Mendocino Woodlands National Historic Landmark State Park has the most amazing rustic cabins tucked away in a redwood forest just northeast of the town of Mendocino. We saw the cabins when we hiked through the park last year and were wanting to go back to stay for a weekend. The 720-acre park was built in the 1930s as part of the New Deal-era Recreation Demonstration Area and has been virtually unaltered since it opened in 1938. Mendocino Woodlands is mainly used for recreation, conservation, and education. Camping here supports the park we have been able to enjoy a couple of times now.
Rustic cabins built from redwood have withstood the test of time. The simple architecture and attention to detail are evident as is the placement of each of the cabins. Each cabin is situated in a way that you feel like you’re the only one there even though there are several in Camp One. There are some that are duplex style and some that are single. We stayed in Cabin #3.
When we booked it, it was the only one available on Hipcamp but we really think we lucked out! It is up on the hill, close to parking (just a short walk from the truck up the hill to the cabin), and close to the shower/restroom house but far enough away that we didn’t hear the noise from it.
The cabin comes with 4 metal cots with covered foam mattresses. Two of the cots were already pushed together for us prior to arriving. There’s a small closet, a balcony with a clothesline, and a lovely brick and rock fireplace to keep you warm at night. We were provided with a box of wood and kindling, maps, and a trash bag when we arrived. The staff were so nice and helpful before and during our visit! If you get the chance to go, please do! It’s so beautiful and peaceful there! Check out their page on Hipcamp for more photos!
Big Tree Trail
Straight from our cabin and across the dirt road was the beginning of the Big Tree Trail. It’s always so great when you can get ready and leave for your hike without driving anywhere! As we were cruising along the trail we came to a log bridge and paused to check the map to see if we cross the log or keep going. Standing there looking at the map a barred owl left its branch it was on and flew further away from us. Scared the poop out of us, and him! When he landed on the other branch he pooped. Maybe he was warning us to stay away. Not sure. After taking a few photos of him staring at us we crossed the log bridge and left him behind.
There are well-placed color-coded sticks spaced out along the trail. Big Tree trail has blue on top of the sticks. There were signs at main junctions also to help us along but it was nice to know we were still on the correct trail with the blue markers. The forest was just waking up and the sun was flowing through the dense trees. We love to hit the trails before everyone else is on them so we can experience them at our own pace and in the quiet.
Big Tree Trail is a single-track trail that gently climbs approximately 500 feet before you reach the big tree. The trail is lushly lined with ferns and second-growth redwoods, Douglas firs, and Madrones. Enjoy the winding Big Tree Trail and when you reach the Ridge Trail, cross over and follow the signs to the Big Tree. It isn’t far off the trail. We did find the mosquitos were thick around the tree. Like they know that people want to hang out around it while they eat you alive. It’s a trap so be prepared with some bug repellent! 🙂 This is one of the few “big trees” remaining in the park. We always wonder why some trees were spared while others weren’t. Sometimes it makes sense, they are crooked or difficult to reach but this big guy was just there standing over the forest keeping an eye on things.
The Ridge Trail runs along the ridge above Mendocino Woodlands with Big River on the other side. Stay on Ridge Trail for about 1.5 miles and enjoy not climbing anymore and the nice wide trail. It’s a logging road according to the flags that were along some of the trees. This is also where we started seeing mountain bikers.
We were going to head down the other side to Big River but it was warmer than we thought it would be and we had limited water with us so as we were hiking along Ridge Trail we made the decision to drop back down into Mendocino Woodlands via Old Jeep Trail and keep the hike to only 8.27 miles total.
Old Jeep Trail
Old Jeep Trail was a bit steeper than going up Big Tree Trail. We didn’t take our hiking poles with us thinking we wouldn’t run into any steep parts. If your knees tend to need them, we’d suggest packing them. It was nice being back on the more narrow trail lined with ferns again. Somehow it feels more secluded and with very few other hikers or bikers we felt like we were out in the middle of nowhere by ourselves. This IS why we hike after all! To see beautiful place, unplug, and get some exercise in.
As we descended back into the valley of Mendocino Woodlands, we started to see old burn scars on some of the stumps and trees. The forest feels so lush it’s hard to imagine a fire going through there at all. Thankful the redwoods can tolerate the fires. Once you reach the bottom of Old Jeep Trail, hang a left on Marsh Creek Trail.
Marsh Creek Trail
Marsh Creek Trail follows the Little North Fork River through the middle of Mendocino Woodlands. It is a beautiful trail, mostly flat, with a few ups and downs along the way. You get to pass by Camp 3 a follow a bit of the Nature Trail. Oh to be a kid going to camp here! That would be amazing!!
