Parks and Gardens
The Mendocino Coast is blessed with a congenial climate and a lot of open space, much of it protected in parks and preserves. The State Park system has 17 properties in Mendocino County alone, and there are many other park properties owned by the county, the cities, the Mendocino Land Trust, and others. Collectively, we have an incredible variety of parks to visit. This page describes the various parks in sections based on their location, from north to south. Please check with State Parks about specific regulations that pertain to any area and desired activities (such as dogs, camp fires, etc).
North of Fort Bragg (from north to south)
- The Lost Coast / Sinkyone Wilderness State Park : this section of the coast was so rugged that the highway builders went inland with Highway One for a long stretch. The area they skirted is called the Lost Coast, and the southern section in Mendocino County is mostly only available with 4WD, and only in the dry season. There’s a fabulous spot 6 miles into the south end of the area called Usal Beach, site of a logging operation a century ago.
- Howard Creek / Westport-Union Landing State Beach : this is the last accessible beach before Highway One goes inland to skirt the Lost Coast. The beach is 3 miles long, and there are 100 campsites right along the ocean.
- Ten Mile Beach and Dunes : at the mouth of the Ten Mile River, a beach and haul road start that go south for almost ten miles, through Mackerricher SP on down to Pudding Creek. There are large dunes here, but they are a protected habitat for the snowy plover and other birds. State Parks asks that you avoid the sand dunes, and stay on the Haul Road or on wet sand.
- MacKerricher State Park : this park is in the top 100 in the country for number of visitors, and it’s easy to see why. It has miles-long beaches, a lot of campsites, a stocked fishing lake (Lake Cleone), and a wheelchair-accessible boardwalk out to a promontory overlooking the rocks where harbor seals live. The pupping season in April and May is fascinating and photogenic. In addition to the beaches, there are headlands areas with flat, easy walking trails. The Haul Road is popular for biking and horseback riding. You can have your dogs on leash in the area south of Ward Ave, although you must avoid the seal rookeries during the pupping season. From the length of MacKerricher, you can see all the way up to the Lost Coast.
- Glass Beach : this beach was the city dump for many years, and all that is left is the finely-tumbled bits of glass (don’t take it, either!). It’s colorful on a sunny day, and a beautiful spot regardless of the weather. The beach was recently added to MacKerricher State Park, and the recently-restored Pudding Creek Trestle is now open to foot and bike traffic. This allows you to walk or bike from Glass Beach for 10 miles north to Ten Mile River without crossing a road.
Fort Bragg South to Mendocino
- Mendocino Coast Botanical Gardens : this is a botanical garden, not a park. The gardens feature indigenous plants, especially rhododendrons — they have a fabulous collection. Rhodies cover the coastal area, and they bloom mostly in April and May (although they bloom earlier at the Gardens). In August, the dahlia garden is simply amazing. The gardens are host to several charity events each year, including Art in the Gardens and WineSong.
- Caspar State Beach : a nice pocket beach where you’ll see an occasional surfer. You’ll also find old pilings where the river comes down to the ocean, remnants of the Caspar Logging Company.
- Point Cabrillo Light Station State Historic Park : this park has a restored lighthouse with a third-order Fresnel lens. This is a wonderful location from which to spot whales, since they seem to consistently come very close to shore. Be advised that it is a half-mile walk downhill (not steep, but noticeable on the return) from the parking lot to the lighthouse. This site was used as a movie location in "The Majestic," starring Jim Carrey.
- Jackson Demonstration State Forest : 50,000 acres of state forest to the east of Fort Bragg and Mendocino, and the largest state forest in California. You’ll find a beautiful waterfall in a grove of virgin redwood trees at Chamberlain Creek, and an excellent hike at the Forest History Trail east of Mendocino. There’s excellent mountain biking along Big River all the way out to the Woodlands State Park. There are hundreds of miles of horse trails throughout the forest, as well. When logging operations are happening, you must be careful when driving on the roads.
- Russian Gulch State Park : there’s a beautiful headlands area by the ocean, complete with a blowhole. As you head inland by bike or foot, you’ll find a waterfall out in the redwood forest. The North Boundary Trail is open to mountain bikes and horses, and you can head east into the Jackson Demonstration State Forest with its hundreds of miles of horse trails (with many horse camps).
Mendocino South to the Navarro River (Highway 128)
- Mendocino Headlands State Park : the Mendocino Headlands surround the village of Mendocino, which is itself a National Historic Preservation District. The headlands have foot paths all the way around, connecting up with Portuguese Beach and Big River State Beach at the south end of town. It’s a great spot for walking by the ocean, whalewatching, and finding wildflowers. At the north end of the Headlands, you can see the Point Cabrillo Light Station.
- Big River Unit of Mendocino Headlands State Park : Big River was intended to be a separate park, but budget constraints caused it to be attached to the existing Headlands park unit for now. This park unit contains 7000 acres of the Big River watershed, with a great gravel road following the river for many miles. You can walk the road with your dogs, or take a mountain bike out for many miles into the Jackson Forest. You’ll also find blackberries in abundance in the late summer, usually more plentiful the farther in you go.
- Chapman Point / Spring Ranch Headlands Preserve : a pleasant walk along headlands, with postcard views of Mendocino from across the bay. It is also a popular spot for abalone divers. This preserve connects up with Van Damme State Park at Little River.
- Van Damme State Park : there’s an excellent beach here where many kayaks and abalone divers set out, and a campground within the park. The park follows Little River inland into the redwood-filled Fern Canyon. There’s also a boardwalk through a section of pygmy forest, where the hardpan traps water just under the surface. Oxygen-starved plants grow slowly — along the boardwalk, you’ll find 100-year-old pine trees that are only a foot tall. This boardwalk is located several miles away from the ocean; you can drive right to it.
- Navarro Point Preserve : this new preserve (day use only) is on bluffs overlooking a huge expanse of ocean. Make sure you have a windbreaker here – the wind never stops! This is a popular spot for abalone divers and other fishermen.
Navarro River South to Gualala
- Navarro River Redwoods State Park and Beach : at the mouth of the Navarro River, you’ll find a beautiful, storm-tossed beach with a small arch at the river’s mouth. There are 9 primitive camp sites here, as well. The park continues inland for miles along Highway 128 and the Navarro River — there’s even fishing around the Paul Dimmick Campground 9 miles in.
- Greenwood State Beach : a beautiful beach in the town of Elk, although it is a steep walk down to it. On the bluff top, you’ll find the remains of gun emplacements from World War II.
- Manchester State Beach : just north of Point Arena, this is a lovely miles-long sandy beach. From the length of the beach, you can see the Point Arena Lighthouse out on the point. Alder Creek, at the north end of the beach, is where the San Andreas Fault heads out to sea for the last time (the road is currently closed here due to a landslide).
- Point Arena Lighthouse : one of the most picturesque lighthouses on the West Coast, with a First-Order Fresnel Lens. Adjacent to the new Stornetta Ranch Preserve, this area is also home to a huge flock of tundra swans in November/December as they pass through on their migration.
- Stornetta Public Lands (and Waterfall): this new 1500-acre preserve is just south and east (within view) of the Point Arena Lighthouse, and an easy trail across coastal meadows leads to a 50-foot waterfall that drops into the ocean.
- Bowling Ball Beach : a geological oddity where bowling-ball sized round rocks cover the beach at low tide.