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Russian Gulch State Park

Russian Gulch Trail

From Campground to Falls is 6.5 miles round trip
with 200-foot elevation gain

Russian Gulch is a lush coastal range canyon filled with second generation redwoods, Douglas fir and California laurel. Beneath the tall trees grows an understory of ferns, berry bushes, azaleas and rhododendrons. The mouth of the canyon is framed, as if in a photograph, by a handsome Coast Highway bridge.

Above the river mouth, the park headlands offer great north and south coastal views. Out on the headlands is The Punchbowl, a collapsed wave tunnel that forms a 100-foot-diameter hole. This blowhole is an inspiring sight when the surf wells up inside the hole.

Take a direct or a more roundabout route through the canyon and either a longer or shorter route to the waterfall. It’s possible to combine all trails into a delightful nine mile tour of the park.

Directions to trailhead: Russian Gulch State Park is located just off Highway 1, two miles north of the town of Mendocino. Fern Canyon Trail, a continuation of the park road closed to vehicle traffic, departs from the east end of the campground.

The hike: The paved trail, suitable for bicycles, is nearly flat for the first mile as it winds along with the stream. Along the bottom of the gulch grow alder, willow and big-leaf maple. On higher canyon slopes are western hemlock, Douglas fir and second-growth redwoods.

One and a half miles of travel brings you to a couple of picnic tables beneath the redwoods. A short distance past the picnic area, you’ll spot signed North Trail, which leads northwest back to the park campground; consider this path as an alternate return route. Hikers may continue about 100 feet past this trail junction to the signed beginning of the waterfall loop.

Russian Gulch forks here and so does the trail. Take the left, shorter, route and climb by trail, wooden steps and footbridges 0.75 mile to the falls.

If you continue on the loop trail (this adds 2.3 more miles to your walk), you’ll climb stone steps above the falls, then switchback away from the creek through tanoak forest. After topping a ridge, the trail drops into the south fork of Russian Gulch and returns you to the lower trail junction and the return route to the trailhead.

© 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