Shortly after passing Camp 3, you will start seeing large old-growth redwood stumps. It was eerily quiet and we felt like we were in a tree graveyard. Yes, we needed the lumber to build the towns but wow… did we need to take it all? It was definitely disheartening to see. We’ve seen it before and will probably never get used to it. Scenes like this keep us going on our low waste journey so our grandkids and future generations have something as beautiful as we have to enjoy.
After this area, you start hiking along the nature trail which brings you closer to the Little North Fork River. There was some water flowing here but not a ton. It is a drought year so we hope all the little fish make it!
The Marsh Creek Trail heads back uphill a little then drops you back down to the creek. Blackberry bushes with poison oak mixed in along the trail here. Careful as it is a little overgrown. The trail then winds around and brings you right back to the cabin. We stopped in to freshen up before heading to the town of Mendocino for a late lunch and a hike along Mendocino Headlands.
Mendocino Headlands State Park
Mendocino Headlands State Park is at the ocean’s edge of the adorable town of Mendocino. We were starving after our hike through Mendocino Woodlands so we opted to grab some lunch before walking around Mendocino Headlands. There’s a cute café we eat at in Mendocino, Good Life Cafe & Bakery, that has gluten-free lunch options for the bosslady and delicious baked goods for the hubs. There are so many great restaurant options in town that we haven’t explored yet.
Mendocino Headlands State Park is a short 2-mile (one way) hike along the bluffs overlooking the ocean with the town of Mendocino behind you. The wildflowers along the trail were still in bloom and amazingly we didn’t run into as many people as we thought we would. It felt so good to have the cool ocean breeze hitting us after our sweaty hike and heatwave at home the week before we could have stayed out there all day! The views were gorgeous too!
The town of Mendocino and the short hike around Mendocino Headlands is a great little relaxing day trip if you’re close by and Mendocino Woodlands is a great jumping off spot to explore Mendocino County.
Point Cabrillo Lighthouse
After our beautiful afternoon at Mendocino Headlands State Park, we headed back to Mendocino Woodlands to relax and enjoy the quiet of the cabin. We cooked dinner outside and ate inside by the fire with another good bottle of wine and watched the sun fade through the forest. Absolutely magical day.
Our final destination for our weekend getaway was Point Cabrillo Lighthouse. We packed up Sunday morning and headed just north of the town of Mendocino to Caspar where Point Cabrillo Lightstation is. There’s a short .5-mile walk from the parking lot down to the lighthouse. Along the paved road, they have educational signs posted about whales as you pass through open meadows before reaching the bluffs. We saw some deer in the distance quietly munching on grass and completely ignoring us humans.
The Point Cabrillo lighthouse was closed but we were able to walk around and explore the trails. The Lighthouse, which is an active duty Aid to Navigation, contains the original Chance Brothers classic 3rd order Fresnel lens. You can see this in action as you approach the lighthouse.
There are two lighthouse keepers homes that are available to rent. One day, we will stay here!
Point Cabrillo Lighthouse was the perfect last stop to our weekend getaway. Leave a comment below on your favorite Mendocino place to explore or restaurant!
Big Tree to Marsh Creek loop inside Mendocino Woodlands, 8.27 miles with 1,040 elevation gain/loss. Restrooms at the cabins, sorry no dogs. We would rate this as easy to moderate. There are mountain bikers on the trails to watch for.
Mendocino Headlands State Park, 4 miles, 104 ft elevation gain/loss. Restrooms at the visitor center, dogs allowed. We would rate this as easy.
Point Cabrillo Lighthouse, 2 miles roundtrip if you do the whole loop. Restrooms at the parking lot and the museum, dogs allowed. We would rate this as easy.
Things We Love:
We love using Hipcamp! We have used Hipcamp to find some really great places with unique camping experiences. When all of the state and national parks are booked up, head over to Hipcamp.com and start searching for other spots in the area you want. The camping ranges from pitching your tent on someone’s land to local parks using this website to handle their bookings. There is so much variety out there and the reviews from actual people staying there help so much when you’re searching for just the right place.
When you click on this Hipcamp link to sign up, you will get $10 hipcash and we will too! What are you waiting for? Head on over and find your next camping adventure!
Most camping spots are on septic so we try and use eco-friendly products to help keep what goes into the water table as safe as we can. An easy option for this is a shampoo and conditioner bars. Easy to travel with, easy on the environment, and great for your hair! Check out our shop, Refill Mercantile, for this and more!
Other things we love, lavender oil! Hear me out on this. When mosquitos are around, it is a natural repellent and if you do happen to get bit by the pesky bug, it will help with the itch and skin irritation. We carry a small bottle of lavender whenever we go camping or hiking in mosquito prone areas.
We use the below lavender oil by Plant Therapy, grab some on Amazon before your next camping adventure!