A Surprise Awaits Inland
Mendocino is a land where the forest meets the sea and Caspar Beach is no exception. Just across from the parking area, you’ll find a trailhead marking the start of the Caspar Uplands Trail. The sound of booming waves will fade as you leave the beach behind and ascend into a lush, shady forest. Follow the trail south over Doyle Creek and prepare to bump into some giants.
It is here that you’ll find a wonderful surprise: North America’s southernmost stand of Sitka spruce. These scaly-barked trees grow along the coastal fog belt from Mendocino, on the hills above Caspar Beach, all the way up to the Kenai Peninsula in Alaska. They can easily top 300 feet. While you won’t find any specimens quite that tall in Mendocino, there are some behemoths waiting to be discovered in these hills. Time your hike to coincide with late evening’s golden light and you’ll be treated to “God rays” slicing through this magnificent, seaside forest. A stroll through this grove is a good way for tree lovers to warm up before a trip to Montgomery Woods.
As you emerge from the Sitkas, the last leg of the trail curves along the edge of a meadow dotted with wildflowers. Keep your eyes peeled – this is a good spot to see deer grazing and rabbits hopping through the tall grass. When you reach the end of the trail, you can either turn around and hike back down to the beach and campground, or walk about a quarter mile south down Point Cabrillo Drive and pick up the paths leading to the lighthouse. The trail is only 1.3 miles long or 2.6 miles if you complete the loop. If you decide to head to the lighthouse and back, the trek will be closer to 4 miles. There is some elevation gain near the beginning, but overall the hike is an easy one.
Hiking the Headlands
Once you’ve explored the beach and forest, only the headlands remain. A small slice of coastal bluffs south of Caspar Beach has been set aside as Caspar Headlands Natural Reserve. To access the trail, continue south on Point Cabrillo Drive, then turn right on S. Caspar Drive and park at the junction of Headlands Drive, a private road restricted to residents’ vehicles. Walk down Headlands Drive and you’ll arrive at the trailhead. Follow the path to the point, where you’ll enjoy fantastic views looking back toward Caspar Beach, with the dark green Sitkas rising in the hills above the sand. Mingle with local fisherman as you scan the high seas for signs of migrating grey whales, which frequent the Mendocino Coast between November and April. You can also spot seals on a flat rock just off the point. You’ll need a permit to access the reserve, but you can pick one up for free just down the road at the California State Parks office in Russian Gulch State Park.