Mendocino Woodlands State Park was part of the Works Progress Administration and the Civilian Conservation Corps in the 1930s built to introduce the public to the wonders of nature through recreation and conservation. This national landmark on 720-acres with 25 miles of gorgeous trails and 3 campgrounds is tucked away just north and east of the town of Mendocino. Mendocino Woodlands is now run by Mendocino Woodlands Camp Association and continues its original purpose of outdoor environmental education.
Our 9.3-mile hike with 1,250 ft elevation gain was stunning and we are so glad we found it! We just happened to be on AllTrails looking at hiking Russian Gulch State Park and saw these other trails close by for Mendocino Woodlands. So we scrapped our plans for Russian Gulch and started planning our hike through Mendocino Woodlands. We are always up for a new adventure discovering new-to-us trails!
Forest History Trail
The drive to the Forest History Trail trailhead is an adventure in itself! Once you leave Highway 1 to Little Lake Road it eventually turns into a dirt and gravel narrow road for the last bit. We kept on the road until we saw the sign for the trailhead. You can’t miss it, partly because you are going so slow on the road. 😉
If you start from the Mendocino Woodlands campground on the Forest History Trail, you will go in the correct order of the evolution of the forest. There are signs letting you know which part you are in. We opted to do this loop counterclockwise due to some of the steep spots along the trail but were still able to enjoy learning about the various parts of the forest.
Our first stop was a short spur trail to an observation point. Had it been a clear day instead of foggy, we might have had some views in between the trees. There’s a bench up there to enjoy the views on a clear day!
Being in a redwood forest when it is foggy is soooo amazing! Have you touched a redwood tree after the rain and in the fog? It’s squishy!
As we descended Forest History trail we soaked in the cool coastal air and enjoyed the clean soft air of a redwood forest. Starting from the top and heading down is great! The beginning is treetops with the canyons below. The further down you go the smaller you begin to feel as the treetops become farther away from you.
There weren’t many people around but we did run into a few mountain bikers. Looks like a fun trail to be on a bike if you like a little danger!
The forest felt so good to be in. The feeling of complete calm makes seeking out these less-trafficked places so worth it.
At the bottom of the Forest History Trail, we turned left on Camp Road for about 2 miles.
Camp Road is pretty self-explanatory. It is a road for cars to drive into the campgrounds. Since the campground was closed for the winter there were no cars on the road to watch out for. There are also no restroom facilities open so plan accordingly (we stopped in the town of Mendocino to use the public restroom beforehand).
The road follows Marsh Creek as it winds through the canyon before it drops into Big River. Along Camp Road, we saw fall color! The trees that grow along the creek were bright yellow! There is a trail on the other side of the creek that we did not take as we weren’t sure if the footbridges were in to get back at the other end and Marsh Creek had some water in it. There were spots along the creek where it looked like a large tree fell over leaving a large pool of water where the root ball would have been. We looked for fish but they were either not there or hiding from us.
It was so great to walk by the cabins and tent cabins. We would definitely be interested in staying there!
Just after the tent cabins is Manly Gulch Trail. Head left on this and start your climb back up toward your car!
Once you are on Manly Gulch, it is a nice easy 3.5 miles back to the car and 900 feet elevation gain. To be honest. The first part of Manly Gulch trail wasn’t all that spectacular. A lot of trees were down in the creek and there are old trails trying to trick you into going a different direction. Hint, stay to the left. Once you hit the switchbacks and really start climbing the views of the forest are so much better!
Back in the redwoods we went! They were younger trees but healthy and ready for a good long life.
We were glad we did this loop hike counter-clockwise. The expected mileage was about 6 miles but our recording said 9 miles which made the climb back up feel like it took a lot longer. Thankful for the beautiful scenery!
There were very few people on the trails while we were there but as we drove back down along the dirt road we saw a lot of cars parked at other trailheads. The great thing about this park is you can go in so many different directions and not see anyone else! Perfect for social distancing!
Parking is free. Sorry, no dogs. Also no hunting (signs are posted). No restrooms. Eek! Highly recommend stopping in the town of Mendocino at the nice public restrooms there before driving up the bumpy dirt road 😉 . 6 miles if you believe the other stats on AllTrails or 9.3 miles. Guessing somewhere in between due to how fast/slow we hike on average and 1,250 feet elevation change. We would rate this as moderate and also note to watch out for mountain bikers since most of the trail is narrow.
The town of Mendocino has amazing options for food! For this trip we took Highway 1 all the way back down to the Sonoma Coast so we just picked up snacks at the local market along the way. What wine did we have that evening? Cab. It was a chilly and amazing day to be at the coast and a nice bottle of cabernet sauvignon with our burgers and salad was perfect!
Things We Love:
We love hats, beanies, pretty much anything you can put on your head to keep it warm, keep sun out of our eyes and to hide messy hiking hair!
This particular hike was a chilly one. It started out very chilly then warm and chilly again all in just a few hours! We carry a beanie and a hat as our standards in our packs and sometimes a wide brimmed sun hat. Sometimes we switch off and sometimes we stick with just one. If you notice, the hubs has a hat problem and thinks he needs more. More beanies too. While wool is best for an outdoor person, the bosslady is allergic to wool. Yes, even the ones with the nice fleece lining.
One of her favorites is her pRana Izzie (seen in pics on this hike). It’s an organic cotton blend with a sherpa lining (soft!) and a rollover cuff that comes in handy when the wind picks up. She can drop it down over her ears.
The hubs is less picky and was wearing his Columbia Lost Lager beanie. It also has a cuff on it to keep the ears warm in the wind!
Check them out at Amazon! Maybe even add them to your wishlist!