With the Pacific Ocean to the southwest and forested hills to the northeast, Fort Ross State Historic Park offers some of the West Coast’s most diverse and scenic vantage points.
One of the oldest parks in the California State Park system, Fort Ross preserves North America’s most southern Russian settlement. In 1812, Russian traders from the Russian-American Company built the fort as a colony and trading base. Today, the remnants of the settlement sit on a marine terrace with steep bluffs dropping into the sea.
Visitors to the park can enjoy the visitor center, interpretive exhibits at the fort, a research library, museum bookstore, gardens, Russian cemetery, and historic orchard.
Outdoor enthusiasts can take part in hiking the park trail system over its 3,386 acres. View towering redwoods in the forests, and keep an eye out gray foxes, black-tailed hares, bobcats, and the occasional mountain lion.
Water-lovers can enjoy the marine atmosphere by fishing, swimming, and diving. Spend a day picnicking on the beach and spotting harbor seals, sea lions, and migrating gray whales.
RV campers can set up shop at one of the Reef Campground’s 21 primitive camping sites. Sites are first-come, first-served and include access to flush toilets.
Fort Ross State Historic Park is centrally located to some of California’s major cities. The park is one and a half hours outside of Santa Rosa, two and a half hours from San Francisco, and three and a half hours from Sacramento.
There are two main routes to the fort from Highway 101. The first route takes visitors from Petaluma and is a straight shot through Bodega Bay to the park. If visitors are coming from Santa Rosa, they’ll follow a more circuitous route through Guerneville into Jenner and finally into Fort Ross.
The main road into the park is paved and leads to the visitor center and a large parking lot. The road to the fort compound and Reef Campground is an unpaved dirt road. Campers can also access the park on foot.
Parking areas, fort buildings, the visitor center, and designated picnic areas are ADA accessible with paved trails connecting the sites. Beach wheelchairs may be borrowed at the visitor center as well.
Reef Campground offers campers 21 primitive sites between a redwood grove and ocean coves. There are no hookups, but the campground offers access to flushing toilets. Dogs are allowed in the campsite area as long as they are on a leash. The campground’s location offers easy shoreline access for water activities and connects to the park’s trail system. The campground is open from April through November and closes for the winter months.
The park’s coastal location and natural reef make it a favorite spot for scuba divers. Certified divers can explore the century-old wreck of the S.S. Pomona off Fort Ross Cove. Snorkelers can explore the reef that forms the cove and view a variety of fish and marine wildlife. Park officials caution divers to never swim alone and exercise caution. The area is prone to rip currents and large ocean waves, and lifeguards are not on duty.
Fort Ross’s location offers a unique convergence of ecosystems that makes it a prime location for a variety of wildlife. The sheltered coves offer a comfortable home for marine mammals like harbor seals, sea lions, and gray whales migrating up the coast. Birdwatchers can catch glimpses of osprey, red-tailed hawks, turkey vultures, kestrels, herons, and a wide selection of shore birds. The redwood and coniferous forests host mountain lions, bobcats, gray foxes, and black-tailed hares.
In 1903, the California Historical Landmarks Committee purchased the Fort Ross area and along with the State of California began to restore and reconstruct the original fort buildings. Modern-day park visitors can enjoy a visitor center with interpretive exhibits and experience living history presentations throughout the fort. Besides the historic barracks, blockhouses, warehouse, well, and stockade, visit the first Russian Orthodox chapel in the continental United States. The Kuskov House and Rotchev House offer a glimpse at the traditional living quarters of the time. Explore three acres of fruit orchards and the Russian Cemetery.
There’s no better way to explore the park’s 3,396 acres than hiking through the forests and along the coast. Pedestrian trails connect the Reef Campground and Sandy Cove beach with the extensive fort compound and the Russian Cemetery. Trails and walkways leading to the fort, windmill, and within the stockade are paved and ADA accessible. Park officials ask hikers to please stay on designated trails in order to protect plants and wildlife, prevent erosion, and avoid poison oak that has been known to grow in the brush.
The avid fisherman can set up for a day of angling at Fort Ross Cove, Sandy Cove, and the shore. Boats are also permitted for those who prefer to fish on the water and can be rented locally. The type of fish commonly caught vary through the seasons due to water temperature and migration, but abalone and rockfish typically abound. All individuals ages 16 and over must be in possession of a valid California fishing license and catch within legal limits. If you are fishing for abalone, be sure to carry a current abalone report card.
No matter the season, Fort Ross State Historic Park is an excellent location for a seaside picnic.
Picnic tables are located near the visitor center, Call Ranch House, the historic fort compound, and on the shore at Sandy Cove beach. Fires are allowed in designated fire rings and park barbecues. If you’re picnicking on the shore, explore the tidal pools, and keep an eye out for migrating gray whales, harbor seals, and sea lions. The picnic area is ADA accessible, and beach wheelchairs are available at the visitor center.