Coastal Trail Guide

Mendocino Land Trust

Working with you to conserve the land
while there's still time...

MLT Accreditation Badge

Central Coastal Trails

Hike Our Trails

Mendocino Land Trust has pioneered the way in California for nongovernmental organizations to open and operate public access trail easements. The abundance of coastal access trails helps contribute to the local economy, providing healthy opportunities to get out and enjoy our beautiful coast to residents and visitors alike.

The California Coastal Trail is managed and maintained by a wide variety of Federal, State, County, City, and non-governmental organizations (non-profits) throughout California and on the Mendocino Coast.

  • No cell phone receptionThis location has no cellular reception. Please plan accordingly. We recommend that you download the PDF trail data sheet below to your device prior to your trip to this location.

    The Jug Handle ecological staircase trail features a great family beach at its west end and the intriguing and unique pygmy forest three miles to the east. The ecological staircase is a series of several marine terraces, each with its own geology, soils, and plant communities. Of note, Jug Handle has received a "Natural National Landmark" designation because of the site's unique natural history. 

    The map shows some of the many entry points to this trail, from the north and east. The Jug Handle Farmhouse offers a variety of overnight accommodations for those interested in learning about the fascinating story of John D. Olmsted and his vision for the "Across California Trail," the Jug Handle ecological staircase, as well as the natural history of the Mendocino Coast.

    The 5-mile round trip trail from the ocean bluff to the Pygmy Forest can also be a one-way hike, accessing the ecological staircase trail via the Gibney Lane fire road at the south end of Gibney Lane.  You can walk the 0.5 miles uphill to the Pygmy Forest using the fire road, then hike down the trail to the ocean bluff, assuming you have a shuttle driver to take you back to your car. The Pygmy Forest terraces extend from the third terrace up to the fourth and fifth terraces, and since the path is at times unclear, it's best to walk this part of the trail with a guide. For those who need to leave the hike early, there is a shortcut back to Gibney Lane near a llama farm. This shortcut can be located by looking for the overhead electrical wires just before the trail back to Gibney Lane.

    The Jug Handle Farm provides a campground and cabins, as well as a Farmhouse lodging for those who may want to stay overnight. To schedule a guided trail walk, contact Jug Handle at (707) 964-4630 or (707) 937-3498.

     

    Dowload the PDF of the Ecological Staircase Self-Guided Nature Trail

    Download Trail Data Sheet [PDF]

    Jug Handle Trail trail map

    Click or tap to view the full-size map.

    Jug Handle Farm has ecological staircase maps as well as State Parks trail maps available.

    Trail Latitude (X): 39.375

    Trail Longitude (Y): -123.817

    Mapping: View vicinity on Google Maps (see Trail Map above or Trail Data Sheet PDF under the Information tab for a more precise map)

    Highway One Mile Marker (north end): 57

    Highway One Mile Marker (south end): 55.75

    Trail Length: 2.5 miles

  • No cell phone receptionThis location has no cellular reception. Please plan accordingly. We recommend that you download the PDF trail data sheet below to your device prior to your trip to this location.

    The Caspar Uplands trail’s north end is at Caspar State Beach, a much-loved pocket beach offering surfing, snorkeling, and picnicking. Just east of this beach up the Caspar Uplands Trail is an unusual bench dedicated to Art and Jean Morley. This bench was made by local woodworker Greg Smith, of redwood salvaged from the Pudding Creek Trestle. This hiking trail winds south through fir and riparian forests around Doyle Creek, and then uphill through the southernmost stand of sitka spruce forest in North America. If you are hiking in the spring, you will hear the whistle of osprey pairs nesting in these trees, and perhaps even catch a glimpse of one returning to its young in the nest with a fish in its talons. There are coastal trail connections from the Caspar Uplands trail to both the north and south, though it requires a little ingenuity to find them- to the north is Caspar Headlands State Park, and to the south is Point Cabrillo Lighthouse State Historic Park. If you look at the map, you should be able to figure out how to extend your hike a little longer to include one of these other beautiful state parks.

    Download Trail Data Sheet [PDF]

    Caspar Uplands Trail trail map

    Click or tap to view the full-size map.

