Fort Ross State Historic Park

Fort Ross Trail

To Fort Ross Cove is 0.5 mile round trip; to Reef Point Campground is 4 miles round trip;
can extend walk north along park bluffs and south along coast

Fort Ross, the last remnant of czarist Russia’s foothold in California, is today a walker’s delight. Near the fort, sinuous Highway 1 suddenly straightens. You look out upon a handsome, windswept bluff, and spy a redwood stockade and Russian Orthodox chapel. For the first-time visitor, it’s a startling sight.

Napoleon was beginning his 1812 invasion of Russia when Fort Ross— named for Rossiya, itself—was built. The fort’s location ideally suited the purposes of the colony. The site was easily defensible. Tall trees, necessary for the fort’s construction and the shipbuilding that would take place in the nearby cove, covered the coastal slopes. The waters were full of sea otters— an attraction for the Russian American Fur Company, which would soon hunt the animals to near-extinction. Wheat, potatoes, and vegetables were grown on the coastal terrace, and shipped to Russian settlements in Alaska. All in all, the fort was nearly self-sufficient.

Thanks to the state’s replication and restoration efforts, the fort’s building brings back the flavor of the Russian’s foray into North America. The high stockade, built entirely of hand-hewn redwood timber, looks particularly formidable.

Also of interest are the seven-sided blockhouse, with its interpretive exhibits, and the small, wooden Orthodox chapel. And be sure to stop at the Fort Ross Visitor Center, an excellent facility with Russian, Pomo and natural history exhibits.

When you’ve completed your walk through history, another surprise awaits: a hike out on the lonely, beautiful headlands.

In 1990, the state park tripled in size; the addition was the former Call Ranch, more than two thousand acres of wooded canyons and dramatic coastline. From the old fort, you can walk two miles north along the coast via old logging roads dipping into Kolmer Gulch, where there’s a picnic area, and continuing to a stand of redwood and Douglas fir.

You can also walk two miles (or more) south along the coast, as detailed below. North- or south-bound hikers will enjoy grand views of the fort and up-close looks at the result of earthquake action along the San Andreas Fault.

Directions to trailhead: Fort Ross State Historic Park is located off of Highway 1, some twelve miles north of the hamlet of Jenner.

The hike:
Exit the fort’s main gate, follow the stockade walls to the left, and join the downhill path. It’s a short walk to secluded Fort Ross Cove, one of California’s first shipyards. You’ll find an interpretive display and picnic tables here.

Cross Fort Ross Creek on a small footbridge. Earthquake action along the mighty San Andreas Fault has altered the course of the creek by more than a half mile. Follow the path inland along the creek, which is lined with bay laurel, willow, alder and Douglas iris. After a hundred yards of travel, look to your right for an unmarked, narrow path leading south.

The indistinct path travels onto an open coastal terrace. You’ll no doubt see some sheep eating the pastoral vegetation. Follow the undulations of the rye grass- and barley-covered headland, and meander first southeast, then southwest. Continue down-coast until you spot a path descending to a dirt road. (Don’t try to climb the sheep fence; use the stile located where the road dead-ends.)

Descend the dirt road to Reef Campground, formerly a private campground, and now a state park facility. It’s a good place for a picnic.

Across the road, another stile beckons to the entrance of Sonoma County’s “lost coast,” so named because high cliffs and high tides keep this seven miles of beach remote from most hikers.

Should you continue, a mile of walking across boulder-strewn beaches brings you to Fort Ross Reef, which discourages further progress.

© 2012 The Trailmaster, Inc.
From John McKinney’s
Day Hiker’s Guide to California’s State Parks
Trail descriptions and maps have been reproduced with the permission of the author.  To learn more about The Trailmaster and other related publications please visit their website at www.thetrailmaster.com.