Fort Bragg Mackerricher State Park
By Jon Lewis
Bragging RightsNovember 2014
Story and photos by Jon Lewis
Soon, some 20,000 California Gray Whales will begin their Pacific Ocean commute from Alaska to northern Mexico, and they’ll pass right by MacKerricher State Park in Fort Bragg.
The whales, which will be en route to their breeding grounds in Baja California, have an excuse for skipping the park. All others who are not members of the Eschrichtiidae family really should give serious thought to visiting this Mendocino County gem.
The park, which covers nine miles of shoreline, is a picturesque meeting of sea and land that offers a little bit of everything for visitors. Along the rocky stretch of coastline to the south, explorers of all ages can spend hours investigating tide pools or follow the boardwalk out to Laguna Point and watch harbor seals sun themselves.
Out on the boardwalk, listening to distant waves crash against rocks while surrounded by verdant grasses and wildflowers, it’s easy to envision a time when Native Americans, including the Yuki and Pomo peoples, thrived in the area. (In fact, MacKerricher is the only park in the state system that was once part of the Mendocino Indian Reservation.)
The boardwalk network brings visitors to an observation deck to enjoy the harbor seal population and, from December through April, the annual migration of whales from the Bering Sea to Baja California. Docent-led whale watch groups meet at the park’s visitor center during the migration season.
A short distance inland, the park takes on a more typical north coast feel, with bluffs, headlands and forests of Bishop pine and Douglas fir. Campers can choose from 140 campsites, including 10 “walk-in” sites that offer a backpack experience without a long hike.
Lake Cleone, a former tidal lagoon that was turned into a freshwater lake, offers visitors a chance to catch crappie and trout. A 1.3-mile trail circles the lake, which is home to several dozen species of birds.
The northern end of the park features a long, sloping beach and the Inglenook Fen-Ten Mile Dunes Preserve. The extensive 1,300- acre dune complex includes sensitive wetlands and dunes that support three endangered or threatened animal and plant species, including the Western Snowy Plover and the Mendocino spineflower.
The area also offers awesome opportunities for the young and young-at-heart to scale large, shifting mountains of sand and make dramatic, tumbling leaps from the sandy precipices.
At the southern boundary of the park lies Glass Beach, a small arc of beach ringed with sand-smoothed beads of colored glass—the remnants of trash that was piled on the beach in the 1950s and 1960s when the area was used as a dump. Although it’s tempting to pocket a few glass pieces as souvenirs, the beads are considered a cultural resource and removing them is prohibited.
As tempting as the park’s many features are, there are plenty more options in nearby Fort Bragg. Parents spending several days at the park can earn some points from the children with a well-timed visit to the C.V. Starr Community Center and its indoor water park. Workout rooms, off-leash dog parks and free Wi-Fi add to the appeal. A stop at Cowlick’s Ice Cream on North Main Street for some handmade goodness will end the venture on a sweet note.
Campers interested in a more serene side trip can see firsthand how Fort Bragg’s mild maritime climate lends itself to plant life with a visit to the Mendocino Coast Botanical Gardens on Highway 1.
That coastal climate also lends itself to the brewing of top-notch ales, and the Northcoast Brewing Co. is an excellent example. Opened in 1988 as a modest brewpub, Northcoast Brewing quickly established itself as a craft beer pioneer. In addition to its brewery that produces Red Seal Ale, Scrimshaw Pilsner, Acme Ale and other brands, the company operates a taproom, restaurant and gift store.
MacKerricher State Park
24100 MacKerricher Road (off Highway 1), Fort Bragg