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.
Beautiful anytime of year! Waterfall is amazing after all the recent rain. There is a fair amount of incline and decline. Take the 2.2 loop logging road trail for the easiest hike or add a 4 mile loop to make it adventurous. Great for family hike. Great for romantic beauty.
It was an amazing, yet tiring hike! I kept track of the miles... I got 10 in total! Keep in mind I did do the extended 2.8 mile route instead of the 0.7 mile one. I would recommend this hike for anybody around the area. Make sure you start early in the morning. I started around 9:30/10:00 and ended maybe close to 4:00ish? Take some water and a few snacks to munch on a couple of breaks. I didn't take any and learned the hard way. I did stop to take pictures and videos.. and, kinda, sort of, maybe, somewhat got lost haha that was my fault though. Once you feel like you're "making" your own trail, STOP, TURN AROUND, & HEAD BACK!
This is always my favorite hike to do when I'm on the coast. Yesterday, I drove all the way down into the chilly gulch during this season's cold snap, parked, got out, and then immediately got back into my car. They weren't kidding around when they called it a cold snap. As I was underprepared (no hat, no gloves, not enough warm layers), I followed the map that I picked up at the ranger station and drove back up to tackle the Road 409 entrance through the Horse Camp, onto the East Trail, and down to the waterfall. It's on higher ground, it's slightly more exposed, and it is a much shorter hike. While that was lovely and perfect for me on that particular day, nothing beats the splendor of the full Russian Gulch trail experience year-round, rain or shine; mushrooms in the fall/winter, wildflowers in the spring/summer, and always a gorgeous waterfall surrounded by redwoods and ferns and everything else that makes this landscape so breathtaking. The trail is beautifully maintained, too. It's worth driving from the Bay Area just for this hike.
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.