Trail to the Waterfall in Russian Gulch State Park, Mendocino
Falls Loop Trail, in Russian Gulch State Park, is one of our favorite day hikes on California’s Mendocino Coast. The enchanting trail takes you through the Redwood forest to a 36-foot high waterfall.
This is the kind of forest that makes you think there might be fairies hidden among the ferns and moss gathering wildflowers and wild berries.
The hike is of moderate-intensity, taking you on well-defined paths along a creek that glistens in the sunlight. The trail gets steeper once you get closer to the falls.
SAVVY TIP: There’s an easier “secret” way to get to the falls that the locals told us about. (More on that below.)
The waterfall is dressed to impress during or just after the winter rainy season when it stretches to about 25 feet wide. Go now, after all the big rains, and you’ll see the waterfall in all its glory.
In the dry late summer season or during a drought like when we went, the waterfall still flows, although more gently. And the creek can shrink to no more than a trickle.
This is not a hike where you need to be goal oriented. Yes, there’s a sweet waterfall at the turnaround point. But every inch of the trail is part of an amazing experience.
The air is fresher among the ferns. The light is softer under the Redwoods. The sound of water babbling at your feet and leaves rustling overhead casts a spell on you.
You’ll see lizards and butterflies among the ferns and flowers. Look up and you’ll notice a variety of migratory birds taking a breather on their way elsewhere.
This hike is kid-friendly. Just watch your children closely around the last bend to the waterfall as it can get slippery close to the edge.
When you reach the waterfall, you’ll find a footbridge and benches. The water at the bottom is shallow, with rocks and downed trees to climb on or simply enjoy. This is a good spot to stop for the snacks and water you packed.
When you’re ready to climb back up, you can choose to make a loop or reverse your steps and go back the way you came. The park is well marked with signs to help you along the way.
Know Before You Go
Russian Gulch State Park Address & Location
Find Russian Gulch State Park directly off Highway One just north of the Village of Mendocino, about four hours north of San Francisco.
You’ll see campsites at the entrance to the park, and public restrooms. You’ll need to pay a day fee to visit the park.
Russian Gulch State Park
Where to find the waterfall
Trails are well-marked from the parking area. Follow the trail signs to hike Fern Canyon and Falls Loop Trail.
Shorter (secret) Trail Entrance to the Falls
For a shorter, easier hike to the waterfall, Take the lesser know (mostly by locals) North Boundary Trail to the fork that leads down to the falls (you’ll see trail signs). You’ll save time but you’ll also miss some of the beauty of the canyon. (Also, no park fee.)
Here’s how to find this “secret” trail:
- Take Road 409 off HWY-1. Turn left (east) at the intersection and park where the road turns to dirt (just past milepost 3.26).
- Look for the sign for North Boundary Trail on your right. Walk past the gate, and continue on the path until you see the horse camp and another gate.
- Walk past the second gate and continue on the trail down to the gully.
- There you’ll see a small trail to the left of the main trail. (You can continue on the main trail, but this smaller trail is an easy shortcut.)
- Continue (left) back onto the main trail down into the forest.
- Soon you’ll see the creek that leads to the waterfall. Where the trail forks, take the better trail and continue following the creek.
- Take the footbridge across the creek.
- The trail climbs to another fork where you’ll go right and continue following the creek downstream.
- When you reach the top of the falls, follow the trail around and down to the bottom.
- You’ve found it! (Now tell no one.)