If you find yourself craving a breath of salty air in historic Fort Bragg, you won’t even have to leave town to get your fix. The city recently converted 82 acres of the former Georgia-Pacific mill site into Noyo Headlands Park, a series of stunning bluffs overlooking the Pacific Ocean. After being off limits for more than 100 years, the area, rich in history, is finally open to the public.
Once the site of a lumber mill, these wind-swept bluffs sprinkled with wildflowers offer visitors dramatic views of the Mendocino coast.
Explore the park via the new Coastal Trail, which features easy access and miles of paved pathway for anyone seeking a stroll amid the refreshing breeze and booming waves. Don’t forget your binoculars – the area is teeming with birds and there are endless opportunities to spot whales, otters and other marine mammals. Vibrant wildflowers bloom alongside rare plants discovered and nurtured during restoration of the surrounding habitat. Deer can often be spotted grazing in the tall grass.
For now, the park is divided into north and south sections that will eventually be connected by a 10-acre stretch of land [I think this has been done]. Both offer ample parking, public restrooms and are handicap-accessible. Leashed dogs are welcome, as are bikers, roller bladers and joggers. The trail in both locations is paved and flat, but be sure to bundle up to protect yourself from the wind and chilly bursts of sea spray. Interpretive panels will enlighten your trek with information about the area’s cultural and natural history. And if you need a breather, have a seat on one of the many quirky benches created by local artists.
Access this chunk of Noyo Headlands Park from Highway 1 by heading west on Elm Street and parking in the lot near Glass Beach – one of the last places in the U.S. where shards of smooth sea glass accumulate en masse. Head south along the Coastal Trail and keep your eyes peeled for ospreys, sparrows and black oystercatchers. The trail ends [I think it connects now] in a loop overlooking Soldier Bay. If you’re still craving exercise after returning to your car, a path heading north along the bluffs will take you into MacKerricher State Park.
The southern portion of Noyo Headlands Park can be accessed from Highway 1 by turning west on Cypress Street and following the road to the parking area. Picnic tables overlooking Noyo Bay make a perfect lunch spot. Grab a pizza from Piaci and watch fishing boats rumble into harbor, guided by the melancholy moans of the foghorn. As you venture along the Coastal Trail to burn off some calories, be sure to hang a left and check out Skip’s Punchbowl, a blowhole named after a local geologist.
This section of the park is larger and more vast, and tends to be less crowded. Walk all the way to Solider Bay and you’ll see Johnson Rock rising from a point along the bluffs. Have a seat on the one-of-a-kind bench at its summit – the perfect spot to stare wistfully into the ocean, searching for a way to make your Mendocino vacation last forever. If you’d prefer to skip the trail on the way back, an old runway will lead you to the parking area.