On the Mendocino coast, the air smells of salt, and the crashing waves create a continuous resonance. The tall bluffs at this spot north of San Francisco resemble the rugged shores of the east coast, but with an unmistakable California flair. Two miles north of Mendocino, Russian Gulch State Park’s collapsed sea cave cuts 200 feet into the heavily forested Russian Gulch Creek Canyon, a headland that features the Devil's Punch Bowl (a large, collapsed sea cave with churning water), and a beach that offers swimming, tide pool exploring, skin diving and rock fishing. Inland, there is a 36-foot high waterfall. Hikers enjoy miles of hiking trails. The park also has a paved three-mile bicycle trail. Devil’s Punchbowl formed when pounding waves forged an inland tunnel and left a hole 100 feet across and 60 feet deep. At high tide, boiling waves crash around the cave’s interior, producing a reverberant echo. The photogenic Frederick W. Panhorst Bridge rises gracefully 100 feet from the bottom of the gulch. The park has nearly a mile and a half of ocean frontage; its craggy beauty rivals any point along California’s coast. In the spring, the park’s foggy headlands bloom with acres of wildflowers. The climate here is temperate year-round. Winter rains and cool summer fogs that usually burn off by mid-morning provide the moisture necessary for the thriving coastal redwoods. Prepare for changeable weather by dressing in light layers.
I hiked the south trail in two parts because I am staying near the middle.
The east end is in deep redwoods and Sitka spruce and is quite steep near the campground at the end of the paved park access road.
The west end goes under Highway 1 and out to the headlands which is beautiful at sunset. Again, while the center portion of the trail follows the ridge above Russian Gulch but descends at both ends to sea level. Relative to the entire length of the trail only short portions near the ends are steep.
The lush forest is the most significant feature of the trail with the exception of the coastal views at the west end.
End to end the South Trail is about 1 1/2 miles.
Beautiful trail. We took the Fern Canyon trail (blue markers) to the waterfall and back (4.4 miles). The map shows it to be 5.4 miles but the gate was open and we were able to park in the lot near campsite #30 which took about a mile RT off the hike. We were limited on time otherwise we would have done the falls loop trail (1.6 miles) (red markers). We loved this area and will be coming back when we have more time and try the North Trail and the East trail. Parts of the trail are pretty muddy near the start so be prepared for that. Beautiful Russian Gulch Creek running near the trail most of the way which offered a nice sound along the way. Most of the hike is shaded which keeps it pretty cool. The last .7 miles up to the waterfall is mostly uphill but it's not bad and there's plenty to look at to keep your mind off it- and plus that means downhill all the way back:) Loved the fallen trees that we had to climb over/under and the waterfall is beautiful even though it's August and not at its fullest. There are a couple of benches and a bridge at the falls which is a great place for lunch. The stairs take you up to the top of the falls and connects to the East Trail and Falls Loop trail. The trails are easy to identify by color - match it up to the map that they have at the entry gate. There is an $8 parking fee for the State Park which can be used all day at any State Park and there are a few in the area so just pay once and go see as many as you can in one day:) Will definitely be coming back!
We took the Fern Canyon trail and it was great. The last .7 miles had an incline, but nothing that was impossible. The kids loved the waterfall and climbing over and under the fallen trees along the trail. The waterfall was the icing at the end.
We did this on Xmas day and it was perfect. We took the North Trail because we wanted a little bit of exercise. It's longer and more elevation gain but still pretty gentle. The switchbacks at the beginning are a nice way to get the heart rate up a little bit. Make sure you stop and admire the sun rays poking thru the trees, illuminating all the green around you -- it's beautiful. We got to the waterfall in about 2.75 hours and had lunch there. The walk back was flat and easy -- total trip 8.2 miles and 3.5 hours.
