The central and northern California coast is famous for all the right reasons: a temperate refuge from the snow and the heat of the inland, miles of empty coastal trails and sandy coves, thriving wildlife in the woods and the waters, some of the biggest trees on earth, and mountains that seem to go on forever.
Russian Gulch State Park is located just north of the small coastal town of Mendocino, CA. 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 hundred and fifty 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 park offers a basic campground, showers, and even a camp for horses. The property is deep and woodsy and covered in mature vegetation with hiking trails to 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.
Russian Gulch State Park is less than thirty minutes away from the Point Cabrillo historic lighthouse, the enormous sandy beach at MacKerricher State Park, and the North Coast Brewing Company taproom in Fort Bragg.
RV Rentals in Russian Gulch State Park
Transportation in Russian Gulch State Park
Highway One is wonderous. It is also narrow, slow, and often in rough shape. Some travelers don't enjoy this highway in a car, so take that into consideration when you're traveling with a trailer or RV. It takes at least five hours to get here from San Francisco staying on HWY1, 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 HWY 36 to Eureka at all. Do not underestimate the size and elevation of the coastal mountains
Campgrounds and parking in Russian Gulch State Park
Campsites in Russian Gulch State Park
Russian Gulch State Park Campground
Twenty-six campsites with room for trailers and RVs up to twenty-four feet, but no hook-ups. There is drinking water, flush toilets, and coin showers for campers. All of the sites have picnic tables, fire rings, and food lockers. The layout has tents in mind and only has just enough space to fit small trailers and motorhomes out of the roadway.
Labor Day through the end of March the campground is first come first served. The rest of the year is reservable online and up to six months in advance.
Seasonal activities in Russian Gulch State Park
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. The State Park maintains four equestrian campsites with sturdy corrals and water troughs. The equestrian camp is on the northeast edge of the park. Fees for each of four sites cover the use of staging areas, corrals, and water troughs. Trails are clearly marked for horse use and it is easy to access unlimited riding in the Jackson State Forest next door.
The sandy beach cove under the bridge at Russian Gulch is a wonderful place to cool off in the hot Mendocino summers. The cove is well sheltered from the wind and 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.
MacKerricher State Park
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. The beach is accessed by several parking areas about thirty minutes north of Russian Gulch. The Park has beautiful sandy beach about as far as you can see on a clear day. This is a spot for beach combing, knee boards, sand castles, and beach runs. Nearby Fort Bragg is filled with stores, restaurants, and one of Mendocino County's top rated breweries, North Coast Brewing Company.
Hiking - Devils Punchbowl and Falls Loop Trail
The 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 thirty-six foot waterfall hides in the upper part of the gulch and the trip there often reveals blooming rhododendrons and colorful hummingbirds. Dogs are not allowed on the Waterfall Trail. The weather can be wet any time of year, so bring an assortment of clothes and shoes.
Spear Fishing and Abalone
Russian Gulch is a popular place for abalone hunters and spear fishing 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. The 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.
Bring your own or rent a kayak in nearby Mendocino. It's easy to launch 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. The rental shop in town has outriggers, paddleboards, and guided tours with reservations.