Morning glory on Big River
The best run in Mendocino, plus a few other fun ones
Different members of the running group were getting out of their cars at the trailhead, stretching their legs while the stragglers rolled hastily in. We breathed deeply, filling our lungs with the crisp morning air that rose from the Big River estuary smelling of both beach and river, salty sand and fresh green things. The fog was starting to lift, and the clearing sky promised a bright, warm August day. For the moment though, our nostrils were still tingling with the snappy chill of the morning.
Precisely on the hour, we all started out down the Big River Haul Road, leaving any latecomers to catch up as best they might. What a beautiful picture of morning unfolded before us as we wound around the twists and turns of the broad, easy path! The sun was still rising, waking up the world with a light softened by the hovering wisps of fog that gently obscured the wandering curves of the river. It seemed as though this waterway framed by redwoods was flowing from some mythical, far-off place. Each new turn of the trail brought a fresh view that thrilled at least one heart among us with glorious joy. It was just too beautiful.
While the trail before us continued for many more miles inland along the river, we all had obligations for the day, so we turned and headed back the way we came. We laughed at the chipmunks scurrying frantically across the path ahead of us and at the darling cottontails that sat frozen until the very last second before flashing into the underbrush. When the startling cry of a heron rang out over the water, we lifted our heads to listen, our skin beaded as much with the condensation of the fog as with sweat. We peaked out through a break in the trees and could just see the brilliant white of the heron’s feathers as he stalked the muddy bank below in search of breakfast.
Those of us in the vanguard reached the cars first and decided to hunt for some breakfast of our own in the tumbling blackberry vines along the parking lot. So perfect.
Ah. The run was officially over. We all hopped in our cars and headed back to real life. But in the back of our minds we carried away that wonderful hour of morning glory, and it suffused the rest of the day with peace.
Big River is probably our favorite run in Mendocino, especially in the early morning. It’s great for all levels of runners, with a broad path of packed dirt and occasionally gravel. Not completely flat, but it’s very gentle on the ups and downs. About a mile north of the inn, you can reach the trail head by foot if you’re ok running along the highway for a bit, or by car if that feels safer. Type: packed dirt / gravel. Distance: Just about as far as you might want to run, out and back.
Our second favorite run has to be the Mendocino Headlands. While you have to pay attention to your feet on this narrow track, the views are gorgeous. Type: narrow trail, mostly packed dirt. Distance: roughly 3 mile circle.
A couple other great runs:
Van Damme State Park. Truly lovely run along a stream lined with lush ferns and whispering redwoods. Some sections have easier footing than others, and a few parts are muddy year-round. Type: trail, partial paved / mostly dirt. Distance: 12 miles out and back if you start from the beach, roughly 8 miles if you drive in and start from the trail head.
Russian Gulch State Park. Another little gem, this trail rewards you with a beautiful waterfall near the top. Take your time going through / over the occasional obstacles that make the path tricky. Type: trail, mostly dirt. Distance: 5 miles up and back from the trail head to the waterfall, possibly up to 8 miles if you do the full loop.
Noyo Headlands Coastal Trail. Up in Fort Bragg, this newer path is great for those who want to run without worrying about tricky footing. It also has multiple options for starting points – just depends on how far you want to run and what you want to see! Type: paved footpath. Distance: like Big River, just about as far as you want to run!
For more options, come ask Laura when she’s on the Front Desk. You can also go by Catch a Canoe and pick up one of their mountain biking maps if you want to go for a full trail running experience off the beaten path.
Written by Laura Hockett