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Harry A. Merlo State Recreation Area

Idyllic lagoon among redwoods

Photo by Save the Redwoods League
Photo by Save the Redwoods League

Park Information

HIGHLIGHTS: Harry A. Merlo State Recreation Area is adjacent to Humboldt Lagoons State Park and offers access to Big Lagoon,  the largest of Humboldt’s coastal lagoons and a popular spot for fishing, where salmon, trout and many other fish species live.

ACTIVITIES: Fishing, bird-watching, windsurfing and boating are popular here. Use of small boats up to 5 mph is permitted, which maintains a peaceful environment for wildlife and human visitors. (Note that waterfowl hunting is allowed in the fall.) Swimming is allowed in Big Lagoon. The adjacent Humboldt Lagoons State Park adds to the possibilities for hiking, beachcombing, whale-watching and camping.

VISITOR CENTER: There is no visitor center for this park. Stone Lagoon Visitor Center, part of Humboldt Lagoons State Park, is open when staffing permits.

CAMPGROUNDS: Harry A. Merlo State Recreation Area is a day-use park with no campground facilities or RV access. Nearby Stone Lagoon has six basic campsites at Ryan’s Cove, which are seasonally accessible by boat only. Dry Lagoon also has six basic hike-in campsites. Both campgrounds have pit toilets and no running water or trash disposal cans, so plan accordingly.

TRAILS: Harry A. Merlo State Recreation Area does not have trails, and is visited more frequently for its splendid kayaking, boating and fishing than for hiking; however, adjacent Humboldt Lagoons State Park contains the Big Lagoon Beach Trail, a walkable 3.5 miles of sandy shoreline (called a spit) between Big Lagoon and the Pacific Ocean. Be mindful of the tides, as in the wintertime the surf can crest the spit and wash into the lagoon. For a longer hike, you may continue south through Big Lagoon County Park and into Patrick’s Point State Park.

MUST-SEE UNIQUE FEATURE OR SEASONAL HIGHLIGHT: Roger Goddard of the District Office for North Coast Redwoods State Parks, says that Harry A. Merlo’s location, situated next to Big Lagoon, makes it unique. Roger says the park has a beautiful, almost primitive character, and the lagoon access within the landscape of old-growth groves creates a magnificent experience for kayakers, boaters and anglers.

HIDDEN GEM: Roger says that the hidden gem here is the dark sky at night; with very little ambient light, the area is highly regarded for its stargazing.


DOGS: On leash in designated parking areas.


MORE INFORMATION: Go to the Harry A. Merlo SRA website (external link) or call (707) 677-3570 for more information.

Trip Ideas from Our Staff and Friends

California’s Redwood Coast website (external site) offers resources to help plan your trip to Humboldt County.

EAT: In nearby Trinidad, Christine Aralia, Land Project Manager, likes the Moonstone Grill (external link) for the good food, wine list and its lovely ocean views. She also suggests the Larrupin’ Cafe (external link) for dinner; they specialize in Cajun and local cuisine. The Seascape Restaurant (external link) is a great spot for breakfast. The lagoons also offer beautiful scenery for a picnic.

FAVORITE HIKE: Christine recommends the hike from Dry Lagoon beach south along the Big Lagoon sandspit and into Big Lagoon County Park. Just make sure to do the hike during low tide.

FAVORITE PARK ATTRACTION: Christine thinks the lagoons are spectacular!

DON’T MISS: Once you’ve made it to Harry A. Merlo SRA, Christine recommends visiting nearby Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park. She also suggests seeing the Tall Trees Grove and Lady Bird Johnson Grove in Redwood National Park (external link), also nearby.

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