If Big Sur is a popular cheerleader, Mendocino is her older, cooler, more aloof older sister. Situated four hours north of San Francisco, this North Coast destination has plenty to offer the weekend warrior. Russian Gulch State Park and the Fern Canyon and Waterfall Loop are some trails that should not be missed.
The trailhead for this is Fern Canyon. If the gate is locked, it adds a .2 mile stroll past empty campsites. In March 2019, the Fern Canyon trail was technically closed. I say technically closed because the ranger at the entrance station said we could hike it anyway.
California State Park calls it closed to absolve themselves of any responsibility should someone get hurt on a closed trail. In this case, the closure was due to downed trees. These trees were easily passable.
The most spectacular show on this trail is the waterfall, accessible one of two ways on the waterfall loop. Both ways begin in Fern Canyon.
The most direct and easisest way to the waterfall stays on the Fern Canyon trail. The Fern Canyon trail follows the meandering creek from the trailhead to the waterfall. The trail was lush, green, surrounded by towering redwoods. Butterflies fluttered about. A river otter said hello and goodbye. If the trail didn’t exist, I would have felt like I was in Jurassic Park.
It’s about a 2.5 mile hike to the falls with 200 feet of elevation gain. We followed this trail out about 1.9 miles where it splits off. Stay to the left on the split. We’ll be coming back on the right.
Soon, you’ll reach the waterfall. It is a sight to behold, dropping 36 feet down into a bowl. There are benches here to enjoy your time. Wander close on a downed tree, if you dare. Be careful though, it can be slick.
When you’re done at the falls, cross the bridge and continue up. The loop trail takes you above the falls. Watch your step, it can be easy to tumble down.
The remainder of the loop climbs 2.5 miles up into a redwood forest. It is quiet and peaceful up there. The trees are second growth, but they are still breathtaking. On a rainy Friday afternoon, we had this section of the trail to ourselves.
The waterfall loop trail meets back up with the Fern Canyon trail. We retraced our steps back to the car.
The total mileage for the Fern Canyon and Waterfall Loop is 8.13 miles with 542 feet of elevation gain. Just perfect for grabbing some candy cap ice cream in town for a reward.
When is the best time to visit Fern Canyon and Russian Gulch State Park?
Visit in the winter when it’s drizzling. Fern Canyon and the redwoods come alive after a good rain. Everything is so lush and green. There’s something so special to me about redwoods and ferns in the rain.