The North Coast and the Redwood Empire





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  The North Coast and Redwood Empire are rich in parklands. They are the primary attraction for the area. The parks offer hiking, camping, fishing, horseback riding, mountain biking, swimming, boating, and wildlife-watching. In these parks are awesome rocky coastlines, dense forests of the tallest trees in the world, broad salmon-filled rivers, sandy beaches, and coastal lagoons teeming with waterfowl. Most of these parks are state parks, but the largest and one of the youngest is Redwood National Park. Below is a list of the most popular parks, from south to north, with links to their official pages. More information can be found on my North Coast links page.

Sonoma Coast State Beach - This state beach is one of the largest in the state, stretching for 10 miles and covering 5,000 acres from Bodega Bay to the Russian River. Hwy 1 follows along the coast here. This is rugged coastline typical of the North Coast, with steep headlands, tidepools, sea arches, rocky beaches, and pocket coves. Bodega Head is an excellent whale-watching spot. There are 2 developed campgrounds and 2 primitive campgrounds.

Fort Ross State Historical Park - Guarding the coast north of the Russian River, this park contains a restored Russian fort complex. The fort was originally established in 1812 to protect the Russian otter fur trade in the area and grow food for their Alaskan outposts. The Russians withdrew in 1841 as the sea otters became scarce. The fort itself is the central focus of the park, with its domed redwood buildings, historical displays, and a visitors center, but it's only a small part of the park's 3517 acres. The park also includes redwood canyons, coastal bluffs, and a lovely cove. A campground is nearby in a protected ravine.

Salt Point State Park and Kruse Rhododendron State Reserve - These adjacent parks are along the rocky coast north of Fort Ross. They include rhododendron groves, rugged coastline, scenic coves, meadows, and a pygmy forest. Divers can explore the rich marine life in a protected underwater reserve here.

Schooner Gulch State Beach - This park protects the headlands and beach along scenic Schooner Gulch, 3 miles south of Point Arena.

Manchester State Park - This 5-mile long windswept beach is a beachcomber's paradise. Creeks draining redwood canyons, ocean currents, and winds pile huge amounts of driftwood onto the beach, which beachgoers have built into makeshift shelters from the wind. Also here is a marsh, pond, dunes, and a lagoon. To the south is Point Arena and the picturesque Point Arena Lighthouse.

Greenwood State Beach - This beach is 15 miles north of Point Arena. A visitors center in town has displays on life in a lumber town of the 1800's. 

Montgomery Woods State Reserve - This remote and once little-known 1142-acre state reserve near the town of Ukiah preserves 700 acres of redwoods. The park is significant because it now contains the tallest tree in the world. The Mendocino Tree has been measured at 367.5 feet and took the tallest tree crown after the previous record holder in Redwood National Park lost its top (see below). 

Maillard Redwoods State Reserve - This is a 242-acre reserve about 3.5 miles southwest of Hwy 128 on Fish Rock Road. It is located on the steep slopes of a canyon on both sides of the road. Access is difficult. It's primary purpose is protection of the young redwood forest habitat.

Navarro River Redwoods State Park - This park includes the Paul Dimmick Wayside Camp, a small campground is along the Navarro River 8 miles inland from the coast in a second-growth redwood forest. It serves as a base of operations for abalone divers, steelhead fishermen, kayakers, and canoeists.. Its inland location protects it from coastal fog and winds, and the River provides a refreshing swimming hole in the summer. The redwoods continue to the coast along the Navarro River and Hwy 128. This strip is called the Navarro River Redwoods and has turnouts for picnicking and river access.

Hendy Woods State Park - This state park is inland along the Navarro River, along Hwy 128, 8 miles northwest of Boonville. It's inland location makes the 690-acre park much warmer and sunnier than the parks along the coast, and less crowded, but it contains groves of giant old-growth redwood trees, cool swimming holes in the river, and shady, developed campgrounds.

Van Damme State Park - This park, just south of Mendocino, consists of a pygmy forest, a fern canyon along Little River, a bog, a sandy beach along a cove and the river mouth, and a protected underwater preserve. The visitor's center here has displays on the undersea environment. The campground here is very much in-demand. Reservations are a must.

Mendocino Woodlands State Park - This park is in a redwood forest, 9 miles east of Mendocino. It has rustic buildings hand-built from redwood and stone by WPA and CCC workers in the 1930's. It offers group camping and hiking.

Mendocino Headlands State Park - If you're visiting the town of Mendocino, you don't have to go far to get to this state park, as it surrounds the town on 3 sides. The headlands are the natural frame for the picturesque town. On the south, they face the broad lagoon of the Big River. On the west, they front the ocean, with the pounding waves carving tunnels and arches into the cliffs.

