Featuring a jaw-dropping waterfall, secluded beach areas, and a cozy RV-friendly campground, Russian Gulch State Park is an ideal beachside getaway destination. Located just north of the small coastal town of Mendocino, this part of the California coast is rugged, rocky, cliff-lined, and pummeled by the ocean. The shore is a jagged saw-blade of rocky outcroppings and natural jetties where over one 150 shipwrecks testify to the dangers and the great riches that were found here.
The small sandy cove at Russian Gulch was one of the few safe places around to land a ship, and today you'll find refuge there as well. The shallow cove is well protected from the wind and waves of the ocean and soaks up enough sun in the summer to enjoy some swimming. The property is woodsy and covered in mature vegetation with hiking trails spanning across the shore and the hills. A thriving marine environment and easy access from the beach offer a variety of ocean adventures. Kayakers, scuba divers, and skin divers hunting abalone are found exploring the rocky shoreline all year round. The tidepools have lots to offer visitors who don't want to get wet as well.
The park offers a basic campground suited for smaller RVs, a group camping area, and even a camp for horses. Open all year round, Russian Gulch State Park is well worth a visit in your motorhome!
Driving to and from Russian Gulch State Park on Highway 1 is wonderous, but it is also narrow, slow, and often in rough shape. It takes at least five hours to get here from San Francisco staying on Highway 1 if you don't stop (which would be a crime because the coast is filled with great sights). The connections to I-5 are steep, twisty and slow, no matter how you plan it. Trailers and big rigs are advised not to attempt Highway 36 to Eureka. Do not underestimate the size and elevation of the coastal mountains!
There is one entrance to Russian Gulch State Park that is easy to find off Highway 1. All of the roads in and around the park are kept in great condition, and they should be accessible any time of the year that you choose to visit. If you need to pick up any supplies before your outdoor adventure there are plenty of towns to check out, including Mendocino (around three miles away), Fort Bragg (around nine miles away), and Willits (around 40 miles away).
If you are just visiting for the day and are looking to hang out by the beach, there is a small parking lot suitable for RVs that are up to 24 feet in length. There is also a small parking lot near the main office if you wish to explore the wooded areas of the park.
Russian Gulch State Park has one campground that is suitable for RV camping. The campground is on the smaller side and is located in a heavily wooded ravine with a total of 26 sites available for you to choose from. All 26 campsites have room for trailers and RVs up to 24 feet in length, but there are no hookups at any of the sites. Despite the campground being on the older side, it is known for being a very clean place to stay with all of the amenities in great condition.
There is drinking water, flush toilets, and coin showers for campers to use, and all of the sites have picnic tables, fire rings, and food lockers. The campground is mainly suited to tent camping, so there is just enough space to fit small trailers and motorhomes out of the roadway.
Russian Gulch State Park Campground is very busy on the weekends during the summer months since it is located right near the beach. If you are planning to stay during this time, you will have to make a reservation, otherwise, you will miss out. From Labor Day through the end of March, the campground is first-come, first-served. The rest of the year is reservable online up to six months in advance.
Looking for a campground with some more luxurious amenities? Located around 40 miles from the park at the beginning of the Mendocino redwoods is the Willits KOA. This is a great place to stay if you don't mind being a little further away from the park, but it will be around an hour's drive away through the Jackson State Forest.
There are plenty of site options for you to choose from, including deluxe full hookup sites with up to 50-amp service and sites that have water and electric hookups. The most luxurious option is the prestigious hot tub sites where you will have your own private hot tub. Other amenities include a sitting area, picnic table, BBQ, and firepit. A snack bar, propane, and firewood are also available on-site, and you can connect to Wi-Fi and cable TV. Rigs up to 70 feet are welcome, and pets are also allowed. Willits KOA is open all year round, and reservations are highly recommended.
The campground at Russian Gulch State Park isn't specifically available on a first-come, first-served basis, but depending on what time of the year that you visit, you may be able to stay at a site without a reservation. During the off-season, all sites are available on a first-come, first-served basis only, but from May until Labor Day camping is available by reservation.
If you are thinking about bringing your horse to Russian Gulch State Park, you will be pleased to know that there is an equestrian camping area, so you will be able to go equestrian camping.
