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.