Russian Gulch State Park

One of our favorite Mendocino hikes

The waterfall on a cloudy day

The waterfall on a cloudy day

You know when you’re just itching to stretch out all the cramped up kinks in your legs, breathe some fresh air down to the very farthest corners of your lungs, and clear your head of absolutely everything? That was us the other day, so we left the inn in the capable hands of our evening team and made a beeline for Russian Gulch State Park. Now, we do honestly love all the hikes and walks in our area pretty equally, but IF and ONLY if we were forced to rank them in some sort of order from Favorite Hike Of All Time to I Guess We Can Walk There If You Really Want, Russian Gulch would be pretty far up there near the top.

Why, you ask? Well, it’s just so darn pretty. Every time we go, in every season, in all sorts of weather, it never fails to fill us with joy.

This past visit, we started a little bit late in the day (read: way too late for any sensible person to be out in the woods, knowing that sunset and darkness were coming soon), so we had the trail all to ourselves (read: every intelligent hiker was already hunkering down in their cozy homes while we, the crazy ones, forged ahead). We got things going with a bit of  power walking, still full of the get-up-and-go of a productive work day, whirling thoughts and dreams and conundrums all vying for our attention.  The quiet of the trees soon started to work its magic though, worming its way through the various layers of mental noise until we finally lifted up our heads and remembered where we were – we were out in the middle of the woods, and it was beautiful.

An eye-catching fungus peeking out from the wood chips along trail.

An eye-catching fungus peeking out from the wood chips along trail.

Several different kinds of fern nodded their feathery fronds at us as we walked by, inviting us to tell them our secrets. Downy moss carpeted the magnificent remains of fallen redwoods. Funny, frothy fungi splashed a pile of woodchips with unexpected color that caught our eye. And when we paused to gaze up at the treetops way above us, we felt awash with the peace of a world that has been continuing on slowly and surely and steadily since the beginning of time.

 
A twisting giant in the upper reaches of the park.

A twisting giant in the upper reaches of the park.

 

As the daylight faded into a warm glow that filtered down to gently illuminate the path, we heard the startled skip and flurry of a small bird ahead that had thought itself alone. We heard the chittering of a little gray squirrel hiding from us behind a trunk. We watched a chipmunk with bursting cheeks race across the obstacle course of limbs and branches across the slope above us, heading home for the night. We listened to the soothing rumble of the waterfall coming up around the corner and savored the damp scent of earth and green things. True, it was quickly getting dark, and we still had another mile or so to hike out, but we had a flashlight, and it was so serenely beautiful…


The next time you come stay with us, pick up a trail map at the Front Desk for your own visit to Russian Gulch State Park. Make sure to take some cash for your parking pass for the day. If you drive down all the way to the Fern Canyon trailhead, you can go up to the waterfall and back in just about 5 miles. Or do a little bit more of a loop and get in a bit more walking. There are some steep and somewhat tricky sections nearer the waterfall, and you should be prepared for some mud year round. As you drive back out, stop at the headlands trail for some truly lovely views of the bridge that spans the park’s little beach, as well as a sweet ocean-view walk and one of the best picnic spots on the coast.

 
The view from the park’s headlands back toward the beach and the charming bridge.

The view from the park’s headlands back toward the beach and the charming bridge.

 

Words and images by Laura Hockett