    Trail Latitude (X): 39.360

    Trail Longitude (Y): -123.816

    Mapping: View vicinity on Google Maps (see Trail Map above or Trail Data Sheet PDF under the Information tab for a more precise map)

    Point Cabrillo Drive Mile Marker (north): 2.25

    Point Cabrillo Drive Mile Marker (south): 1.5

    Trail Length: 1.3 miles

  • No cell phone receptionThis location has no cellular reception. Please plan accordingly. We recommend that you download the PDF trail data sheet below to your device prior to your trip to this location.

    The Point Cabrillo Light Station State Historic Park is a real gem. It is operated by the Point Cabrillo Lightkeepers Association (PCLK) under a concessionaire contract with State Parks. There is a lot to explore here- three buildings including the Lighthouse with its museum and gift shop, the First Assistant Light Keeper’s House, and the Marine Science exhibit with a 270-gallon salt water aquarium in the restored blacksmith/workshop. These exhibits are open from 11am -4pm year-round for visitors to enjoy. The Lighthouse is a working Federal Aid to Navigation with lens tours offered (for a fee) 8 times a year (see the website www.pointcabrillo.org for dates). These tours allow visitors the rare opportunity to see the brilliant original Fresnel lens up close. Whale watching from this Point is particularly good from November through April during the Eastern Pacific Grey Whale migrations between the Arctic and Baja Mexico. The water offshore of Point Cabrillo is a Marine Protected Area, and the offshore rocks are part of the Coastal Monument. The coastal trail network here extends north to Frolic Cove, which is where the clipper brig “Frolic” wrecked in 1850, leading to the awareness of the huge redwoods on the Mendocino Coast, bringing loggers and new settlers to an area already inhabited by indigenous groups including the Mitom Pomo. A short walk north on the county road will take adventurous hikers to the Caspar Uplands Trail, which they can use to access nearby Caspar Headlands State Beach.

    Download Trail Data Sheet [PDF]

    Point Cabrillo Lighthouse Trail trail map

    Click or tap to view the full-size map.

    Trail Latitude (X): 39.349

    Trail Longitude (Y): -123.813

    Mapping: View vicinity on Google Maps (see Trail Map above or Trail Data Sheet PDF under the Information tab for a more precise map)

    Point Cabrillo Drive Mile Marker (north): 1.5

    Point Cabrillo Drive Mile Marker (south): 1.5

    Trail Length: 2 miles

  • A local favorite, Russian Gulch State Park has campgrounds and 15 miles of trail with multiple uses (bikes, horses, hiking) for visitors of all ages and abilities. Tall trees line the river trail, providing shade year round. Take the waterfall trail for a spectacular view and destination, the perfect place to have a seat and enjoy a snack while taking in the beautiful scenery. There is even an electric vehicle charging station, the best way to 'top off' the car while enjoying a hike.

    More information is available at the California State Park website here

    Russian Gulch State Park trail map

    Click or tap to view the full-size map.

    Trail Length: 15 miles

  • This 347-acre State Park, on the headlands between Highway One and the Pacific Ocean, surrounds the town of Mendocino. Sheer bluffs rise from a rocky shoreline, forming the park’s southern section. The historic Ford House (built in 1854) Visitor Center sits on the south side of Mendocino’s Main Street and it a great place to stop in before exploring the winding trails of this dramatic bluff top park. With spectacular, easy to navigate trail, and close ammenities, it's no wonder that the Mendocino Headlands Park is such a popular destination. Bring your binoculars beacuse whales can be spotted from shore throughout the year, espcially during the Grey Whale migration in the sping (February-April) and fall (September-December).

    Mendocino Headlands trail map

    Click or tap to view the full-size map.

    Mendocino was the first of several north coast towns founded between 1851 and 1920—the height of the lumber industry. German immigrant William Kasten was bound for the gold country in 1850 when his ship fortuitously ran aground off the Mendocino coast. In 1851 he filed papers claiming land he called “Port of Good Hope.” Those who built Mendocino’s Victorian buildings found their fortunes in the magnificent stands of coast redwoods. In 1854 Jerome B. Ford, superintendent of the first sawmill in Mendocino and founder of the town, built a home overlooking the Pacific for his bride. Today the Ford House Visitor Center exhibits tools, a scale model of 1890 Mendocino, Native American artifacts, and photographic images that interpret the town’s history. While Mendocino is known today for art galleries, shops, and inns, its well-tended Victorian architecture still conjures up a time when transportation was by horse, and each home had a water tower and an outhouse. The State acquired a portion of the headlands in 1957, and in 1974, through the support and advocacy of the local residents like artist Emmy Lou Packard, the land around the town became Mendocino Headlands State Park