November, 2015... about 7 miles and we did it in 3.5 hours stopping somewhat frequently for photo ops. We recommend to take north trail to falls loop and take north trail back if you want a more vigorous workout. The fern canyon trail is flat and straight and you are walking on asphalt, maybe better for kids etc. North trails entrance immediately goes to steep uphill grade with multiple switchbacks. It is a narrow trail that takes you threw redwoods as well as pygmy forest. There were routes from north trail called north boundary trail, but we didn't take those detours. We did pass a hiker that recommended them. Falls loop trail (narrow with some steeps) takes you to a spectacular waterfall which is a great spot for picnic and photos... you can get right up to the waterfall or enjoy from a bridge or various log benches. A few down redwoods over the last few years cross the path, but fairly easy to navigate over. The way back from waterfall has downgrades with natural staircase and man made stairs as well on pathway. Fern canyon trail follows a stream and canyon walls blanketed in ferns. Was fairly crowded with people at the waterfall, but didn't pass too many people on the hike there and it was a saturday/holiday weekend. No wildlife unfortunately.
This trail is pretty flat on the initial start. The first portion is mostly paved with asphalt that is deteriorating from a time gone by. The trail winds in through gulch along the creek with a few light hill areas until you come to the split where you can go straight to the falls or take the longer, less complicated Falls Loop trail. What's most amazing about the hike is all of the ferns, you feel like your going to see a velociraptor walk out of them at any moment, especially in the morning mist. If you only go up to the split, which you can also do by mountain bike, it's a pretty easy trail. If you decide to go on, no bikes allowed, I recommend the trail that takes you straight to falls. It's got some very narrow spots so if you have small ones with you make sure that you've got a hand on them so they don't inadvertently go over. It's also has some steep areas and timber stairs where necessary. We did it in about 3 hours out and back and would recommend it for the scenery alone.
We took the Fern canyon trail all the way to the waterfall and then the Falls loop trail back. Waterfall was the main attraction for our 5 year old son. It was beautiful and there is a way to get close to the falls that my son enjoyed immensely. Falls loop was moderate for initial 0.5 miles from the falls and later becomes easy. Overall a good trail. Just be cautious of the fern burns.
This is my favorite forest hike in the area, and I like it best as a car shuttle. One car is parked near the trail head for creek trail (AKA Fern Canyon Trail) inside the park (avoid if possible this asphalt creek trail and take the North trail instead). The other car is parked on Caspar Little Lake Road (409) at Russian Gulch Horse Camp. Don't forget to walk to the Waterfall at some point. Also the part of the Falls loop trail that goes up on the hill is more scenic than the straighter NW portion of the Falls Loop Trail.
April 2, 2014 took a walk at the Russian Gulch State Park to the Waterfall. Hike was 7.5 miles long. Took our time at the falls spending 2 1/2 hours. There is asphalt until the trail forks. We took the left fork marked as "more difficult" but I'd say it was easy to moderate in spots. It had been raining the previous couple of week making the trail slippery in places. Hardest part was climbing over a couple of large redwood trees that had fallen across the trail in the recent rains. There was a steep hill to the left, narrow path, and steep downslope to your right, just where the trees had fallen. There is also a stream at the bottom of the hill. Nice to look at as you walk to the falls. We took the easy trail back to the parking lot, which made a nice loop. Best time to go is after recent rains on a sunny day. Falls are at their best. We managed to hit it just right! Giving 5 stars because of the falls even though they only fall 36 ft - it was pretty. This is a state park which does charge a day use fee but covers 3 local state parks and there is a bathroom in the parking lot.
We did a did several loops starting on the North Boundary Trail head at the ranger's station across the hwy from the entrance to Russian Gulch State park. We traveled about a mile until we reached an entrance to the North Trail. Another couple of miles and we reached the Falls Loop and we decided to go the long way around. After the Falls Loop, we walked down the Fern Canyon Trail until we reached another entrance to the North Trail (the entrance was so hidden I would have missed it if not for having this app on my phone!) and hiked back up to the North Boundary Trail and then back to the ranger's station where we had parked our car. I was SO pleased with the majority of the trails. We started out early and it was foggy and magical in the forest. It was chilly but it turned out to be a warm day and I'm glad I wore layers. The falls were not very large but so pretty. The only part I wasn't very impressed by was the Fern Canyon trail. More of a walk than a hike and the paved road hurt my feet after having hiked for so long before that and it was so busy with people. The majority of our hike on the North Boundary and North Trails we didn't see another person, which was nice. In all, our hike was about 7.5 miles and I loved every minute of it.