Russian Gulch State Park is one of the Mendocino Coast’s most popular hiking destinations – in large part due to the majestic 36 foot waterfall midway on its main loop trail. This waterfall cascades down during the winter and spring months, and is still active during the drier summer and fall.
The hike to the waterfall is rated beginner to moderate – it is less than two miles from the trailhead, and although it has some relatively steep ascents, the path is well graded, and should be manageable for most hikers. The trip to the waterfall is, in many ways, as visually impressive as the waterfall itself. The steep canyon is covered in different species of ferns, and towering redwood trees spring up alongside the burbling creek – making it seem like a setting from Jurassic Park as much as a Mendocino State Park.
This is a popular destination for wild berry picking, as well, with red huckleberries, huckleberries, blackberries, salmonberries, and more. For avid birders, this park also offers an excellent opportunity – rarely will one go on a hike without seeing at least one person with a pair of binoculars out spying one of the rare migratory birds that use this park as a waypoint.
Access to the park is easy – it is directly off of Highway One just north of the Village of Mendocino. There are 27 campsites at the base of the park, and public restroom facilities are available for campers and hikers.
Although less popular than the inland hike that includes the waterfall, the western, coastal portion of Russian Gulch is actually quite beautiful. Covering the coastline nearly all the way south to the Village of Mendocino, it includes a beach used mostly by campers. In the shallows one will often see people swimming or rockfishing, and at low tides there is excellent tidepooling here.
The Devil’s Punch Bowl is another exciting feature – one of the best blowholes on the Mendocino Coast. A tunnel was carved over thousands of years by the pounding of the surf, digging inland nearly 200 feet before collapsing in on itself and forming a hole nearly 60 feet deep and more than 100 feet across. As the sea surges in at high tide, it rushes up against the walls of the ‘punch bowl’ and kicks up froth and spume, exploding into the air in an amazing and powerful display.
There are also trails off of the inland access point to Russian Gulch (found up Road 409 just south of Caspar), which not only provide excellent opportunities for huckleberry picking, but also a view of the unique Pygmy Forest – where centuries-old trees have been stunted to dwarf stature. This trail is also suitable for horseback riding, with easy rides of up to two hours within the park, and spurs that connect with much longer coastal riding trails.