Coastal Trail Guide

Mendocino Land Trust

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

MLT Accreditation Badge

Van Damme State Park

Parking iconRestrooms iconADA iconBeach Access iconWildlife Viewing iconWetlands / Stream iconSea Mammals iconWhale Watching iconFishing iconSCUBA / Snorkeling iconSurfing iconBiking iconKayaking iconSmall Watercraft iconEasy Trail iconModerate Trail icon

Van Damme State Park has one of the largest campgrounds on the Northern California Coast. This 1,831 acre park offers a variety of attractions for hikers, divers, and campers. The free day-use beach offers a stunning spot for whale watching, picnics, kayaking, and diving.

Van Damme beach is a protected cove offering smooth waters for kayaks, small boats, and diving. Take a dive under the waves and look at the kelp forests, Red Abalone, sea stars, urchins, and native fish. Set up a beach chair and watch for the visiting colony of Harbor Seals or passing gray whales. If visitors are craving a campfire on the beach, there are three fire pits available year round. RV camping is allowed in the beach parking lot, but there is no overnight tent camping permitted on the beach.

If any visitor is looking for a hike through shaded redwoods and fern filled canyons, the Van Damme Fern Canyon Trail is the perfect day hike. This hike, at its longest, is a 9 mile trek following Little River. Along the hike, visitors can see the stumps of massive redwoods logged by the early settlers of the area.

Visitors with a short amount of time should check out the Van Damme pygmy forest. This is a forest with trees hundreds of years old, but no taller than 5 feet. The limited nutrients in the soil paired with a hard packed layer of sandstone only a foot under the topsoil have stunted the growth of these ancient trees. Pygmy forests are rare, and the Northern California coast is fortunate to host over a dozen of these ecological wonders.

Camping in this park is popular all summer long. If any visitor is looking to stay in this expansive park, reservations should be made in advance. Visit ReserveCalifornia.com to book your site today. This park offers camping sites with food lockers, picnic tables, and room for tent camping.

SPECIAL ACTIVITIES:

During the summer, this state park offers a variety of free public activities. Each Saturday night between Memorial Day and Labor Day there is a Campfire program in the campfire center- complete with marshmallows and campfire songs. There are also hikes, tours, junior rangers, and educational booths available without any charge.

Download the State Park Map of Vann Damme here

Van Damme State Park trail map

Click or tap to view the full-size map.

Trail Length: 5 miles

For millions of years, the shifting tectonic plates under the ocean have been pushing up layers of soil and sedimentary rock forming the iconic cliffs and mountains on the coast. There are five distinct layers, or terraces, on the coast. The farther the terrace from the ocean, the older it is. The oldest terrace, the fifth, is estimated to be 500,000 years old. Each terrace, as it is formed under the ocean, accrues a variety of different nutrients. After the terrace is pushed above the surface of the ocean, it retains these unique nutrients. Because different forms of ecological life require different nutrients, the plant life on each terrace is distinct from the life found on another terrace.

The pygmy forest in Van Damme State Park is the product of the ancient movements of tectonic plates. The soil in the pygmy forest is nutrient deprived because the marine terrace is flat and poorly drained. The flatness of the area does not allow for much erosion to take place. The rain continuously floods the area, washing away nutrients without taking any of the soil with it. After thousands of years of nutrient leaching, the soil remaining in the area is highly acidic. This acidic soil stunts the growth of all plant life in the area, and the continuous rain and flooding removes oxygen from the roots of the trees. Beyond all these hindrances to life, these trees continue to live. They grow slowly, but steadily for hundreds of years.

In the Van Damme pygmy forest, there is a handicap accessible boardwalk. All visitors should use this boardwalk because of the highly sensitive nature of the forest. Each plant fights to survive on a daily basis, and walking on the soil can cause irreparable damage to the roots beneath.