Russian Gulch State Park - If you have time to visit only one park in the Mendocino area, this is the one. With 1,162 acres, Russian Gulch isn't huge, but it has a lot of scenery concentrated into one easily-seen park. It includes a mile and a half of ocean frontage, with rugged coastal bluffs, and a beautiful protected cove. The arch bridge over the cove is as photogenic as Big Sur's Bixby Bridge. On the headlands is a huge plant-lined blowhole, 200 feet inland from the sea and fed by tidal surges through an underground tunnel. The powerful surf has also carved islets, sea caves, and arches out of the headlands. Russian Gulch creek flows into the cove. It often forms an easily-wadable lagoon. Trails lead inland along the creek to a 36-foot waterfall. Other trails lead through steep fern-lined and redwood forested canyons. Developed campsites are along the creek. The park also has some great diving, with easy access from the cove. 

Caspar Headlands State Beach - 2 miles north of Russian Gulch, this park has 2 acres of headlands above miles of undeveloped beach. 

Jug Handle State Reserve - This 769-acre reserve is known for its "ecological staircase." A 5-mile round-trip walk leads from one type of natural environment to another on 5 successive terraces, starting with the coastal headlands and ending in a pygmy forest.

Admiral William Standley State Recreation Area - This park has 45 acres of redwoods near the headwaters of the south fork of the Eel River at 1700 feet. Fishing for salmon and steelhead, as well as hiking and picknicking, are popular here.

MacKerricher State Park - This large park is along the coast 3 miles north of Fort Bragg. It has 8 miles of sandy beach, sand dunes, forests, seal rocks, grassy meadows, tidepools, rocky headlands with a blowhole and sea arch, a tidal lagoon, and 2 freshwater trout lakes. There's also a large campground here, picnic areas, and trails for bicyclists and equestrians.

Sinkyone Wilderness State Park - This 7,367-acre park is located along the "Lost Coast," an area of the north coast so steep and rugged that the coast road had to be routed inland to bypass it. 

Standish-Hickey State Recreation Area - This park, located a mile north of Leggett on Hwy 101, follows the South Fork of the Eel River. It offers swimming, fishing, and canoeing in the river. Three campgrounds here have 162 campsites. Trails lead through the redwoods. The tallest tree is the Miles Standish Tree, a 1200-year old giant, which towers 255 feet. 

Westport-Union Landing State Beach - This beach has 3 miles of coastline and 100 campsites on a bluff overlooking the ocean. Surf fishing is popular here.

Smithe Redwoods State Reserve - This relatively small (665-acre) day-use only park, 4 miles north of Leggett, used to be a private resort. It has a picnic area, swimming and fishing in the Eel River, and a 60-foot waterfall. 

Richardson Grove State Park - This 77-year old park along the Eel River has groves of truly giant redwoods, some over 300 feet. This developed park has campgrounds with 150 family and group campsites. It has a visitors center and nature store located in an historic 1930's-era lodge. Cabins are also available for rent. A walk-through tree and self-guided nature trail are near the visitors center. Fishiing and swimming in the Eel river are also popular. 

Benbow Lake State Recreation Area - Benbow Lake is actually a section of the Eel River that gets dammed up each summer, forming a 26-acre lake. The park, located 2 miles south of Garberville, covers 1200 acres. It includes a campground with 75 campsites. A trail leads up into the redwood-forested hills overlooking the lake.

Humboldt Redwoods State Park - This park, like the redwoods within it, is an impressive old giant. It's the largest of the state redwood parks, and the third largest state park in California, covering 51,000 acres. It was created 5 years after the founders of the Save-the-Redwoods League saw the groves of the great redwoods here in 1917 and lobbied the state to protect them. It became the second state redwood park, after Big Basin, the first state park. The park has grown since then, now protecting 17,000 acres of old growth forests, including some of the tallest trees in the world. The Rockefeller Forest is the largest contiguous old-growth redwood forest remaining in the world. The Founder's Grove includes the fallen Dyerville giant, which was once 362 feet tall, and now lies like a great wall along the forest floor. It was once thought to be the world's tallest tree, but now may be the world's longest tree. You can walk along it and appreciate how huge these trees are. 5 of the 10 tallest trees in the world are in this park, including the 3rd tallest tree. 30 miles of the Eel River run through the park. A popular scenic byway, the 32-mile Avenue of the Giants, runs through the park.

Grizzly Creek Redwoods State Park - This is a small state park, but it has campsites, canoeing, kayaking, fishing, and swimming in the Van Duzen River, with 4.5 miles of hiking trails.

Fort Humboldt State Historic Park - This is an old military fort located on a bluff in Eureka, overlooking Humboldt Bay. 2 of the 14 original buildings have been restored. The park includes historic logging equipment and a heritage garden.

Little River State Beach - This beach is 5 miles south of Trinidad, on the south side of Little River. To the south of it Clam Beach County Park, which has camping, clamming, and fishing.

Trinidad State Beach - This lovely little beach is next to the scenic town of Trinidad. There's a small sandy beach along a cove, with islets offshore and a sea arch. 

Patrick's Point State Park - This park is the North Coast's version of Carmel's Point Lobos. Located on a rugged point of land on the coast north of Trinidad, the park has a wide variety of attractions. It has a replica Indian village used by local Yurok Indians to educate their children and the public on their culture. The park has a grove of Sitka Spruce trees, called "Octopus Trees," because their long roots look like octopus tentacles. Agate Beach is covered with wave-polished semi-precious agates. The high bluffs are good places for whale-watching. The park also has campsites, cabins, and circular tent cabins called yurts. 

