A must-see in May

Kruse Rhododendron SNR, by Tom Hilton, Flickr CC
Photo by Tom Hilton, Flickr Creative Commons

Park Information

HIGHLIGHTS: The 317-acre Kruse Rhododendron State Natural Reserve provides a wonderful opportunity to witness forest succession firsthand – and see extravagant displays of flowering rhododendrons in the process. The rhododendrons here germinated following a major wildfire that scorched the area decades ago. In North Coast forests, rhododendrons are early colonizers in any area cleared of trees. Hardwoods such as tanoak and California laurel then appear, and finally, conifers. Then the rhododendrons are deprived of sunlight, and die out. Second-growth redwoods and other conifers are thriving in the reserve, but California State Parks managers have maintained a judicious tanoak pruning program; the rhododendrons consequently remain abundant, blooming generously each May.

ACTIVITIES: At Kruse, it’s mostly about the flowers. May is the height of the bloom, so that’s the best time to visit the preserve. But the thriving second-growth redwood forest also warrants appreciation in its own right. These robust groves demonstrate that the redwood forest can rebound quickly from catastrophic events such as fire and excessive logging as long as proper restoration practices are followed. The park is thus an excellent choice for short hikes and picnics for anyone visiting the Mendocino Coast.


CAMPGROUNDS: None. RV access for day use is limited; the road is narrow with no turnaround. Campsites are maintained at nearby Salt Point State Park.

TRAILS: Kruse has 5 miles of trails, all relatively short due to the small size of the reserve. The 2.2-mile Loop Trail will take visitors through the best rhododendron displays.

MUST-SEE UNIQUE FEATURE OR SEASONAL HIGHLIGHT: Not to belabor a point, but rhododendrons are the raison d’être of the reserve. If at all possible, try to time visits to the peak of the bloom in May and June.

HIDDEN GEM: Rhododendrons aren’t the only native plants of interest in the reserve. Take time to appreciate other flowering understory plants, including Pacific wax myrtle and California huckleberry, which sports pretty pink flowers in the spring and yields tasty berries in the summer.

FEATURES ACCESSIBLE TO PEOPLE WITH DISABILITIES: The parking area and restrooms are accessible; some good rhododendron displays may be seen from the road.

DOGS: Not allowed on trails or unpaved roads; permitted on-leash elsewhere.

ENTRANCE FEE: No entrance fee is required.

MORE INFORMATION: Visit the reserve’s webpage , or call 707-847-3221.

PLACES TO EAT AND STAY: Nearby Timber Cove resort has a restaurant and bar (open after remodeling in summer 2016). Jenner at the mouth of the Russian River has Ocean Cove and River’s End, both supporting restaurants and lodging. Sea Ranch Lodge has a restaurant open to the public.

Trip Ideas from Our Staff and Friends

EAT: Try dining at the River’s End Restaurant and Inn (external link) where you can sit on the patio and take in the view.

Aquatica (external link), a cafe in Jenner, is renowned for its great sandwiches, coffee, and fresh-baked cookies.

Boon (external link), on the main drag in Guerneville, offers fresh seasonal ingredients from Sonoma County.

DON’T MISS: Salt Point State Park (external link) is located adjacent to Kruse Rhododendron State Natural Reserve.

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