Hike and Paddle your way to happiness at Big River State Park
Hike and Paddle your way to happiness at Big River State Park

Big River is big on biological diversity. Hikers will discover freshwater and brackish marshland, mudflats, plus stands of redwoods, hardwoods, bishop pine and pygmy cypress.

Big River State Park is big on birds, too, and offers critical habitat for more than two dozen rare, endangered and threatened species, including the northern spotted owl, bald eagle and California brown pelican. Big River’s estuary is ideal spawning habitat and nursery waters for coho and steelhead.

Big River wasn’t named for its length or breadth, but for the size of the redwoods that once grew along the banks. Big (second growth) redwoods and a big estuary are among the compelling natural attractions of Big River State Park, a big (7,334 acres) unit added to California’s park system in 2002.

For a century and a half, the Big River region was owned by various timber companies and very much off-limits to recreation. State funds, federal funds and donations secured by the Mendocino Land Trust, along with the dedicated work by many conservationists, helped create the state park. The park preserves the only major undeveloped estuary in northern California.

Kayaking and canoeing Big River are popular activities. Paddling Big River’s forested canyon is a delight—provided paddlers time their travels with the tides.

Some proud locals claim the world’s best blackberries grow in the park. To verify this claim, go berry picking in late summer.

Big River State Park is all but surrounded by public land. Jackson Demonstration State Forest borders the park on the north, Van Damme State Park (with a brief interruption by Comptche-Ukiah Road and a corridor of private land) borders the park on the south.

Hikers can ramble through the park and onto adjacent parkland, connecting to a far-flung trail network that totals more than one hundred miles of trail. Old logging roads lead to Jackson State Forest and Mendocino Woodlands State Park.

Hiker’s and cyclists travel the main road, in this case, is the Big River Haul Road, which loosely parallels the north side of Big River, and winds 8.3 miles to its end at the edge of the estuary. A multi-use path, it’s open to hiking, cycling and horseback riding.

Directions: From Highway 1 at the south edge of Mendocino, turn inland on the Big River Beach access road. The old haul road (closed to vehicles) begins at the east (most inland) end of the parking area.