  • In 2002, Mendocino Land Trust completed the purchase and transfer of 7,334 acres around Big River to State Parks. This includes a wonderful haul road that travels about 10 miles east to connect Big River Beach with Mendocino Woodlands State Park. Much of this haul road is multi-use and available to equestrians, bikers, hikers, runners, and people in wheelchairs. Along its length, there are lovely views of Big River estuary, which hosts birds, seals, otters, and other wildlife. It is a wonderful trail where you can walk side-by-side with friends and family, enjoying the quiet beauty of the Mendocino Coast.

     

    Download Trail Data Sheet [PDF]

    Big River Trail trail map

    Click or tap to view the full-size map.

    Trail Latitude (X): 39.303

    Trail Longitude (Y): -123.785

    Mapping: View vicinity on Google Maps (see Trail Map above or Trail Data Sheet PDF under the Information tab for a more precise map)

    Highway One Mile Marker (north end): 50.56

    Highway One Mile Marker (south end): 50

    Trail Length: 10 miles

    Big River was named not for the size of the river, but rather for the towering redwoods trees that used to line it's banks. Sadly, this once pristine landscape was dammed and logged extensively in the latter part of the 1800s and throughout the 1900s. In 2001, the property was listed for sale and the Mendocino Land Trust played a leading roll in raising millions of dollars to buy the watershed and convey the property to State Parks. Today, Mendocino Land Trust and California State Parks collaborate to complete watershed restoration projects that improve fish and wildlife habitat here, as well as remediate some of the damage done by past logging. There are many interpretive panels along the haul road and a lovely bench dedicated to the memory of Matthew Coleman, who coordinated stewardship of Big River as part of his work at the Mendocino Land Trust.

  • No cell phone receptionThis location has no cellular reception. Please plan accordingly. We recommend that you download the PDF trail data sheet below to your device prior to your trip to this location.

    This short trail offers fantastic views of the town of Mendocino to the north. 

    This is a great place for picnics, “plein-air” painting, sunset viewing, and getting married. There’s a bench at the northern part of the public area, dedicated to Grail Dawson and Betty Barber, longtime supporters of the Mendocino Land Trust, the organization that manages the site. This is the first public access area in California that was opened by a nonprofit in a public access easement on private property- pretty cool!

    Download Trail Data Sheet [PDF]

    Mendocino Bay Viewpoint trail map

    Click or tap to view the full-size map.

    To get here, head south of Mendocino Village on Highway One, go over the Big River bridge, and take your first right onto Brewery Gulch Road. From the south, go west off Highway One opposite the Comptche-Ukiah Road turnoff. Park on the pullout on this road’s eastern shoulder, and look for a brown and white management sign on a wooden fence across the street to the west.

    Trail Latitude (X): 39.2993

    Trail Longitude (Y): -123.7947

    Mapping: View vicinity on Google Maps (see Trail Map above or Trail Data Sheet PDF under the Information tab for a more precise map)

    Highway One Mile Marker (north end): 50.17

    Highway One Mile Marker (south end): 49.84

    Trail Length: 0.25 miles

  • No cell phone receptionThis location has no cellular reception. Please plan accordingly. We recommend that you download the PDF trail data sheet below to your device prior to your trip to this location.

    Spring Ranch is found the northwest corner of Van Damme State Park. This is a very lovely spot, offering spectacular views of the Pacific, and trails that wind above an interesting rocky intertidal shelf. There is good wildlife viewing here, especially at low tide, when the seals haul out onto offshore rocks, sun themselves, and rest. Along the trail, there are many memorial benches on which to rest, talk and enjoy the view from this wild place. 

      

    Download Trail Data Sheet [PDF]

    Spring Ranch Trail trail map

    Click or tap to view the full-size map.

    There are two main entry points for the Spring Ranch trails at both the north and south- west of Gordon Lane on the north end, and near Peterson Street and the inns at the south end. 

