Two miles north of Mendocino, Russian Gulch State Park protects craggy ocean bluffs, a gracefully arching bridge over Russian Gulch Creek, and a glistening waterfall tucked into a fern-filled grotto. Whether you’re a camper, bicyclist, hiker, photographer, or beachcomber, you’ll find much to explore in this 1,000-acre state park.
The photogenic Russian Gulch Bridge—a 527-foot-long concrete arch that spans Russian Gulch Creek’s sandy cove—connects the park’s dramatic coastal side and tree-hugging inland side. Start your park visit with a walk on the beach under the 100-foot-high bridge, built by the Works Progress Administration in 1939 as part of Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal. Does it look familiar? Its architecture is similar to the more famous Bixby Bridge in Big Sur, another 1930s public works project. The beach cove is small, but it’s a favorite of scuba divers, who explore an underwater world filled with sea stars, crabs, mussels, oysters, and red abalone. Kids can splash around in the creek’s mellow waters and hunt for shells on the sand.
North of the bridge, pay a visit to Russian Gulch’s glorious headlands. Take an easy stroll on blufftops laced with springtime wildflowers to visit the Devil’s Punchbowl, a 100-foot-wide crater-like blowhole. It’s actually a collapsed sea arch, carved by eons of crashing waves. Sixty feet down on the blowhole’s floor, the ocean rolls gently in and out. Visit during a hearty winter storm and you might be lucky enough to see roiling waves explode through the Punchbowl in a saltwater geyser. These headlands are also a prime spot for whale-watching from December to April and sunset-watching any time of year.
On the park’s inland side, Russian Gulch’s 36-foot-tall waterfall is tucked into a verdant grotto, which you can visit by bicycle or on foot. Start from the trailhead by the park’s 30-site campground. Bicyclists follow the paved Fern Canyon Trail, an old logging road, through a dense riparian forest of second-growth redwoods, Douglas firs, bigleaf maples, alders, and ferns. In the rainy season, you might spot rainbow and steelhead trout swimming upstream in Russian Gulch Creek. At the pavement’s end, lock up your bike and continue on foot to the falls. Hikers can follow the same route or the alternate North Trail—a longer, less-traveled path. Either way, you’ll soon find yourself at a petite-but-picturesque cataract that drops into an inviting pool.
Romance finds a home in this idyllic coastal region, where ocean fog rolls in from the ocean to blanket hushed redwood forests and whales spout offshore. Along the coast, artists set up their easels to paint scenes of crashing surf and whitewashed cottages wrapped in rose filled gardens.
Each year, December through May, look to the sea to witness roughly 15,000 gray whales swimming south for the summer.
It is also a place where a new generation of farmers and wine makers focus on preserving the land as well as producing amazing food and wine. Favourite escapes include the romantic hamlet of Mendocino, about three hours’ drive up the coast from San Francisco and Eureka, a former logging town two hours’ further north, and the gateway to the breath-taking Redwoods National and State Parks.
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