Explore the most popular trails in Van Damme Beach State Park with hand-curated trail maps and driving directions as well as detailed reviews and photos from hikers, campers and nature lovers like you.

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.

One of my all-time favorites!

Beautiful forest, ferns. Quiet and peaceful.

great trial with beautiful scenery and plenty of shade to keep you cool.

We parked near the Pygmy Trail head and hiked down into the canyon. The trail is easy. The environment is damp, lush and quiet. We saw few other hikers.

Fast and easy. Nice trail, crisscrossing a few rivers. Lots of ferns. No real views. Beach across the street for a cool down afterward.

Great hike! Day pass for entry into Van Damme State Park is $8, best to bring exact cash as the station isn’t always manned. Hike goes up into the Pygmy Forest, a little underwhelming. (A Pygmy Forest is where the soil is acidic causing stunted growth of all trees/plants.) otherwise beautiful scenery and lightly trafficked.

on Fern Canyon Scenic Trail

5 months ago

great trail but long if you do the loop back.

Beautiful, lush. Nicely maintained trail. We didn't see anyone else even though it was a sunny Saturday in May. Look for wild raspberries along the foot trail halfway down the canyon when the season is right.

Beautiful trail through ferns, huckleberry trees, and some tall redwoods.

A great representation of the good the CCC did during the Great Depression, this trail is a really enjoyable stroll along a winding river that leads out of the NorCal hills into the Pacific ocean. I'd love to come back and do a trail run here as the flag pole out to the loop is worn but relatively flat while the loop would be a great leg burner on the ascents. We really appreciated the micro-climate changes as we hiked inland and uphill.

off trail
washed out
8 months ago

Went after a storm so a few branches on trail, awesome Forrest views great trail path. Must do if your on the coast.

Fri Nov 02 2018

Gorgeous hike through the forest. There are NO ocean views despite the photos here, so please keep that in mind. It was beautiful anyway and we were almost the only ones hiking on a Saturday.

Wed Oct 10 2018

Fern Canyon Trail is by FAR, THE MOST beautiful forest I have ever had the pleasure of walking through. Breathtaking and magical are the words to describe these enchanted woods. I’ve gone twice, one on a clear sunny day and the other when foggy and rainy. Hands down it was so mystical being there in the fog and light rain. I was waiting for a fairy to jump out at me from out of the mist! Nothing short of a mystical fairytale awaits you when visiting this dreamlike forest!

Fabulous walk through the coastal woods of Little River. Worth the trip! We started at the coast (free parking) then walked through the campground to the trailhead. After walking to the first Y in the trail, we chose to hike the 1.2 miles to the Pygmy Forest, this incline was pretty steep. After viewing the Pygmy Forest - which is too cool! - we walked the 2.3 miles back which was much more gradual. There are 20 beautiful bridges to cross over creek.

Tue Jul 10 2018

So the website will tell you the trail is closed but it is not. When I finally reached a real person at the park I informed them that the website was incorrect. They didn’t seem concerned. Subsequently the backcountry camp was empty. It is beautiful. Like camping on Endor. The hiking is easy but cool and shady. We flew a small plane to Little River airport and hiked in from the Pygmy forest. I recommend parking at the top parking lot and you can avoid the inept state employees. They will never know you are there because they don’t leave the main campground on Hwy 1. We made a day hike to the beach while leaving our camp set up. Camp number 4 is the best. Nice fire pit and table and lots of interesting forest all around. Also don’t miss the blow hole located behind the little river cemetery. It is amazing and you can climb down inside using ropes!

Loved the trail. Quite easy though. I preferred the north trail next to it.

Short loop that starts from the Pygmy Forest parking. Brings you down into the "canyon" and gives you some nice views of the forest and canyon. There is a river crossing that doesn't have a bridge, but a downed tree seems to have become a part of the trail/crossing.

Wed Feb 21 2018

such a pretty hike with lots of colorful mushrooms :)

Sat Feb 17 2018

Ran the trail from the Little River Inn on Friday, February 17 at 7am. Wow, amazing foliage that includes towering Redwoods and the gateway to possibly fern heaven. I have never seen so many ferns of all shapes and sizes. But wait there’s more. A gorgeous creek with boulders accompanies you the entire journey as you meander through the canyon. Finally, you will encounter at least eight bridges each individually numbered as the trail crosses over the creek numerous occasions adding to the experience. I will definitely return and highly recommend this trail. A botanist’s delight.

Sat Nov 18 2017

Very cool trail, I'd rate it above the Russian Gulch fern canyon and below the Prairie Creek fern canyon, though it has the advantage of the pygmy forest and the backcountry campsites out there. If you're planning on staying at the park I'd recommend checking those out if you have the backpacking gear - two miles out from the trailhead, $25/night (compared to $40/night at the campground), trash cans, picnic tables and fire rings, questionable pit toilets...

Thu Sep 07 2017

This is a great trail

Love the Fern trail beautiful and a good incline to get the blood pumping

trailhead and back took 3.5 hours with lunch at the waterfall included. great hike with an awesome campground!

nature trips
Sun Feb 26 2017

Very short but informative trail. Really interesting that some of those small trees are a couple hundred years ol but the soil restricts their growth.

Sat Dec 10 2016

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.

Tue Dec 06 2016

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.

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