Located just down the hill from the Little River Inn is Van Damme State Park. Named for Charles Van Damme, who was born in Little River in 1881 and raised his family there, this special piece of the Mendocino coastline was owned by Mr. Van Damme and was acquired by the state parks system on his death in 1934.
Explore the unique Pygmy forest – nature’s bonsai! – or stroll through lush fern canyons, crossing many scenic bridges
The park includes a small but lovely beach on the western side and almost unlimited hiking opportunities on the eastern side.
The beach is very popular for kayaking and scuba diving, particularly during the summer months. Kayaks can be rented via Kayak Mendocino, which also offers tours of the sea caves at the Van Damme beach. The beach is an excellent location for tide pooling, having a picnic, or watching the sun set over the majestic Pacific.
Across the highway – look both ways before you cross! – is the forest part of the park. It’s also accessible via a private path down from the Little River Inn, so no need to take a car. It offers walks and hiking for all fitness levels. A boardwalk at the top of the park loops through the rare pygmy forest, an unusual collection of trees whose growth is stunted by the acidic quality of the soil. Though they may be a hundred years old or even older, these miniature trees are not much taller than the average adult, a far cry from the towering giants seen elsewhere in the County. Nature’s bonsai! The pygmy forest boardwalk is about a quarter of a mile long and is wheelchair accessible. It can be reached from the Little River Airport Road as well as from the park itself.
The Fern Canyon Trail wends through a lush, gorgeous landscape of majestic redwoods, pines, cypress, and huge ferns. There is a variety of trails to choose from, depending on how strenuous a hike you’re up for that day. Whichever trail you choose, you will be awed by the timeless beauty of the scenery. You almost feel like a dinosaur could emerge from behind a giant fern. The forest is a birdwatcher’s paradise, home to a wide variety of birds, including owls, hummingbirds, warblers, woodpeckers, jays, and thrushes. Don’t forget your binoculars! Take note of the many scenic bridges you’ll cross on your hike – these original bridges were laid down by the California Conservation Corps during the New Deal.
Van Damme State Park is located at 8001 Highway 1 in Little River, just north of Little River Inn. Information on kayak rentals can be found here: http://www.kayakmendocino.com/index.php. Many trails are bicycle friendly and are signposted where bicycles are permitted. Dogs are allowed on the beach if they are on a leash, but are not permitted on the trails. The boardwalk is wheelchair accessible. There is a seasonal information kiosk; call (707) 937 5804 to confirm hours and for other information. Day use only for the beach; camp sites are available on the forest side of the park. Some are first come, first serve, but most are reservation only. Reserve at reservecalifornia.com or by calling 1-800-444-7275.