Miles of trails offer stunning coastal and redwood forest scenery
HIGHLIGHTS: Picturesque Mendocino Headlands State Park offers striking views from the sea to the inland forest. The park surrounds the historic town of Mendocino and offers a range of opportunities for exploring and sightseeing.
ACTIVITIES: Hiking, surfing, fishing, whale-watching, kayaking, canoeing, mountain biking, picnicking, horseback riding, swimming in Big River, strolling along the bluffs. Paddlers can traverse Big River through a forested canyon to the sea and enjoy sea caves and a striking view of Mendocino. (You can rent kayaks at Catch-a-Canoe & Bicycles Too.) Watch for river otters! Beautiful Big River Beach is also accessible by trails down the bluffs. Extensive hiking trails meander through the park and surrounding public lands and provide amazing views of redwoods and the river. If you’re there in late summer, be sure to try some of Big River’s blackberries, renowned among locals.
VISITOR CENTER: The Historic Ford House is a museum and the Visitors Center for the Mendocino Headlands State Park and the village of Mendocino. The former home of town founder Jerome Ford features photographs and relics that tell the stories of Mendocino’s history, including the felling of the redwoods and the shipping of their lumber aboard the legendary dog-hole schooners. Interpretive walks and lectures on wildlife are provided by docents, by appointment, for schools and groups. The Ford House is located at 735 Main Street in Mendocino.
CAMPGROUNDS: Mendocino Headlands State Park does not allow camping, but nearby Russian Gulch (external link) and Van Damme State Parks (external link) have campgrounds. Call (800) 444-7275 for reservations or visit the parks’ websites. Mendocino Headlands parking area can accommodate RVs for day-use visits.
HOTELS: The Little River Inn (external link) has dog-friendly accommodations. The Stanford Inn (external link) is another one of Mendocino’s many charming bed-and-breakfasts. You can also visit the Ford House for lodging information.
TRAILS: 20 miles of trails. For beautiful views of redwoods along the riverbank, try the Big River Haul Road (the “main trail”), which runs parallel to the north side of Big River and features overlooks of the river at several points. Winding 8.3 miles from the trailhead to Big River Beach, the multiuse path is open to hiking, cycling and horseback riding.
MUST-SEE UNIQUE FEATURE OR SEASONAL HIGHLIGHT: Hike up the main trail for a quarter mile for a breathtaking view of the estuary.
HIDDEN GEM: The Fritz Wonder plot is an area of old second-growth forest. Though it’s a bit difficult to reach, the redwoods have inexplicably grown very quickly here and are a sight to behold.
FEATURES ACCESSIBLE TO PEOPLE WITH DISABILITIES: Restrooms and some trails.
DOGS: Not allowed on trails. On leash elsewhere.
ENTRANCE FEE: None.
MORE INFORMATION: Visit the Mendocino Headlands State Park website (external link), the Mendocino Area Parks Association website (external link), or call the Ford House visitor center at 707-937-5397.
EAT: Christine Aralia, Land Project Manager, recommends the restaurant in the Stanford Inn (external link), which offers great vegan meals. The Mendocino Cafe (external link) has good Thai food and a selection of other organic menu items. Patterson’s Pub (external link) is a popular spot, too. Try the clam chowder! Christine also likes the GoodLife Cafe and Bakery (external link) for breakfast, and the Harvest Market (external link) is a great spot for gathering picnic supplies. The Little River Inn (external link) has great classic California cuisine and cute cottages if you’re spending the night. Wild Fish (external link) is a new seafood restaurant in the area and is already a favorite among locals and visitors.
FAVORITE HIKE: Take the Big River Haul Road, which stretches for several miles from the coast to the forest, so you can go as far as you like. Reach the trailhead by turning east off of Highway 1 just north of the Big River bridge.
FAVORITE PARK ATTRACTION: Big River is part of the Pacific flyway, and a fantastic place to spot various birds and other wildlife up and down the river. Look out for osprey, bald eagles and river otters!
DON’T MISS: The chance to spot a whale off the coast once you get to Big River Beach.
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