A state park on the Pacific Ocean where the scenery is as spectacular as the birds.
By Chuck Graham | Published: 6/21/2013
This 347-acre state park consists of undeveloped seaside bluffs and rocky islets surrounding the town of Mendocino, two beaches, and the Big River, which empties into the Pacific here.
The park’s three miles of trails meander along craggy bluffs, offering birders many convenient overlooks for spotting migrating and resident birds. Over the years, I’ve hiked and kayaked along the headlands several times, and the birdlife has always been astounding.
The scenery — secluded coves engulfed in bull kelp, sea arches, and hidden grottos — is postcard-perfect. Several short trails lead down to sandy and cobbled shorelines littered with battered driftwood.
Visitors looking to bird by kayak will find several easy put-ins. Paddling around the knobby sea stacks and rocky outcrops can reveal pelagic species and shorebirds. From spring through fall, look for Osprey perched in cyprus trees, gulls roosting along the sandbar at the mouth of the river, and pelagic birds like Pigeon Guillemot tending to nests within the clefts and alcoves of cliffs and offshore rocks. — Chuck Graham
Chuck Graham is a writer and photographer who writes often about birds in California. He also wrote about Elkhorn Slough, Hotspot Near You No. 154, Moss Landing, Carpinteria Salt Marsh, Carpinteria, No. 116, Soda Lake, Bakersfield, No. 123, Oso Flaco Lake Natural Area, Guadalupe, No. 138, Cachuma Lake Recreation Area, Santa Barbara, No. 151, and Hearst San Simeon State Park, Cambria, No. 185.
At a Glance
Click on the coordinates below to view location:
Coastal bluffs, rock outcroppings, sea grottos, kelp forests, river mouth, beaches.
Mainly flat, single-track trails; some are wheelchair-accessible.
276 species. Whimbrel, Sanderling, Marbled Godwit, Western, Spotted, and Least Sandpipers, Red-necked Phalarope, Black Turnstone, Dunlin, Wandering Tattler, Long-billed Dowitcher, Western Snowy Plover, Surfbird, Harlequin and Wood Ducks, Black Oystercatcher, Greater Yellowlegs, Common Raven, Osprey, Peregrine Falcon, Belted Kingfisher, Pigeon Guillemot, Common and Forster’s Terns, Heermann’s, Glaucous-winged, Mew, Thayer’s, Bonaparte’s, Western, Ring-billed, Herring, and California Gulls, Common Murre, Northern Fulmar, Brandt’s, Pelagic, and Double-crested Cormorants, Sooty Shearwater, Red-throated and Pacific Loons, Horned, Eared, Western, Red-necked, and Clark’s Grebes, Surf Scoter, Red-breasted Merganser, Black-legged Kittiwake, Rhinoceros and Marbled Auklets, Savannah Sparrow, American Pipit, and Yellow-rumped Warbler.
When to go
March through November.
Ford House Visitor Center, 735 Main St., has exhibits on cultural and natural history, as well as visitor information. Restrooms just east of Ford House and at north end of the park.
State park. No admission fee. Ford House Visitor Center open 11-4 daily.
Bring a spotting scope and a windbreaker and warm hat.
For more info
Mendocino Headlands State Park, (707) 937-5804.
Ford House Visitor Center, (707) 937-5397.