Mendocino’s Attractions

The Mendocino area, located on the coast about three hours north of San Francisco, is a fantastic destination with many varied attractions and sights. In fact, there is so much to see and do in this region it would probably take a half dozen trips to become fully acquainted with all the great trails, coastal hideaways, and wineries en route. Below are descriptions of the attractions I most enjoy in the region.

Trails Galore: The Mendocino area is like an amusement park for trails runners with Russian Gulch State Park, Mendocino Woodlands State Park, Big River State Park, and Jackson State Forest all linked together providing hundreds of miles of trails in the aggregate. The highlight of Russian Gulch is a delicate waterfall in a lush environment of redwoods and ferns. For tempos, Van Damme State Park features a wide trail that travels along lush Little River with a carpet of ferns along the canyon. The Big River Haul Road is another great option for tempos with a relatively flat elevation profile for 10+ miles as travels along the meandering Big River. Jug Handle State Natural Reserve includes an ecological staircase culminating in a pygmy forest unique to this region of California’s coast. Jackson State Forest, Big River and Mendocino Woodlands are former logging areas (Jackson State Forest is an active demonstration forest) and evidence of the logging era abounds although it’s remarkable how fast redwoods grow back!

Coastal Scenery: Aside from the Mendocino Headlands described in the prior post, Russian Gulch and Jug Handle each contain their own rugged headlands, complete with rock formations and hidden beaches. Point Cabrillo Historic Light Station is a beautiful lighthouse with rugged coastal scenery in all directions. Unique Glass Beach in Fort Bragg is an amazing testament to the power of ocean waves with a beach literally covered in smooth rounded glass pieces (the glass was initially deposited in the early 20th century when residents of Fort Bragg through their trash over the cliff). MacKerricher State Park north of Fort Bragg features sand dunes and miles of sandy beach that are on my list to explore next time. Finally, one can rent canoes or kayaks and explore the sizable estuary of the Big River. While splashing water in the winter cold seemed unsavory, this looks like a great way to explore in the warmer months of the year.

Anderson Valley – Wine and Redwoods: What more could you ask for? The attractions on the way to Mendocino are so good that it might take much longer than expected to reach the coast. Anderson Valley is renowned for its wines, especially Pinot Noir, Gewurztraminer, Riesling, and sparkling wines. On this trip we stopped at Navarro Vineyards with its beautiful property complete with sheep and llamas. The rolling vineyards and surrounding hills dotted with cattle are picturesque.  Navarro’s late harvest Riesling and late harvest Gewurztraminer were particularly enjoyable for this lover of dessert wines. Beer aficionados may enjoy a stop at Anderson Valley brewery in Boonville, famous for its legendary ales. Also in the valley is a majestic stand of old growth redwoods at Hendy Woods State Park. This park was threatened with closure in the State Parks funding crisis, but fortunately closure was averted and the park remains open for enjoyment. Further afield are the old growth redwoods at Montgomery Woods, easily the most impressive stand of old growth south of Humboldt. Beware, however, that Montgomery Woods is only suitable for those with an appetite for prolonged curvy mountain roads.

Just three hours north of San Francisco, Mendocino feels much further away than it actually is making for an amazing getaway. I definitely look forward to returning to Mendocino as there is remaining to explore! I’ve included a few more photos below with the complete photo album here.

Mendocino Headlands

Mendocino Headlands State Park is an amazing meeting of land and ocean. The park is located literally next door to the quaint tourist village of Mendocino with its rich history and getaway appeal.  However, despite the park’s accessibility, this section of coastline is one of the more rugged and inspiring in all of California. The raw power of water is on full display with many intricate rock formations, numerous sea arches, hidden passageways, secluded beaches and jagged spires.  The dramatic views are truly memorable. We explored the park on an unseasonably cool winter day that was chilly despite the blazing sunshine. While we had to bundle up, the clear and crisp conditions more than compensated and we spent all morning venturing out onto the rock promontories and peninsulas, admiring the spectacular beauty of these headlands with every turn. Locals will confirm that the fall and winter season is the best time to visit this stretch of coastline to avoid persistent coastal fog common in late spring and summer. Further exploration on this trip to Mendocino included Russian Gulch State Park, Van Damme State Park, Jug Handle, Anderson Valley, Hendy Woods and Glass Beach in Fort Bragg. I’ll be posting photos and descriptions from these other destinations in the next entry.  For now, here are some of my favorite photos from the Mendocino Headlands with the complete album here.

