The Mendocino coast is blessed with an abundance of spectacular scenery and natural beauty. Nowhere is this more evident than in Van Damme State Park located just south of Mendocino in the town of Little River. The history of this area is intimately tied to the rise and fall of the redwood lumbering industry in northern California.
From its early beginnings in the mid-1800s, Little River grew from a small milltown to a thriving community boasting a shipyard, a wharf, a lumber mill and several chutes for loading lumber into ships anchored off the coast. But a stand of timber, logged, does not last forever. Eventually, activity in the port disappeared; the school, which at one time had over 100 pupils, closed; and the weekly steamship service to the Bay area ended. Little River eventually reverted to its natural state and upon the demise of Charles Van Damme, the property now known as Van Damme State Park was acquired by the state park system in 1934. How lucky for visitors to Mendocino!
I had the chance to explore Van Damme with my daughter, Taylor, earlier this week. In addition to 70 campsites, the park features a lush trail system that meanders for 10 miles along the fern-carpeted banks of the Little River; and a pygmy forest of mature cypress and pine trees standing only 6 inches to 8 feet tall! Adventure-seekers can get a unique perspective of the coastline along Van Damme by joining a sea kayaking tour from a concession stand located in the parking lot on the west side of Highway 1.