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Russian Gulch State Park
Just two miles north of Mendocino, Russian Gulch State Park combines a three-mile leafy canyon with windswept headlands and pristine beaches along the park’s rocky coastline. Inland, a 36-foot waterfall plunges down into a bower of redwoods, mosses, and ferns. Along the coast, waves crash into a collapsed sea cave called Devil’s Punchbowl, and the photogenic Frederick W. Panhorst Bridge rises gracefully 100 feet from the bottom of the gulch.
In the spring, the park’s foggy headlands bloom with acres of wildflowers. With nearly a mile and a half of ocean frontage, the park is often compared to Point Lobos on the Big Sur Coast. Visitors come to camp, hike, bike, fish, dive, kayak, ride their horses, or just marvel at the park’s beauty.
The climate in the park is temperate year-round. Winter rainclouds and cool summer fogs that usually burn off by mid-morning provide the moisture necessary for the thriving coast redwoods. Prepare for changeable weather.
• All features of the parks are protected by state law and may not be disturbed or collected.
• Anglers age 16 and over must carry a valid fishing license.
• Dead and downed wood may not be gathered or removed. Firewood is available for purchase at the campground.
• Pets must be on a leash no longer than six feet. They are allowed at the picnic area, beach, in the campground, and on paved park roads and the Headlands Trail. Except for service animals, dogs are not allowed on any other trails in the park. At night, pets must be in a tent or vehicle.
• Horse are allowed on designated roads and trails only.
• Driving off of designated roads is not permitted.
• State law requires that all bicycle riders under the age of 18 wear bicycle helmets.
THINGS TO DO
Russian Gulch State Park has 15 miles of trails, with a satisfying mix of shady forest and open coastal hikes. About 5 miles of those trails are open to bicycles. The park’s beaches, coves, and tide pools are great for a variety of water activities.
If you have an hour, check out the Headlands Trail, where you can gaze at the Pacific Ocean from various vantage points and investigate the park’s notorious sinkhole, Devil’s Punchbowl. Picnic at nearby tables overlooking Panhorst Bridge.
If you have half a day, head up to the park’s sparkling waterfall on the Fern Canyon Trail.
If you have a full day, hike the Fern Canyon Loop in the morning and one or more of the headlands trails in the afternoon. Catch the last rays of sun on the beach at the mouth of Russian Gulch Creek.
Several accessible facilities at Russian Gulch include a group recreation hall, 0.9 miles of the Fern Canyon Trail, and one campsite. Assistance may be needed with restroom, shower, and other facilities. A beach wheelchair is available for use by calling (707) 937-5721 to reserve it at least seven days in advance. Accessibility at the park is continually improving. For updates on accessibility in any California state park, click the Accessible Features link at the top of this page.
Bikes are allowed on designated roads and trails only, including 2 miles of the Fern Canyon Trail and 2.8 miles of the North Boundary Trail.
Russian Gulch has 26 standard campsites, four equestrian campsites with corrals, and one group site. Reservations are strongly recommended in the summer. Campsites are available up to six months in advance by calling 1-800-444-7275 or by clicking the reservations link at the top of this page. Sites are first-come, first-served from Labor Day through late March.
HORSE CAMPING AND RIDING
Russian Gulch’s horse camp is on the northeast edge of the park, off Casper–Little Lake Road. The fee for each of four sites covers staging areas, corrals, and water troughs. Make reservations by calling 707-937-5804 (District Office). Horses are allowed on designated roads and trails only. No horse rental stables are available nearby.
Fishing is not permitted in the creek, but ocean fishing is allowed for children and licensed adults 16 and older. However, be aware that the ocean here is treacherous.
0.75 miles long, minimal elevation change
Starting at the picnic area overlooking Panhorst Bridge, walk southwest along the bluff edge past lichen-laced pines and jaw-dropping views of the Pacific Ocean. Stay close to the craggy shoreline as you round the corner at the southern end of the trail. Head north for a couple of minutes, then veer 200 feet inland to the sinkhole overlook, Devil’s Punchbowl. This 100-foot by 60-foot basin was created when a tunnel penetrating inland from the ocean collapsed. At high tide, it’s a roiling cauldron of water.
Fern Canyon to Falls Loop Trails
5.4 – 6.3 miles3 out and back (depending on route), 250–350 foot change in elevation
From the recreation hall, drive east to the parking lot at the end of the campground. From there it’s an enchanting 2-mile stroll along Russian Gulch Creek to a fork in the trail. If you continue on the left fork, you’ll arrive at a 36-foot waterfall worthy of a tropical paradise in only 0.7 miles. If you take the right fork, the Falls Loop Trail, you’ll go up and over a ridge and arrive at the same destination in 1.6 miles.4 The reward for the longer route is a greater variety of habitats and, in spring, a sprinkling of pink rhododendrons.
JUST FOR KIDS
Summer interpretive activities at Russian Gulch State Park include hikes for all ages and Junior Ranger® programs for visitors age 7 to 12. Times and locations are posted in the park.
If you come in the off-season, you and your kids can download and work your way through the state parks Adventure Guide together.
Before heading to the park, explore the Redwoods Learning Center set up by Save the Redwoods League. It offers fun, redwood-themed activities, classroom tools, and ways to get involved in redwood protection. Redwoods bingo, anyone?
Russian Gulch State Park offers swimming from a beach at the mouth of Russian Gulch Creek, tide pool exploring, SCUBA diving, free diving, and fishing. With a valid license, species you can catch and keep include abalone, crabs, finfish, lobster, mussels, and oysters. All anglers aged 16 and over must carry a valid fishing license and report card. See www.wildlife.ca.gov/licensing for full regulations. Canoes and kayaks can carry you into the ocean when the cove entry point is calm.
Please be cautious around the ocean and remember:
• Stay back from bluff edges.
• No lifeguards are continually present at this beach.
• Large rogue waves can sweep you out to sea during ALL seasons and ocean conditions.
• Bluff- and ocean-related deaths are common.
• The water is very cold, swift, and unforgiving.
Check local conditions—currents, wind and weather. Always check the weather forecast and ocean conditions before diving. Check yourself out—honestly assess your capabilities in light of weather and water conditions. Are you in shape? Are you sober? Is your equipment in good shape? Is your dive buddy attentive?
- Mendocino Area Park Assoc. (M.A.P.A.) (Pay shower management)