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Little River is a small town in Mendocino County, California, nestled on the coast just a few miles south of Mendocino. Once a thriving lumber mill town, it gets its name from nearby Little River, a stream that flows into the Pacific Ocean. One of Little River's most scenic attractions is Van Damme State Park, which is located along Highway One. A beautiful beach and thriving forest make camping at Van Damme State Park, a popular year-round activity for locals, vacationers, and visitors alike.
Van Damme State Park has a history of being one of the Mendocino Coast’s most valuable natural resources when it was once part of Little River’s independent redwood lumber operations. While there are no longer remnants of the logging industry, people continue to be drawn to the park’s idyllic trail system, beach access, and closeness to charming seaside towns. Whether you plan to hike, bike, kayak, or swim, book an RV at Van Damme State Park and you’ll find just about any experience you seek at this state park.
Van Damme State Park begins at the mouth of the Little River, stretching from the beach back through Fern Canyon and the rare, stunted cypress trees of Pygmy Forest. Highway One runs through the park, separating the campground and the Fern Canyon trailhead to the east from the beach and parking lot to the west. From marine coastal beach and bluff, tall coast redwood forests, and wetlands further inland, there is an abundance of natural habitats to discover here.
If water activities are your thing, you’ll have plenty of options to splash around at Van Damme Beach. When you camp in an RV in Van Damme State Park, you can spend a day by the sea soaking up the fresh air, enjoying a sunset picnic, or strolling on the white sand. The protected cove is frequented by abalone divers, and the designated scuba diving area has shallow areas for beginners to easily enter from the shore. If you feel like paddling around the salty waters, this is a popular spot to launch a stand-up paddleboard or join a kayak tour exploring the sea caves and tide pools.
Throw your flip-flops in your RV rental, swap them for hiking boots, and set out on a trek around Van Damme’s 10 miles of beautiful trails that extend along the Fern Canyon Scenic Trail system beside Little River and cover the ecologically unique Pygmy Forest, where you can marvel at mature cypress and pine trees standing a mere six inches to eight feet tall from a self-guided nature boardwalk. This state park's trails range from easy to strenuous; flat to elevated. If you’re looking for something in between, the Pygmy Forest and Fern Canyon Loop is a moderate hike at a little under five miles in length.
Although bicycles are not allowed on every park path, there are places to go for a ride on a paved or dirt road, including the 1.2-mile Old Logging Road Trail, or the 0.2 mile-long trail that leads from Old Logging Road to the Airport Road parking area. There are also stroller and wheelchair-accessible pathways along the river.
If you're planning to do a little RV camping at Van Damme State Park, you’ll no doubt rest easy here after a full day of adventuring. This state park offers more than 65 drive-in campsites (five are tent only) and can accommodate vehicles up to 35 feet long. The campground amenities do not include hookups, but you’ll have access to an RV dump station, restrooms and showers, and drinking water. You'll also be able to purchase firewood at the campground, and there are picnic sites available for plenty of outdoor dining.
You’re welcome to bring your canine companion when you stay here, just keep in mind that dogs are not allowed on trails or dirt roads and must be kept leashed during the day and brought in your vehicle at night. You’ll be able to reserve a campsite for your RV rental in Van Damme State Park up to six months in advance from the current date. Reservations are strongly recommended spring through fall.
If you’re planning to have a rental motorhome at Van Damme State Park, you’ll definitely want to check out the visitor center, which dates back to the 1930s and was once a recreation hall for the Civilian Conservation Corps. Make sure to check out the center’s lifelike model of an underwater surge channel, featuring many of the local plants and creatures that live in this area’s marine tidal environment. You’ll also come across an artistic mural depicting early Native American life along the northern California coast. If you’re looking for the perfect souvenir, wander around the gift shop to browse from a variety of books, toys, games, T-shirts and more.
When you’re out exploring in your rental RV, it’s worth taking some time to stop at the Mendocino Coast Botanical Gardens, which stands out as being one of few public gardens that reach all the way to coastal bluffs. Thanks to the mild Pacific Coast climate, this 47-acre paradise is paradise in any season and is a popular place for weddings and events as well as casual jaunts around the native coastal flora and habitats.
When you camp at Van Damme State Park, you will be in a great location to explore Mendocino County’s quieter but no less picturesque side. Little River is celebrated as much for its small-town, old-fashioned vibe and friendly community as it is for its stunning natural beauty. Whether you’re in the mood to relax over a glass of local wine at a coastal restaurant, spend a leisurely day at a spa, or pass the time at a par five golf course, you’ll find it all here, and never far from spectacular Pacific Ocean views.
When you’re ready to hit the road, historic Mendocino is minutes away, or cruise further along majestic Highway One to reach a larger urban setting like San Francisco.