Van Damme Beach State Park consists of beach and upland on the Mendocino Coast. Of all the park system's units along the Mendocino coast, Van Damme is perhaps the richest in terms of historical resources connected with the redwood lumber industry. Its story is a prime example of the struggles and eventual failures of a small, independent lumber operation. Van Damme State Park was named for Charles Van Damme who was born at Little River in 1881, son of John and Louise Van Damme, early settlers of the region. John Van Damme and his wife were a Flemish couple. The patriarch of the family was born in Ostend, Belgium on May 22, 1832. "Following the sea" for some years, Van Damme, upon his arrival in Mendocino County, later worked in the lumber mill at Little River. In this settlement all of his children were born, including Charles, whose love for the area prompted his acquiring, after some years as a successful operator of the Richmond-San Rafael ferry line, a plot of ground along the redwood coast. Upon his demise this area became a part of the State Park System in 1934. In those early days lumbering was a major economic factor in the development of the northern coastline. Little River was built as a mill town in 1864 by Ruel Stickney, Silas Coombs and Tapping Reeves after the property, formally called Kents Cove, was purchased from W. H. Kent in 1862. Before long it had attained fame, not only as a lumber port, but as a shipyard as well. Alas, a stand of timber, if logged, does not last forever and by the end of the century, even though logging was periodically moved back into the headwaters of Little River, the mill was forced to close in 1893. What was left of Little River soon deteriorated; the shipyard, the wharf, the town, several chutes for loading lumber and the lumber mill itself. Activity at the port declined. Little River's school, once attended by nearly 100 students, closed; its weekly steamship service ended, and a shipyard where, in 1874, Captain Thomas Peterson turned out full-size lumber schooners for the coast wide trade, phased out. Only the schooner Little River returned, to be wrecked on the very beach from which it originally departed. Plagued by a lack of sufficient timber reserves, fires, substantial loss of business and trade, deterioration of the port's chutes and wharf, the end of coast wide shipping and the attendant decline in population, Little River reverted to a natural state. Its acquisition by the State Park System in 1934, and the subsequent addition of peripheral lands has preserved some of California's most interesting natural resources.
I've taken this exceptional walk many times. One more important than all the others combined. Many years ago when I fell in Love with the most wonderful person I've ever met in my life, Vickie! Unfortunately I managed to screw things up a few years later and lost this person. The moment will always be one of my most precious memories. The beauty, atmosphere and wonder all set a magical moment.
It was a really fun hike on a trail with a ton of great views. We decided to walk the entire trail, and it was a lot of fun. We ate lunch on the trail, but at a nice pace it still took us a little over 4 hours to walk. Keep that in mind if you get there late. Bathrooms are also located throughout the trail, which was nice. All in all, it was tons of fun, and I'd love to go back and walk it again.
We walked along the boardwalk through the Pygmy Forest and then hiked along Fern Canyon trail (2.3 miles) & then back by way of the Old Logging Road trail (1.2 miles) = 3.5 miles total. There is free parking at the Pygmy Forest trailhead off of Little River Rd. The Fern Canyon trail is a beautiful walk through an old forest. There were so many old massive trees that had been burnt down. It was amazing to see how big they once were and how old they are. There are a few bridges along the trail and a small waterfall - that would probably be pretty nice in the spring.
This hike was everything I expected. Beautiful. The weather was perfect with this shaded hike. The trail crosses over the creek many times and has many well maintained and quaint bridges. The trees are stunning with the ground covered in ferns and green shrubbery. The hike is actually 8.5 miles if you do the whole loop and worth every inch of mile.
Beautiful hike. It gets muddy in places, but the creek is amazing, and the trail is in decent shape with an occasional fallen tree to get around. Further up in the trail near the pigmy forest is a spot you may have to ford a shallow creek depending on the time of year.