A historic Russian settlement in the redwoods
HIGHLIGHTS: Located 12 miles north of Jenner, California, Fort Ross offers striking coastal scenery and a fascinating historical perspective. A Russian American Company settlement from 1812-1841, Fort Ross (whose name comes from “Rossiya” or Russia) is the site of historical attractions – such as a formidable stockade constructed entirely of redwood lumber – in a beautiful setting of redwood forests and dramatic bluffs. With help from members like you, Save the Redwoods League protected more than 2,100 acres of this 3,000-acre park.
ACTIVITIES: Fort Ross is an intriguing historical and cultural center; you can enjoy exploring the carefully restored historical structures, such as the Russian Orthodox chapel, the redwood stockade, and Rotchev house, the only remaining original building. Then, venture onto the trails for short hikes: head north for 2 miles along the coast by way of old logging roads into a stand of redwoods and Douglas firs; or south for 2 miles for impressive views of the fort and of the San Andreas Fault.
Most of the park’s ranger- or docent-led programs (including Junior Ranger programs) start on Memorial Day weekend and end after Labor Day. Check the schedule for days and times. Aimed at kids age 7 through 12, these programs offer games, crafts, hiking, and exploring with other children.
Other activities include picnicking, beach walks, tidepooling, surfing near Reef Campground and walking on trails.
VISITOR CENTER: The Fort Ross Visitor Center and Museum is a great place to learn all about the history and unique culture of Fort Ross and its onetime inhabitants. There is also a bookshop and library on the premises. While you are welcome to walk the park grounds daily from sunrise to sunset, the Fort Compound and Visitor Center days/hours vary by season. The park is generally open 10 a.m.-4:30 p.m. on Fridays, Saturdays, Sundays, and Mondays in the winter season, and Thursdays through Monday during the spring and summer. Additionally, the center is open most holidays EXCEPT Thanksgiving and Christmas day. Please see fortross.org for current the operating schedule.
CAMPGROUNDS: The campsites at Fort Ross are located at Reef Campground. Due to service reductions at the park, Reef Campground is only open in the spring, summer, and early fall. To verify days of operation, please see fortross.org or call 707-847-3437. Reef Campground is first-come, first-served.This is subject to change; call 707-865-2391 for further information. Salt Point State Park does have a campground and is located only about a 15-minute drive to the north.
TRAILS: From the trailhead near the fort’s main gate, you can walk south to nearby Fort Ross Cove, one of California’s first shipyards at Sandy Beach. Ranger Todd Farcau explains that one trail connects Fort Ross with the Reef Campground, a good spot for a picnic, in 1/2 mile; and another trail leads to the cemetery in 1/4 mile.
MUST-SEE UNIQUE FEATURE OR SEASONAL HIGHLIGHT: Ranger Todd Farcau says the must-see attraction is the Fort Compound, which is similar to a Russian fort one would see in Alaska. The compound is an integral piece of California history, but (unlike the missions) the surrounding area is undeveloped. Sheltered within the beautiful 3,000 acre park, with views of the ocean and redwood trees, Farcau says, “It’s almost like you’re transported back in time.” He also revealed that Fort Ross was recently gifted a reproduction windmill, commemorating the first windmills in California, which were built by the Russians.
Ranger Sandy Jones Birkland suggests seeing the 39-foot tall, log-framed post windwill that stands on the bluff overlooking the coast. The historical importance of the mill was to provide milled grain for the Ross settlement and other Russian colonies in Sitka, Alaska, and along the Aleutian Islands.
HIDDEN GEM: Ranger Farcau recommends the historic orchard dating from the Russian establishment — it is right on the San Andreas Fault, and the view looking across to the fort makes it a stunning place for a picnic. For divers, another hidden gem is the underwater aquatic reserve, where the adventurous can explore the wreck of the Pomona, which sank in 1908.
FEATURES ACCESSIBLE TO PEOPLE WITH DISABILITIES: Beach wheelchair available at visitor center.
DOGS: Leashed in developed areas and inside tent or vehicle at night.
ENTRANCE FEE: $8 for day-use vehicle entry; no charge to walk or bike into the park.
EAT: Aquatica (external link), a cafe in Jenner, is renowned for its great sandwiches, coffee, and fresh-baked cookies.
DON’T MISS: The Fort Ross Festival is a celebration that takes you back to the Sonoma of the early 1800’s. The Bay Area Russian community attends in full force to enjoy traditional Russian folk music, dance and food. To learn more about Fort Ross Festival and to see the full calendar of events at Fort Ross, see the Fort Ross Conservancy (external link) site for details.
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