    Trail Latitude (X): 39.285

    Trail Longitude (Y): -123.794

    Mapping: View vicinity on Google Maps (see Trail Map above or Trail Data Sheet PDF under the Information tab for a more precise map)

    Highway One Mile Marker (north end): 49.04

    Highway One Mile Marker (south end): 48.5

    Trail Length: 1.25 miles

    Spring Ranch also has several iconic and historic barns that are visible from Highway One.

  • No cell phone receptionThis location has no cellular reception. Please plan accordingly. We recommend that you download the PDF trail data sheet below to your device prior to your trip to this location.

    This trail is about 0.5 miles long, to the awesome Little River Blowhole and beyond to the bluff edge. The Little River Blowhole is actually a punchbowl or sinkhole and is an actively eroding area; almost every winter, full grown trees fall into the abyss. Hikers and leashed dogs are permitted, and there is an interpretive panel telling the story of the geology of this cool feature. The trail winds though a Bishop pine forest, around the north side of the punchbowl/sinkhole, and out to views of the coast, ocean, and offshore islands. The trail is managed by the Mendocino Land Trust.

    This punchbowl /sinkhole is very dangerous- watch your step on this trail, and don’t try to climb into the punchbowl, as a fall would likely be fatal. There is also a lot of poison oak just off the entire trail- which is another reason to stay on it, and out of the punchbowl.

     

    Download Trail Data Sheet [PDF]

    Little River Blowhole trail map

    Click or tap to view the full-size map.

    There is limited parking west of Highway One at Little River Cemetery (cemetery parking takes precedence), or east of Highway One on the south shoulder of Little River Airport Road.

    Trail Latitude (X): 39.2690

    Trail Longitude (Y): -123.7873

    Mapping: View vicinity on Google Maps (see Trail Map above or Trail Data Sheet PDF under the Information tab for a more precise map)

    Highway One Mile Marker (north end): 47.7

    Highway One Mile Marker (south end): 47.5

    Trail Length: 0.5 miles

  • Three miles south of Mendocino on Highway One, Van Damme State Park offers a scenic beach, a lush fern-filled forest, and year-round camping. The highway runs through the park, separating the campground and the Fern Canyon trail head to the east from the beach and parking lot to the west. Visitors can fish for abalone or launch a kayak in a protected cove. They can explore a pygmy forest. They can hike, jog, or bicycle the splendid Fern Canyon Scenic Trail beside Little River. Of all the park system's units along the Mendocino coast, Van Damme is perhaps the richest in terms of historical resources connected with the redwood lumber industry. Its story is a prime example of the struggles and eventual failures of a small, independent lumber operation. 

    Van Damme is a great place for hiking, biking, birding, jogging, kayaking, botanizing, abalone fishing, and watching salmon spawn. Its trails including a 0.25 mile-long wheelchair-accessible boardwalk to view stunted trees in a pygmy forest. Its camping facilities include nine hike-in sites in a beautiful redwood forest. The 1930s-era visitor center was once a recreation hall for the Civilian Conservation Corps.

    If you have an hour, head out Airport Road to the pygmy forest. It’s weird, wonderful and well explained with interpretive signs. A good place for bird watching too, with pileated woodpeckers and more. 

    If you have half a day, start at Airport Road and hike from the pygmy forest down into Fern Canyon and back again—a four-mile loop that allows you the option of exploring both Fern Canyon Trail and Old Logging Road Trail. Starting in an open area with small trees, you descend into the tall trees and lush understory along the Little River. A good way to sample many of the park’s habitats in a short amount of time. 

    If you have a full day, hike the Fern Canyon Scenic Trail and the pygmy forest loop starting from the end of the drive-in campground—an 8- or 9-mile trek (depending on which route you choose). Then, as the sun sets, rest your weary bones at Van Damme Beach.

    HIKING
    Van Damme is a day-hiker’s paradise, with dramatic vistas and discoveries every step of the way. Plan your own hike, or pick one from the suggestions below. 
    Mileages 
    1.75 miles from the drive-in campground to the “environmental” primitive campsites
    2.5 miles from the drive-in campground to where the trail splits for the pygmy forest, where you can proceed upward on either Fern Canyon Trail or Old Logging Road Trail. From there, it’s 
    2.5 miles to the pygmy forest on Fern Canyon Trail, or
    1.4 miles to the pygmy forest on Old Logging Road Trail.
    0.25 miles from site 11 in the drive-in campground to the bog Cabbage Patch
    0.25 miles from Airport Drive parking area around the wheelchair-accessible pygmy forest boardwalk loop.

