The coastline from Little River just outside of Mendocino to Fort Bragg/ MacKerricher State Park is amazingly beautiful, and for the most part dogs are allowed on all coastal trails, some beaches, and most of these areas are free with parking and restrooms. Most of the areas are shorter 1 to 2 mile loops or in and outs, but a few areas provide longer hikes. You can even venture all the way down to Point Arena if you have the time. Most of these trails are part of The California Coastal Trail system and more info with maps can be found here http://www.mendocinolandtrust.org/trails/
A good rule of thumb when adventuring in this area is Coastal Trails : dogs most likely allowed; Woods : dogs prob not allowed, unless it’s further from the coastal area and the Mendocino National Forest or Calfire Jackson Demonstration Forest. On our first day we went canoeing on the Big River. The second day we had fun driving to many different spots and doing the shorter hikes, while exploring the towns and getting snacks:) The third day day we did some longer hikes along the coast, like the Spring Ranch Area of Van Damme State park, and Noyo Headlands/Glass Beach to MacKerricher State Park, we need to go back and do the other part of the Noyo Headlands. Many spots are also accessible with viewing areas and some paved walkways, while dirt trails are mostly flat with very little elevation, unless you climb down to the beaches:)
We camped at Van Damme State Park, dogs are allowed at the campground, a beach that you cross Highway 1 to get to, and The Spring Ranch area of the park.. The price recently went up to $45 a night, which is more than I have ever paid to camp, even at a KOA. It’s pretty bare bones for that price, but the bathrooms and campsites were clean, and it is a great shady location. Last trip to the area we stayed at the KOA near Manchester Beach, which had much more luxury than I needed and was super nice, but about a beautiful 45 min drive to Mendocino. Next time we want to stay at Russian Gulch State Park as we didn’t get to explore all the trails there. Your camping tag gets you free admission at all the state parks in the area as of this posting.
You can also reach the Van Damme Beach via a trail at the end of Peterson Lane. Peterson Lane is also IMHO the best place to park to access the Spring Ranch Trails at Van Damme State Park. The trail head is hard to see, it’s about 25 ft behind The Inn at the Cobbler’s Walk sign. This way into Spring Ranch offers a nice shaded walk until you get to the Coast. After having trouble locating the trail head on the other side of the park, I met a local with 2 beautiful dogs whom told me that this is the best way to go with dogs:)
Spring Ranch was one of the longer hiking excursions we did in the area, about 4 miles with exploration, and we didn’t do any of the field trails as it was super sunny and getting hot. At low tide if you’re lucky you can also see seals sunning themselves.
Point Cabrillo Light Station State Historic Park was pretty cool. Not only were there beautiful coastal bluffs. but also restored light keeper homes that people can rent out, and a working lighthouse. It was foggy the day we were there and we got to see the lighthouse in action, really kind of romantic. We also saw some deer in the fields as we were walking towards the shore from the parking lot closest to the road.
Jug Handle State Natural Reserve has a few small nice loops, and a cool beach that we walked down to, that we were prob not supposed to be on, but a local talked us into it as they say they go there everyday with their dog. We were only down there for 5 or so minutes.
The Noyo Headlands and Glass Beach area were breathtaking. We climbed down to a lot of the beaches here to look at the glass made from trash dumped on the coast from 1906 to 1967, so crazy to think about this! But I guess it was common practice for seaside communities. This is also where you can get a longer hike in, we hiked all the way to MacKerricher State Park, which is really worth a trip on it’s own. Most of these trails have little elevation gain, unless you climb down to the beaches or up on the rocks to explore. We did about 5 miles total, maybe 6.
We got to walk across the Pudding Creek Trestle Bridge, the Pudding Creek Beach was beautiful, and on the other side is MacKerricher State Park. This area is part of the 10 Mile Beach Trail also know as the MacKerricher Haul Road Trail, which is very popular with dog walkers. MacKerricher has beautiful cliff walks, tidal pools, wild life, boardwalks, beaches, and also a campground.
And we did some other small things in the area. We would pick up a coffee in the morning in the cute little Mendocino Downtown at Moody’s Coffee Bar and walk the bluffs at the Mendocino Headlands, and window shop.
We also went to Caspar Beach where dogs are allowed and part of the Coastal Trail, the 1.3 mile long Caspar Uplands Trail is across from the beach.
At the Big River we played fetch on the beach, and the river is eight miles long with a trail next to it. This is where we kayaked.
Our last day there we stopped by the Russian Gulch State Park, and wow was it gorgeous! I can’t wait to go back and explore when we have more time! There were pretty picnic areas overlooking the shore, and trails along the bluffs. Its so pretty that we ran into a wedding there!
While not hardcore hiking, I can see this being a trip that we make a couple times a year, it is just so beautiful and moving. I love all kinds of hiking and walking, it’s nice to have a variety, and I love exploring new areas!
Happy Tails and Trails:)