Hiker's hip pocket Guide to the Mendocino Coast
Big River State Park, 7334 acres, is now open to hikers and cyclists. We suggest you get the Jackson State Forest map, the most detailed yet available. We recognize four main access points, the most important one at Big River Beach east of Highway 1, two on Little Lake Road, and one on Comptche-Ukiah Road.
1. Big River Haul Road. Turn east off Highway 1 just north of Big River Bridge onto North Big River Road. Go .3 mile and park opposite the outhouse. The old Haul Road, nearly level, follows the river and is now closed to all motor vehicles except service vehicles. Mileage counts from the yellow gate .1 mile beyond parking area. Beyond a second gate at .8 mile, the forest cover thickens. Graveled spurs fork left at 3.35 miles and 4.1 miles (both climb to Woodlands Fire Station on Little Lake Road). At 4.35 miles a broad spur heads east up Dry Dock Gulch (1.4 miles to upper Hi Chute Ridge). At 4.45 miles a short spur on left overlooks wetlands on Dry Dock Gulch. At 4.85 miles a graveled spur climbs east to lower Hi Chute Ridge. At 6.5 miles a wheel-less railroad flatcar marks a trail on right to river access. At 6.6 miles the Haul Road forks at the "7-mile Y." Take the right fork to stay near the river. At 7.75 miles a narrow spur forks left. In 300 feet the main road comes to a wet ford, impassable in wet season. If you can ford, you soon reach Big River Laguna, a very large marsh around 8 miles, and the east boundary of Big River public lands by 9.5 miles. Returning to the fork at 7.75 miles, you can prolong explorations by heading north on the narrow track .5 mile to its end at the base of Hi Chute Ridge. Turn left to return to main parking (1.5 miles to 7-mile Y). A right turn heads north following a much smaller, not tidal river to Lily's Beach in 2.2 miles, Mendocino Woodlands just beyond.
2. Woodlands Fire Station: Connector Trail to Haul Road, 17/8 miles round trip. At MP.3.25 on Little Lake Road, 3 miles east of Highway 1, an obvious path heads south from directly opposite the fire station driveway. Before 5/8 mile it merges with a power line path. Veer left to continue south into forest, soon descending old logging road. Beyond one mile it joins a gravel track. Go straight to reach Haul Road at MP.4.1 in 1-7/8 miles, a 3-¾ mile round trip (500 feet elevation change). New printing incorrectly states "or turn right at gravel to descend ot MP.3.35". A RIGHT TURN LEADS TO A DEAD END WITHIN 1/8 MILE.
3. Jackson State Forest Road 720 to Hi Chute Ridge to upper Hau~oad, 2.15 or 3.25 or 4 miles to Haul Road, depending on route. From Highway 1, go 4.3 miles up Little Lake Road. Park near, but not blocking, the yellow gate on right marked `4720." Hike or ride .5 mile on Road 720, then find a path that forks right to descend south. In 100 feet the path is marked by a large chunk of gnarled redwood. Descend this path to a junction with a logging road at .75 mile. (A left turn wanders out Hi Chute Ridge 3.25 miles to meet the north fork of Haul Road where it turns north to head for Woodlands.) For shortest route to Big River, turn right and descend 1.4 miles to main Haul Road 4.4 miles from its first gate. To loop back to your trailhead, turn left and go .5 mile, then bear left on the gravel track climbing east. It reaches Hi Chute Ridge in 1.6 miles. Stay left to ascend ridge, returning to first junction in 1.6 miles. Turn right and climb to Road 720, retracing your steps to trailhead, a 6.6-mile loop (elevation change 990 feet).
4 South side access. Up Comptche-Ukiah Road .25 mile, parking for 3-4 cars near logging road on left, just above Stanford Inn. Do not block gate! If you only have one hour to explore Big River and you're hiking, this is best choice. Road heads east beyond gate passing large redwoods in first l/8 mile, then continues generally east with filtered river and town views. Pass seven seeps from l/2 mile to Il/8 miles, with your contour route interspersed with short descents. The best of the scenic tour ends at 1~/8 miles. Some say the only reason to continue is to see the huge clear cut ahead, others like it for being the aerobic part of this hike. The road climbs steeply, entering the clear cut by 1~/4 miles, and reaching a fork at 13/4 miles, then another at 17/8 miles. You can descend to where several trees block the main fork at 2 miles. Beyond there, it's a bushwhacker's delight. (Elevation change 160 feet to 11/8 miles, 630 feet to 2 miles).
Please note: Other than the main Haul Road, none of these paths are maintained or official. They were open and passable in 11/02 when the author explored them.
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