Just you and the ocean

Some of the best “secret” coastal access trails in Mendocino

Secluded Dark Gulch Beach.

Secluded Dark Gulch Beach.

One of our favorite things about living out here on the Mendocino coast is that there always seems to be something new to discover. Every time we turn around, we’re hearing about a different fun activity, a new winery or brewery, a fresh offering from a local restaurant, and unique artistic opportunities.  Most recently, we were delighted to discover a list of little-known coastal access walks put together by the Mendocino Land Trust. We were already familiar with some of these tiny trails, but others were brand new to us – so we went out and explored!

The stunning view from the Newport Coastal Trail.

The stunning view from the Newport Coastal Trail.

Newport Coastal Trail: This 1.25-mile stretch of trail that goes right along Highway 1 was a new one for us. Just south of the hamlet of Westport, it winds through waving grass and across sturdy little foot bridges, with sweeping views of the ocean the whole way. We didn’t go to the very end of the trail though, as we thought it wise to avoid a family of skunks that was busily foraging in front of us.  We did, however spend a fair amount of time enjoying the panoramic vista from the bench of the perfectly positioned viewing platform. Bright clouds drifted across the sky, and happy birds flitted from fence post to fence post as we strolled back to the car. So serene. Located on Highway 1 between mileposts 72.15 and 73.55 – leave your car in the itsy bitsy parking lot near the middle.

 
Firepoker on the Newport Trail.

Firepoker on the Newport Trail.

 

Belinda Point Trail: This 1-mile round trip stroll winds through charming bishop pine groves that made us feel like we were a million miles away from any other human being. As we got farther out, we could hear the crash of waves advertising the nearness of the water; then we suddenly popped out into the sunshine, a gorgeous view before us. It could have just been that it was a sunny day, but the water was so gloriously blue, and the midsummer wildflowers looked so happy. We walked out to the end of the point, wind tossing our hair, and we felt like we were on top of the world. Turn off from Highway 1 on Ocean Drive, .75 miles south of the Botanical Gardens. The trailhead and dirt parking lot are immediately on your left.

A happy aster out on Belinda Point.

A happy aster out on Belinda Point.

Walking out Belinda Point.

Mendocino Bay Viewpoint: Ok. So this one wasn’t new for us… it’s actually right next to the inn! We love pointing this little jewel out to guests who want a short evening or morning jaunt to stretch their legs. From the inn down and back it’s about 2 miles total, with wonderful views of Mendocino village the whole walk. If you’re driving, the viewpoint itself is on a small side street directly across from the turn off for Comptche-Ukiah road, around mile marker 50.03. Perfect for a picnic!

Twilight vibes on the Mendocino Bay Viewpoint.

Twilight vibes on the Mendocino Bay Viewpoint.

Little River Blowhole: Just west of the quaint Little River Cemetery, this .5-mile trail took us to probably the prettiest of all the old sinkholes on the Mendocino coast. In the middle of a bishop pine grove, the cavernous hole was quiet and shady, with lush ferns cascading down to a sandy beach at the bottom where the tide was gently washing in and out. It made us wish we could climb down and explore! The ocean itself was just beyond the grove – we found a little bench perched on a sheltered outlook and took a break, lulled into peaceful contemplation of the waves for quite a while. There is very limited parking along Highway 1 by the cemetery – be careful of traffic! If you are at all sensitive to poison oak, be sure to watch where you step, as the trail is lined with a whole lot of it.

The verdant Little River Blowhole

The verdant Little River Blowhole

Our ocean view from the bench.

Our ocean view from the bench.

Dark Gulch Trail: This was probably the hardest trail of the bunch for us to find. There is an entrance to the trail at milepost 45.24 on Highway 1, but with only the merest sliver of shoulder to park on, we didn’t realize where it was the first couple of times we passed it. We decided the safest way to access this trail was to go into the Heritage House Resort and park in their public-access lot, as they have another trailhead on their grounds. We found the trail, which goes down the gulch in a switchback series of wooden stairs enshrouded in thickets of blackberry and other native flora. The final turn opened into a beautiful view of a secluded rocky cove. Tucked in between windswept cliffs, we wandered along the waterline of this lovely beach, spying out shells and fun critters in amongst the water-rounded stones. Ask for directions at the Front Desk of the Heritage House, and they’ll give you a map through the grounds to the beach. Total distance walked down to the beach and back to your car will be around 1.5 miles.

The stairs down to Dark Gulch beach.

The stairs down to Dark Gulch beach.

Look who we found!

Look who we found!

Navarro Point Preserve: We visited this 1.2-mile loop trail on a foggy day, and while we didn’t have the sweeping vistas we would have had if the sun was out, the blanketing grey made the ocean cliffs that much more imposing and impressive. The wildflowers were out in full force too, making little spots of color against the browning grasses of the coastal prairie that swept down from the parking lot to the bluffs. So many charming little twists and turns to this trail – we can’t wait to go back and visit it again! Just south of Navarro Ridge Road, take the steep turn down into the parking lot. Head out on the trail going directly west or take the longer loop to the south for the full 1.2 miles.

Navarro Point Preserve in the brooding fog.

Navarro Point Preserve in the brooding fog.

Wildflowers flowing down the cliffs at Navarro Point.

Wildflowers flowing down the cliffs at Navarro Point.

 Stay tuned for more fun hikes and walks as we continue to explore the Mendocino coast!!!

Written by Laura Hockett