MENDOCINO HEADLANDS STATE PARK
The park is near picturesque downtown Mendocino. The park features grass-covered headlands and a beach, with access from the mouth of the Big River south of town. Trails are popular with hikers and joggers. In winter, the park provides a site for whale watching. The Ford Museum features weekend lectures on area wildlife.
Volunteers operate the historic Ford House on Main Street in Mendocino. Current and historic information about the area is available to Mendocino visitors, including a scale model of 1890 Mendocino. Interpretive walks, led by docents. Check times at the Ford House.
The park, with its unique blend of gentle trails, rugged coastline, secluded beaches and timeless history surrounds the Village of Mendocino on three sides. Three miles of trails wind along the cliffs, giving the casual explorer spectacular views of sea arches and hidden grottos.
The park began operation in 1974. The original idea for the park came from the citizens of Mendocino in the late 1960's. Rumors of a planned development for the headlands brought the people together who wanted to retain the property as natural open space. Now the park land provides Mendocino with a buffer area that preserves the town's historical presence. In return, the town provides a view of a unique blend of natural, ecological, cultural and social diversity.
You might come to see the spring wildflowers, enjoy a crisp and clear fall day, escape to a cool summer climate or witness the winter migration of grey whale.
There are no camping facilities; visitors are day users only.
Activities range from hiking to surfing and from fishing to sport diving.
Big River Beach is on the south side of Mendocino. It is accessible by vehicle from Highway 1, or by trails down the bluffs. Picnickers, sun bathers and players in the surf.
Photographers and painters frequently visit various parts of Mendocino Headlands enjoying and capturing the scenic wonders.
Mendocino Headlands State Park is located near Fort Bragg
Mendocino Headlands Trail
2 to 5 miles round tripFew coastal locales are as photographed as the town of Mendocino and its bold headlands. The town itself, which lies just north of the mouth of Big River, resembles a New England village, no doubt by design of its Yankee founders. Mendocino may be familiar to fans of the once-popular television series ?Murder She Wrote?; it served as the ﬁctional Cabot Cove, sleuth Jessica Fletcher?s hometown. Now protected by a state park, the headlands are laced with paths that offer postcard views of wave tunnels and tidepools, beaches and blowholes.
Big River Haul Road
From Big River Beach to trailhead is 8.3 miles one wayBig River wasn?t named for its length or breadth, but for the size of the redwoods that once grew along the banks. Big (second-growth) redwoods and a big estuary are among the compelling natural attractions of Big River State Park, a big (7,334 acres) unit added to California?s park system in 2002.
For a century and a half, the Big River region was owned by various timber companies and very much off-limits to recreation. State funds, federal funds and donations secured by the Mendocino Land Trust, along with the dedicated work by many conservationists, helped create the state park. The park preserves the only major undeveloped estuary in northern California.
Big River is big on biological diversity: freshwater and brackish marshland, mudﬂats, plus stands of redwoods, hardwoods, bishop pine and pygmy cypress. The new park is big on birds, too, and offers critical habitat for more than two dozen rare, endangered and threatened species, including the northern spotted owl, bald eagle and California brown pelican. Big River?s estuary is ideal spawning habitat and nursery waters for coho and steelhead.
Kayaking and canoeing Big River are popular activities. Paddling Big River?s forested canyon is a delight?provided paddlers time their travels with the tides.
Some proud locals claim the world?s best blackberries grow in the new park. To verify this claim, go berry picking in late summer.
Big River State Park is all but surrounded by public land. Jackson Demonstration State Forest borders the park on the north, Van Damme State Park (with a brief interruption by Comptche-Ukiah Road and a corridor of private land) borders the park on the south.
Hikers can ramble through the park and onto adjacent parkland, connecting to a far-ﬂung trail network that totals more than one hundred miles of trail. Old logging roads lead to Jackson State Forest and Mendocino Woodlands State Park.
Numerous dead-end logging roads and skid trails crisscross the park, rangers caution, meaning it?s easy to get frustrated, disoriented or lost if you venture off the main road. The main road, in this case, is the Big River Haul Road, which loosely parallels the north side of Big River, and winds 8.3 miles to its end at the edge of the estuary. A multi-use path, it?s open to hiking, cycling and horseback riding. Many of the confusing old logging roads will be ?decommissioned,? as park planners put it.
Wander the haul road for as long as you wish. For a mellow introduction to the park, hike to the two- or three-mle mark (posted on trees en route).
Southwide Trail leads along the south side of Big River. It?s not a maintained route and may soon be too washed out and overgrown for use. Impressive redwoods and river vistas are the highlights of this two-mile round trip hike. First you head east on a retired logging road and walk amidst some tall redwoods. Views soon open up to reveal the park?s namesake river and the town of Mendocino. Farther along, you?ll cross well-watered, fern-ﬁlled hillsides.
The Historic Ford House is a museum located on Main Street in Mendocino and is the Visitors Center for the Mendocino Headlands State Park. The Ford House provides current and historic information about to Mendocino visitors. It has a scale model exhibit of the Mendocino in 1890, built by local craftsman Len Peterson and the Museum offers a number of videos for viewing with topics ranging from the great migration of the gray whales to the steam whistle logging era of the early Twentieth Century. All videos are presented upon request and at no charge. Jerome B. Ford had the house built for his bride, Martha, in 1854. Ford was the superintendent of the first sawmill in Mendocino and is credited by many as being the founder of the city.
Exhibits at the Ford House carry the visitor back to another era. Throughout the house, are historic photographs, tools and relics that tell the story from the felling of the redwoods to the shipping of the lumber aboard the legendary doghole schooners. There is a small display of California Indian implements and seasonal exhibits on the local flora and fauna. Interpretive walks are led by docents and they also provide weekend lectures on area wildlife. The Mendocino Area Parks Association operates the Historic Ford House.
On the south side of Mendocino, accessible by vehicle from Highway 1, or by trails down the bluffs, is Big River Beach. This beach is used by picnickers, sun bathers and players in the surf. Mendocino Headlands State Park began operation in 1974. In 2002 the Big River wetlands was added to the park creating a 7,400-acre wildlife corridor which links diverse coastal and inland habitats into the largest piece of connected public land entirely within Mendocino County. Reaching from the Big River's mouth to 800-foot elevation inland ridges, the Big River wetlands includes a wide range of habitats. On the north it adjoins Jackson Demonstration State Forest and Mendocino Woodlands State Park. Public lands reach to the sea from Jackson Demonstration State Forest at Jug Handle State Reserve, Russian Gulch State Park and the Point Cabrillo Light Station State Historic Park. To the south, separated by a narrow strip of private land and Comptche Ukiah Road, lies Van Damme State Park with an RV campground and ocean access. Learn More about Big River Beach.
The Headlands are also home to the Mendocino Music Festival. Held in July of each year, the Festival is over two decades old and is a magical blend of fine music by outstanding performers. Evenings include breathtaking concerts featuring the glorious Festival Orchestra, the popular Big Band concert, chamber music ensembles, dance, blues, jazz, world, and folk music. Days include chamber concerts at beautiful venues throughout Mendocino Village. Go to Festival Website.
The park surrounds the town of Mendocino, just off Highway One.