Exploring Mendocino Coast – Russian Gulch State Park

Russian Gulch State Park | Smiling in Sonoma

We got up early to drive the 2+ hours to reach our destination along the Mendocino Coast. We had heard the drive on Highway 128 through Anderson Valley was beautiful but we did not expect the redwoods to rival our beloved Armstrong Woods! We were just casually driving along the curvy road and then ahhhh…that feeling you get when you are in the presence of these giants (insert deep breath here). This was definitely a treat to be able to drive through such a beautiful redwood forest that was obviously not manicured but looked so perfect. I had high hopes of our hike that morning!

Once you reach Russian Gulch State Park be prepared to explore each of the beautiful spots it has to offer! Just after you pay the day pass fee ($8) turn right at the next 4-way and follow the road until it ends and park. First off you will be greeted by expansive views of the coast but don’t let that stop you from getting out of the car and walk around to the giant sinkhole / devil’s punch bowl (don’t worry, it is carefully fenced off). We went at high tide so you could see the water flowing in and out of the sinkhole through a few large tunnels. During low tide there would be some great tide pools to explore.

Hop back in the car and park down by the rec center. If there’s not enough parking there you can follow the road around to the bridge and park there. Just be careful not to get distracted by the views under this simple but beautiful bridge and the inviting beach in front of you!

At the end of the parking lot by the rec center the trail starts. There’s camping during the summer. Keep following the road along the creek and hop on the Fern Trail. The park isn’t very large and there are plenty of signs guiding you through so you don’t get lost in the woods! Enjoy the trail as if follows the creek. We had several downed trees due to the recent storms but no worries, just a bit of an obstacle course.

Take advantage of the sparse sunshine as you hike back to the waterfall! The entire hike is shaded except for a few short spots. You will hear water rushing (during the wet months) and get excited you are close but keep going! There’s several spots where the water runs fast and has small 2 foot waterfalls. There will be signs guiding you the entire way. We opted to go directly to the waterfall instead of taking the waterfall loop knowing we were going to go up and around to the North Trail after the falls.

The 36′ tall waterfall is absolutely gorgeous!! It’s a bit of untouched nature that gets to show off mother nature’s beauty the way it was intended. On the day we went there were several other people at the falls all taking turns getting in the perfect pictures. There’s a small bench to just sit in awe of this beauty.

After you snap out of the waterfall coma, head across the bridge and oh guess what! You get to walk up on top of the waterfall! Take the East Trail to the North Boundary trail. You get to continue along the creek for a bit until you climb up through the redwoods to the North Boundary Trail. We found this less soggy so we opted to continue on it until the last drop down to the North Trail. So glad we did! It was a beautiful part of the hike with less water and um crazy mushrooms! We hadn’t seen these kind before and I can’t wait to share the pics with my fungi friend! From here you follow the switchbacks down and the North Trail drops you back down on the Fern Trail.

We had asked the ranger where else to go and he told us there’s a devil’s punch bowl in Mendocino Headlands State Park just a couple miles south so we warmed our butts in the car and drove down to the adorable town of Mendocino to find this other gem. Not sure if we found it but enjoyed walking along the bluffs and down on the beach. We must go back to explore the wine and shops!!

The entire hike at Russian Gulch we did was just over 6 miles and approximately 800 feet in elevation gain, easy but I wouldn’t suggest small children until they clear the downed trees, fully shaded, flushing toilets, and the entrance kiosk has maps! Now get out and explore!

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