Big River’s name refers to the size of the trees that lined 19th century maps. At around 40 miles, it may not be the longest river, but it does have the longest undeveloped estuary (where the river meets the ocean) in the state.
Extending eight miles inland, the estuary is home to a host of wildlife, including playful sea otters and adorable harbor seals, lolling on the shore or cavorting in the water. It is a bird watcher’s paradise, with a wide range of sea and shore birds, including ducks, loons, cormorants, herons, quail, hummingbirds, hawks, and Mendocino’s iconic ravens. Bring your binoculars!
The haul road, which was once used for hauling lumber in Mendocino’s logging heyday, runs beside this serene and picturesque river. Mostly flat, lined with trees, it is a popular area for walking, running, and bicycling. You might encounter the occasional equestrian on horseback, and you will almost certainly meet someone accompanied by their dogs. Bicycles can be rented at nearby Catch A Canoe and Bicycles Too!, and as you might guess, you can also rent canoes (including pet-friendly outrigger canoes made from redwood) and kayaks to explore Big River by water, an unforgettable adventure.
The haul road meanders through redwoods and canopies of trees, following the river’s course. You’ll find wildflowers, ferns, and blackberries in season. Take your time and enjoy the scenery, in both the wild woods and the serenity of the river.
The Big River Haul Road can be reached by taking the walking trail next to the Presbyterian Church in the Village of Mendocino to Big River Beach, under the bridge, and then walking onto the haul road at the east end of the beach/parking lot. Or take the exit immediately south of Mendocino. It is on the north east side of the Big River Bridge. Day use only. There is no fee for entrance or parking. Dogs should be on leash at all times. During the summertime it can get fairly dense with mosquitos, especially around twilight, so you may want to wear long sleeves.