    EASY HIKES
    Pygmy Forest
    0.25 miles, flat
    Located off Airport Road. Check out the bonsai trees in bog-like conditions on soils so old they are nearly bereft of nutrients. Wheelchair accessible.

    MODERATE
    Pygmy Forest and Fern Canyon Loop
    4.15 miles, elevation change 300 feet 
    Sample the pygmy forest, the upland forest, and the redwoods of Fern Canyon, in one easy loop. Drive out Airport Road. After walking 0.25 miles around the pygmy forest boardwalk loop, head down the fire road for 0.2 miles to a fork in the trail. Take Old Logging Road Trail (the left fork) downhill for 1.2 miles to a junction with the Fern Canyon Trail. There’s a good picnic site there. Then turn right and uphill onto the single-track portion of Fern Canyon Trail. In 2.3 miles, after following the Little River through the heart of a lushly vegetated canyon, you’ll switchback up through a drier forest. In another 0.2 miles on the fire road you came in on, you’ll be back at your car.

    Fern Canyon from the Campground
    5 miles, elevation change 150 feet
    Check out the environmental camps and some of the finest parts of Fern Canyon on an easy (stroller- and bike-friendly) trail along Little River. Leave your car at the end of the main road, just east of the campground. With shafts of golden light piercing through tall trees, walk for 2.5 miles on a gentle, packed-earth trail along the Little River. You’ll pass alders, thimbleberries, elderberries, tall coast redwoods, mighty Douglas-firs and whole hillsides covered with sword ferns. Wooden bridges arch gracefully over the river numerous times. In 1.75 miles you’ll reach a second-growth redwood forest with 9 "environmental” (primitive) campsites. After a total of 2.5 miles, find a picnic site at a trail junction. Turn around there, return the way you came, and give all that gorgeous scenery a second look.

    STRENUOUS
    Fern Canyon Lollapalooza
    9.15 miles roundtrip, elevation gain 450 feet
    A long, lovely journey through many of the park’s most interesting places. Leave your car at the end of the main road, just east of the campground, follow the directions for the hike above until you get to the trail junction at 2.5 miles. From there, head uphill for 2.5 miles to the pygmy forest. Observe the strange effects of nutrient-poor soil on the plants along the 0.25-mile-long loop through the pygmy forest. Then head back downhill, taking Old Logging Road Trail at the fork. When you reach the Little River again, it’s a glistening, green 2.5 miles back to your car. 

    Download the State Park Map of Vann Damme here

    Van Damm State Park trail map

    Click or tap to view the full-size map.

    Trail Length: 5 miles

  • Just off of Hwy 1, south of the famous Heritage House resort, is this little coastal access trail that leads down a set of stairs to a private pocket beach. There is limited parking on the side of the road and visitors need to be mindful of the houses on both sides of the trail. However, for the adventurous spirit looking for a secret place off the beaten path, the Dark Gulch trail is a gem.

    Dark Gulch Trail trail map

    Click or tap to view the full-size map.

    Highway One Mile Marker (south end): 45.24

    Trail Length: .5 miles

  • No cell phone receptionThis location has no cellular reception. Please plan accordingly. We recommend that you download the PDF trail data sheet below to your device prior to your trip to this location.

    Greenwood Creek State Beach, which is west of downtown Elk, offers beach walks and kayaking. There is a lot of interesting driftwood washed up on this beach, and a large parking area with an outhouse and picnic area at the beginning of the trail down the hill. The views of offshore rocks looking south from Elk are some of the most beautiful coastal landscapes on the Mendocino Coast, and these rocks are west of Greenwood Creek State Beach. Long ago, this was a logging port and the many historic photographs at the Visitor Center in Elk offer a window into the rich and interesting past found here.  

    Download Trail Data Sheet [PDF]

    Greenwood Creek State Beach trail map

    Click or tap to view the full-size map.

    Trail Latitude (X): 39.130

    Trail Longitude (Y): -123.718

    Mapping: View vicinity on Google Maps (see Trail Map above or Trail Data Sheet PDF under the Information tab for a more precise map)

    Highway One Mile Marker (north end): 34

    Trail Length: 0.5 miles