Dewey Point Snowshoe

After wrapping up 2012 with an amazing skate ski to Glacier Point, we started 2013 with a classic snowshoe hike to Dewey Point, one of the most magnificent views of Yosemite Valley any time of the year, but especially breathtaking in the winter. Along the way to the point we encountered a winter wonderland in the forest and meadows with countless picturesque scenes. At Dewey Point, we marveled at the snowy view of the Yosemite high country and the colossal granite cliffs of El Capitan immediately across the Valley. From a small point, I gazed down nearly vertical cliffs to the Wawona Tunnel and Meced River nearly 3,000 feet below. On the way to Dewey Point we took the Dewey Ridge trail and on the way back we utilized Dewey Meadows and then the old Glacier Point Road to make for a nice loop (route on Strava). Complete photo here.

Glacier Point XC Ski

I have wanted to do the cross country ski to Glacier Point in the winter every since I heard about it a couple years ago. Despite being eager to go last winter, it never materialized due to lack of snow. This year would be different. After several feet of snow fell in the second half of December conditions were prime and the weather looked great over New Years Eve and Day. The Glacier Point winter trip starts at the family ski area at Badger Pass. Snowhoes and xc skis (both classic and skating) can be rented at the Badger Pass nordic center starting at 8:30 am (to be returned by 4 pm for single day rates). The route to Glacier Point and back from Badger Pass is 22.5 miles by my GPS watch and posted on Strava (the actual Glacier Point is a short walk from the end of the groomed track at the ski hut). We decided to go fast and light and make it a day trip. Despite my lack of experience with skate skiing, I was able to pick up the motions enough to make decent progress and even allow for some time to relax and enjoy the view at Glacier Pint.  Total moving ski time around 4:08 and round trip in 5:40. Complete photo album here.

After driving the snowy road to Badger Pass, I arrived at the door step of the nordic center at 8:30 am on the nose (just as they were opening) and I soon had rented the skis for the day. The day was sunny but cold, but skate skiing is an intense physical activity so I warmed up nicely. The track had just been groomed and was in pristine condition as I was among the first to ski today. This was only my second time skate skiing and my form left much to be desired at the beginning expending much more energy than necessary. Despite this, we made decent progress up the long hill to the pass near Illilouette Ridge with occasional magnificent views of the Clark Range. From the pass it was largely downhill with a thrilling decent into Glacier Point as the jaw-dropping view of Half Dome suddenly appears. Glacier Point is spectacular in the winter and this was a magical day with clear, crisp conditions and relatively fresh snow coating everything. We marveled at the views and the beauty that is Yosemite. On the way back we stopped at Washburn Point for more stellar views. The way back was a bit of slog with the uphill portions at the end, but my form was improving making it relatively easier. Working against me was the fact that cross country is about as taxing as running on uphills. It felt pretty good to cover 22.5 miles on only my second time on skate skis. It seemed as if not many people make the trek to Glacier Point and back in a single day, instead opting to stay at the pricey ski hut (where meals and water are provided) or snow camp somewhere in the vicinity of Glacier Point. If you are opting for the day trip, skate skiing is definitely the way to go. The Glacier Point winter trip was a great experience and I look forward to doing it again! Complete photo album here.

Point Reyes Pilgrimage

I have visited Point Reyes National Seashore many times over the years, but each time I leave inspired by the amazing scenery and look forward to the next exploration. This time I did a loop out of Bear Valley that I have done in the past, but in the reverse direction to best accommodate the day’s tides. This loop hits virtually all the coastal highlights of the south district of the park, including Alamere Falls, Wildcat Beach, Arch Rock, Kelham Beach, Sculptured Beach and Secret Beach. In addition, the inland trails traverse through lush Douglas fir forest with sweeping panoramic views achieved on the slopes of Mount Wittenberg. Access to Secret Beach via Sculptured Beach and Kelham Beach via Arch Rock both require low tides so the route must be designed accordingly. As to be expected, we encountered excellent tidepooling at Sculptured Beach with bountiful anemones, sea stars and mussels. Secret Beach features an immense natural amphitheater and a pristine stretch of coastline. Some of my favorite photos from this outing are below. A GPS map of the route is here. Complete photo album here (photos of me by Joel Lanz).

Complete photo album here.