Exploring The Mendocino Coast

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About 170 miles north of San Francisco on Highway 1 along the Mendocino Coast is a small coastal community called Fort Bragg. The population here is well under 10,000 people. Fort Bragg is in the county of Mendocino. The area is a popular tourist destination due to its beautiful and picturesque coastline as well as Redwood forests. No matter what kind of activity or adventure you might be looking for you will almost certainly find it in Mendocino County. Sea kayaking, surfing, mountain biking, wildlife viewing, and wine tasting are just a few of the things that people enjoy when exploring this wonderful area.

I am lucky enough to have family that has recently made Fort Bragg and the Mendocino area their new home. My mother and step-father relocated here from the California central valley in August of 2017. Since moving there they have enjoyed the year round cooler temperatures and amazing sights. I have made the trip down to see them (I live in Redding in the far north of California) about 4 times. Each time I have been there I have discovered new sights to see and met several great people. The towns of Fort Bragg and Mendocino are home to some of the most laid-back and friendly folks I’ve come across in my travel adventures.

Road Trip

Last week I had the opportunity to head back to the area again to house and dog sit for my parents while they were out of town for a few days. I packed up my bag, camera equipment, drone, and my dog Jax and we made the trip yet again. The weather was beautiful and cool as usual. I arrived in Fort Bragg on Friday evening and we had a great Mexican dinner at La Playa. If you are ever in town I highly recommend you stop in there for a bite to eat. You won’t be disappointed! The following day brought a bit of rain and dreary cloud cover so I didn’t really get out and do much. Sunday, however, was a different story. I woke to clear skies and shining sun. I fed the dogs and threw my camera bag and drone gear in my truck and headed south on Highway 1. My first stop was in the town of Mendocino, about 20 minutes outside of Fort Bragg. I found a short trail which led to a bluff overlooking the Pacific Ocean. The town of Mendocino was visible just across a small bay from me. I took some photos with my cell phone and enjoyed the view for awhile. I wanted to send the drone up but the wind was quite heavy and I didn’t want to risk losing it. So, I continued on my way.

noyo harbor entrance
Noyo River Harbor entrance in Fort Bragg, CA.

I drove down the coast for about an hour stopping at small roadside turnouts and hiking down a few more short trails to enjoy the views of the jagged coast. As the day went on the winds only increased and the chances of doing any decent landscape photography or drone filming faded fast. There are several state parks along the Mendocino coast and I stopped at a couple of them to inquire about what attractions they held. The first one I stopped at was Van Damme State Park in the town of Little River. I was told that the park offers year-round camping, several hiking trails, and lush Redwood forests with as many ferns and mosses as you could possibly ask for. Heading back north towards Fort Bragg I stopped and inquired about Russian Gulch State Park. This park is much like Van Damme State Park but is a bit larger. The Park Ranger here told me it also has seasonal camping, hiking, and access to the beach as well as bluffs overlooking the sea.  By this time the wind was really whipping around so I went back to the house and spent the afternoon playing with the dogs and planning the next day’s adventure.

Monday Morning

Monday morning I was up and out the door by 8 a.m. I stopped at the local Starbucks and got my usual coffee. I headed south again and stopped on the side of the road about a mile past Russian Gulch State Park. The sun was just starting to come up over the mountains to the east and the light was just starting to shine on the coastline. The air temperature was only 38 degrees but the wind was non-existent. I launched the drone and flew about a quarter of a mile up the coast, taking video and still photographs of the jagged rocks and crashing waves. The morning sun was soft and warm on the town of Mendocino which could be seen from the air. I snapped a few photos and brought the drone in for a landing. My hands were like icecicles and it was getting harder to control the drone. I warmed up in my truck and then turned around towards Russian Gulch State Park.

aerial photo of mendocino coast
Sunrise on the Mendocino Coast.

Once inside the park (which costs $8.00 to enter), I headed to a nearby picnic area that overlooked the ocean and back towards the Highway. There is an arched bridge over a beach and creek in the park that allows Highway 1 to cross over. The bridge is quite a sight to see and makes for a great photograph when the sun is in the right place. After checking out the overlook for a few minutes and headed down another road that leads to the beach under the bridge. I was able to take some really nice photographs from here looking up at the bridge and along the creek. This entire park is sheltered by giant looming Redwoods and other trees that are hundreds if not thousands of years old.

The Fern Canyon Trail is a well-known hiking trail in the park, so that was my next stop. After parking near the campground and throwing my camera gear on my back I started up the trail. It parallels a small flowing creek the entire 2.7 miles into a 36-foot high waterfall. My goal was to make the 5.4-mile round trip hike over a few hours and get some photos of the ferns, trees, and waterfall. Unfortunately, I forgot to bring one vital item with me this morning. That item was water. I’m always preaching on my blog about the importance of bringing water with you, even on the shortest of hikes. So, after walking only about a half a mile in I turned around and went back to my truck. The closest place to buy a bottle of water to here is in Mendocino. I decided to just empty out my coffee cup from earlier and fill it with water at a spout near the ranger station. Having such a small supply of water I decided to just explore the bluffs section of the park. The trail here was very short so I was not too concerned about the water situation.

fern canyon trail sign
Fern Canyon Trailhead in Russian Gulch State Park.

After taking some photos on the bluffs of the Devil’s Punchbowl and other sights nearby I headed back to the truck and exited the park. Once I arrived back in Fort Bragg I drove the Noyo Headlands area. The Noyo Headlands is a day use area in town that overlooks the entrance to Noyo Harbor and the identically named river. The afternoon sun was shining brightly and there still was no wind. I flew the drone around the park, filmed a fishing boat headed out to sea, and got some great aerial shots of the harbor entrance and bridge. By now it was lunchtime so I packed up and headed back to the house. The dogs were happy to see me again so I spent the rest of the day playing with them and going over my film and photos from my morning adventure. I was hoping that some high altitude clouds would move in that evening so that I could get some beautiful sunset photographs down on one of the beaches. No such luck though. The late afternoons and evenings typically bring in low clouds and fog along the coast so photography can be tricky.

 

Until Next Time

The four days I spent in Fort Bragg and nearby areas was beyond relaxing and enjoyable. Even though it is a four-hour drive for me to get there I look forward to going back quite often. If you find yourself traveling along Highway 1 in  Mendocino County I highly encourage you to stop and check out Fort Bragg, Mendocino, and any of the state parks and recreational areas. Be sure to bring your camera and sense of adventure. If you have any questions or comments about the area please feel free to leave a comment.

russian gulch bridge
Highway 1 bridge in Russian Gulch State Park.

For More Information

If you’d like more information about Fort Bragg and other places on interest on the Mendocino Coast I’ve included a few links below.

Visit California – Mendocino Coast

Fort Bragg TV

Russian Gulch State Park

Van Damme State Park

Jug Handle State Natural Reserve

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