Humboldt Lagoon State Park and Harry A. Merlo State Recreation Area - These mostly undeveloped park areas encompass 2 large lagoons, a marsh, a coastal meadow, and sandy beaches. The parks offer swimming, canoeing, boating, swimming, birdwatching, and fishing in the lagoons. 

Redwood National Park- Together with Prairie Creek Redwoods, Del Norte Coast Redwoods, and Jedidiah Smith Redwoods State Park, the cluster of parks form Redwood National and State Parks. The parks are jointly managed by the state and national parks. The national park is young compared to the state parks. The creation of the national park in 1968 and its expansion in 1978 were steeped in controversy, pitting preservationists against logging interests. This controversy continues today in other parts of the Redwood Empire. Together, the state and national parks, which cross 2 counties, comprise an enormous 110,234 acres, of which 5,939 is underwater. 75,451 acres is included in the national park, which includes one of the world's great treasures: some of the tallest trees in the world. The giant trees are located in a grove of giants, the Tall Trees Grove. One ot these, simply called the Tall Tree, used to be the tallest tree in the world until it lost its top. (See here for a list of the tallest coast redwoods.) The discovery of the grove, along a remote section of Redwood Creek, spurred the establishment of the national park to protect them and neighboring lands. In 1980, UNESCO declared the parks a World Heritage Site. They've also been designated a Man in the Biosphere Preserve. Though the national park is bigger than the state parks, it is much younger and has fewer recreational facilities. Unlike the state parks, only a small fraction of the national park is along the main highway. The main parts are reached by steep, often unpaved backroads and long hiking trails. The southern entrance to the national park is at Freshwater Lagoon. A few miles ahead is a picnic area and information center. A boardwalk leads to an overlook of the Redwood Creek estuary. Past the former lumber town of Orick, the steep (up to 17% grade) and only partly-paved Bald Hills Road leads east and then south into the heart of the park. It passes the Lady Bird Johnson Grove, where the park was dedicated by the First Lady in 1968, and the Tall Trees Road. The latter is a gravel road accessible by shuttle bus (which you can catch at the visitors center) or permit only. At the end of the road is the steep 1.3-mile trail that descends 800 feet in elevation to the Tall Trees Grove. 

Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park - This park was created in 1920 and covers 14,000 acres. It protects old growth redwood forests, with some 280 groves dedicated as memorial groves. 70 miles of trails lead through redwood forests and wild shoreline. A 9-mile bypass to Hwy 101, the Newton B. Drury Scenic Parkway, leads through the park, flanked by giant redwoods. Elk are commonly seen grazing in grassy meadows. Davison Road, a narrow gravel road, leads to Gold Bluffs Beach, the site of a gold rush, and lush Fern Canyon. The park also has 2 campgrounds, nature trails, a visitors center, and a nature store.

Del Norte Coast Redwoods State Park - This park was established in 1929 and covers 6400 acres of redwood forests, Mill Creek, and 8 miles of rugged coastline. This is a steep park, with the highest point at 1277 feet. The coast is accessible only by a couple of steep trails. A campground is along Mill Creek.

Jedidiah Smith Redwoods State Park - This 10,000 acre park is along US Hwy 199, east of Hwy 101. The Smith River, the last major free-flowing river in California, runs through it. The river attracts fishermen to its salmon and steelhead runs. A narrow gravel road, Howland Hill Road, leads through the interior of the park to the Stout Memorial Grove, whose largest tree is 20 feet in diameter and 340 feet high, one of the largest redwoods in the world. The recently-discovered Del Norte Titan, located along Mill Creek, is the largest coast redwood tree by volume. The self-guided interpretive Simpson-Reed Discovery Trail is more easily reached, right off Hwy 199. There are developed campsites and a bicycle camp along the Smith River. A visitors center has exhibits and books on the area and picnic tables.

Tolowa Dunes State Park - This park is located north of Crescent City, just south of the Oregon border. The park covers 5,000 acres and has hiking trails around lakes, dunes, and through coastal meadows. Lake Earl and the Smith River offer wildlife viewing, fishing, and canoeing. Bald Eagles can be seen here. There are walk-in primitive campsites and a ride-in horse camp. 

Pelican State Beach - This small, undeveloped 5-acre beach is the northernmost state beach in California. It is right next to the Oregon border.

County and Local Parks and Trails:

Mendocino County Parks include: Faulkner County Park (2 miles W of Boonville off Highway 128); Indian Creek County Park (S of Philo off Highway 128).

Humboldt County Parks

Del Norte County Parks

Eureka City Trails

Lost Coast Trail

Hammond Coastal Trail

Previous release 5/24/99, last update 7/15/05


Van Damme State Park creek and beach

Rock bridge at Mendocino Headlands State Park


Russian Gulch State Park Cove and Bridge