Big River Trail
Highway One Mile Marker (south end): 50
Trail Length: 10 miles
Coming from Mendocino turn left just before highway 1 crosses the bridge over Big River. The road slopes down to a large dirt parking lot. If you are looking for quick access to the beach, turn right at the bottom of the hill but if you want to park close to the trail start, go left and follow the dirt road up river until you reach the restrooms.
In 2002, Mendocino Land Trust completed the purchase and transfer of 7,334 acres near Big River to California State Parks. This includes a wonderful haul road that travels about ten miles east to connect Big River Beach with the Mendocino Woodlands State Park. Much of this haul road is multi-use and available to equestrians, bikers, hikers, runners, and people in wheelchairs. There are lovely views of the Big River estuary, which hosts birds, seals, otters, and other wildlife. You can walk side-by-side with friends and family, enjoying the quiet beauty of the Mendocino Coast.
Big River flows through the park to the Pacific Ocean. At its west end, this park has a sandy beach that is constantly reconfigured by the interaction of river and ocean. On the beach, you can picnic near massive pieces of driftwood while enjoying an ocean view. Or you can explore sea caves that are only accessible at low tides. All visitors to the ocean side of the beach need to be on the lookout for unusual but dangerously large “sneaker waves.”
Upstream, Big River has calmer waters, with birds, harbor seals and river otters hunting for fish. Big River is a perfect place for canoeing, kayaking, and paddle boarding. Heading upstream, you pass towering redwoods, Douglas firs, historic dams, old railroad trestle pilings, and submerged old-growth timber. There are many interpretive panels along the haul road as well as a lovely bench dedicated to the memory of Matthew Coleman, who coordinated Mendocino Land Trust’s Big River stewardship between 2006 and 2011.
More information and maps for this park are available through the California State Parks website as well as at the staffed state park entrance gates to Russian Gulch and Van Damme.