk blocked traffic on the US101.
There was an $8 parking fee during our November 2020 visit, which was collected at a kiosk roughly 2 miles before the unbridged Squashan Creek crossing.
For geographical context, Arcata was about 35 miles (over 30 minutes drive) south of Orick, 9 miles (about 15 minutes drive) north of Eureka, 142 miles (3 hours drive) north of Fort Bragg, about 151 miles (under 3.5 hours drive) north of Mendocino, 143 miles (over 2.5 hours drive) north of Willits, 225 miles (about 4 hours drive) northwest of Santa Rosa, and 279 miles (about 5 hours drive) north of San Francisco.
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