Fern Gully near Ocho Rios is one of Jamaica’s most outstanding natural attractions. Known as both Milford Road and route A3, Fern Gully is a tree-shaded, rocky gorge that zigzags uphill to the central mountain area. The canyon contains an estimated 300 of Jamaica’s 570 fern species, 14% of them found nowhere else in the world.
Tall hardwood rainforest-type trees including tall trumpets and Blue Mahoe, Jamaica’s national tree, turn Fern Gully into a green tunnel where on the brightest days only dapples of sunlight break through. Fern Gully has its own climate, often cooler than the surrounding areas by as much as 10 degrees.
On overcast or rainy days, Fern Gully becomes a road cast in an eerie twilight and the dense fern growth appears to be a remaining slice of an ancient primeval wilderness left over from the beginning of time. Instead, the rock gully walls were mostly bare until planted with ferns sometime in the 1880s. Exactly who (or how many people) took on the voluntary task is uncertain.
There are many theories about the formation of Fern Gully’s flat bed, now paved over. Most likely it is a dried up river bed. For years, it was popularly believed that an existing river there disappeared as the result of a 1907 earthquake. Not true, since the rocky gorge already had been explored and mapped well before that time.
Often crowded with traffic, the narrow road has limited spaces for parking so visitors can stop and admire the fern-filled valley. The road often is a popular gathering place for vendors, one more reason for careful attention when driving the winding route. Fern Gully is easily explored from Ocho Rios by car or taxi. No organized tour is needed.