Located in a locked area away from the main campground, the equestrian camping area has four sites available to choose from, each of which comes with a picnic table and a fire ring. The corrals at the camping area will suit regular-sized horses, and there is also a central water collection point and a trough that you can use to get water for your horse. Like the main campground, the Equestrian Campground doesn't have any showers or restrooms but there is a vault toilet for your convenience.
All four sites are known to be on the shorter side, so it is advised that your trailer length not exceed 24 feet in length. Reservations are recommended, and the campground is open during the peak season.
For visitors to Russian Gulch State Park that are interested in camping with a group, you are in luck! There is one group camping area at Russian Gulch State Park that is suitable for up to 40 people and eight vehicles. There are no RV camping spots in the group area, so if you have a vehicle you will have to park it in the parking lot adjacent to the group camping area.
The Group Camp is on the primitive side with no electric, water, or sewer hookups available. There are no picnic tables or fire rings either, but there are food lockers, so you can keep your food safe from animals that frequent the area. If you wish to use the restrooms, you will have to head into the standard campground since there are no bathroom facilities in the group camp area. Reservations for the Group Camp must be made before your arrival.
For visitors to Russian Gulch State Park who aren't traveling in an RV, you can also use any of the 26 sites for tent camping. Since the campground was originally constructed for tent-only camping, you will have no trouble settling into the small sites. Please note that there is no cell phone reception due to the heavily forested area, and you will need to make a reservation if you are planning on visiting during the peak season.
The rocky cliffs south of the cove at Russian Gulch provide jaw-dropping views of the Pacific, and the variety of rocks offshore send waves crashing and salt-spray erupting any time of year. This is a dreamy backdrop for horseback riding and Russian Gulch State Park is the perfect place for a horseriding adventure. There is one horse trail for you to explore that is only open for riders, so you won't have to worry about dodging hikers or bikers. Once you are finished riding, there are also four equestrian campsites with sturdy corrals and water troughs that are available for those who wish to camp with their trusty steed.
The sandy beach cove under the bridge at Russian Gulch State Park is a wonderful place to cool off in the hot Mendocino summers. The cove is well sheltered from the wind, has ocean swells, and is just shallow enough to warm the water noticeably. This is a popular spot for gatherings, picnics, and summer parties, so you shouldn't expect to have the beach to yourself. Respect the ocean and beware that large surges and sneaker waves happen in any weather and season. There is no lifeguard on the beach and dogs are required to be on-leash at all times.
For visitors who are looking for even more fun in the sun, you can head to MacKerricher State Park, which is just 20 minutes to the north up CA-1. The Ten Mile Dunes complex at MacKerricher State Park will give you your "beach fix" if the small cove at Russian Gulch isn't enough for you. MacKerricher State Park has a beautiful sandy beach that stretches for as far as you can see on a clear day. This is a spot for beachcombing, kneeboards, sandcastles, and beach runs, so the whole family will be easily entertained.
There are some fantastic trails available at Russian Gulch State Park, so get ready to do some exploring! Headland Trail takes you right out to the waves. It's less than a mile to the Devil's Punchbowl, which is best during a high tide. It's a great spot to watch the kayakers exploring below. The Waterfall Trail Loop is about six miles around, but well worth the effort. A 36-foot waterfall hides in the upper part of the gulch, and the trip there often reveals blooming rhododendrons and colorful hummingbirds. The weather can be wet at any time of year, so bring an assortment of clothes and shoes.
Russian Gulch is a popular place for abalone hunters and spearfishing for a very good reason - the sandy cove creates an easy entrance and the marine life is thriving here. The cove is well protected from wind and swells for beginner divers, but just beyond, in the more challenging rocks of the cove mouth, lies canyons filled with large abalone and Ling Cod. There's a wonderful variety of marine life, even if you're not hunting, like sea urchins, nudibranchs, sea cucumbers, and huge anemones. With a valid license, you can catch and keep abalone, crabs, lobster, mussels, oysters, and several varieties of fish.
If you are interested in going for a paddle during your visit to Russian Gulch State Park, you are in luck! It's easy to launch your watercraft at the sandy beach under the bridge and the waters are typically calm and protected around the cove. There are a couple of water tunnels to explore and the marine life is excellent around the tidepools. The Big River estuary, in Mendocino to the south, offers eight miles of protected tidal paddling and a busy seal population to watch. If you need to rent some gear, there is a private rental shop nearby that has outriggers, paddleboards, and guided tours with reservations.