Sprawling MacKerricher State Park, one of the more accessible parks in Mendocino County, has more than 2,000 acres of dunes, coastal prairie, headlands, a tidal lagoon, pocket beaches, and trails. At its southern end, in Fort Bragg, a wide coastal prairie terminates at the ocean in low, rocky bluffs. The main entrance, in the little town of Cleone, provides access to park amenities, including campgrounds, picnic tables, restrooms, a small beach that is accessible by beach wheelchair (when the shifting dunes aren’t too steep), and Lake Cleone, a 30-acre former brackish-water marsh, now a freshwater lake due to construction of Haul Road, which cut it off from the sea. Farther north, Ten Mile Beach and the adjacent dunes form one of the longest stretches (some 4.5 miles) of dunes in California, but there’s no wheelchair access.
Two trails are accessible: The Haul Road extends 10 miles (only 2.5 miles are accessible) along an abandoned train route, and Laguna Point, a blufftop boardwalk, offers close-up views of the ocean. The 1.3-mile trail that rings Lake Cleone is closed indefinitely due to vandalism. It’s still worthwhile to stop there and sit by the parking lot overlooking the lake to watch for blue herons, osprey, and ring-necked and mallard ducks.
The Haul Road
see access criteria for definitions
Trailhead: Foot of Old Haul Road in Fort Bragg. You can also access the trail from the parking lot by the Beachcomber Motel and off Mill Creek Road (the park’s entry road), immediately past the overpass.
Length: 2-4 total miles
Typical Width: 4 ft. & above
Typical Grade: Gentle
The spur trail has a short section greater than 1:12
Trail is worn in places. Spur trail is dirt and gravel, and on my visit there was a thick layer of gravel at the bottom of the short hill.
The Haul Road is a 10-mile multiuse trail for hikers, bicyclists, and equestrians that runs from Fort Bragg north to Ten Mile River along a former train corridor that carried timber from the Ten Mile River watershed to the Union Lumber Company in Fort Bragg. Only the first two miles from the trail’s southern terminus in Fort Bragg are accessible. Starting at the small lot at the foot of Old Haul Road in Fort Bragg, you will soon cross a 500-foot railroad trestle bridge over Pudding Creek–it was converted to a pedestrian walkway in 2007. Through the 42-inch high railings are lovely views of a sandy pocket beach, the mouth of the creek, and the ocean. Next you’ll pass a large parking lot, several hotels, and a cement plant; all along this stretch you can see the ocean beyond a broad stretch of dune grasses. To the north you’ll see the mountains of southern Humboldt County and the curve of the shoreline. Look for the weathered lone cypress that arches over the trail, creating a lovely sculpture; it’s hard to miss.
About a mile past the hotels is a bird sanctuary where snowy plovers nest from mid-March to mid-August. An interpretive panel about this endangered bird is located across dirt and sand and requires careful navigation. A second accessible bridge crosses Virgin Creek–a great spot to sit and watch the birds lift off and ride the ocean breeze, and to contemplate a coastline that was three to five miles farther west around 12,000 years ago. Beyond the bridge, the landscape begins to change: shrubs and trees now dominate, obscuring the ocean except at a few gaps. Although my early-morning hike started with sunshine, the fog eventually rolled in like a mysterious shroud, leaving only my senses of smell and sound to detect the ocean nearby.
After about another mile you come to a spur trail that dips down a hundred feet and terminates at the road that runs through the park. You can travel on this road a short distance–doable because traffic is light and the speed limit is 15 miles per hour–to reach Laguna Point Boardwalk. Or you can continue on the trail about 200 feet to a spot where a bridge has been washed away, blocking further passage; here you can get a birds-eye view of the park below, including Lake Cleone, then backtrack to the spur trail to finish.
Laguna Point Boardwalk
see access criteria for definitions
Trailhead: Laguna Point day-use lot
Length: Under one mile total
Typical Width: 4 ft. & above
Typical Grade: Level
Very bumpy in places
Located on a headland at the park’s westernmost point, Laguna Point Boardwalk is a loop trail on an elevated boardwalk that leads around the point through fields of grass, past a series of interpretive panels. In the late 19th century, the point had a bustling wharf and loading chute that carried lumber milled in the area to ships heading south. Prior to that, native coast Yuki and Pomo people came here to gather the sea’s valuable food resources, including abalone, mussels, salmon, sea lions, and kelp.
After a hill at the trailhead, the boardwalk is level the rest of the way, with expansive views of the headlands and coast except for a stretch at the start of the loop, where a stand of trees blocks the view. Five platforms overlooking the ocean have benches and interpretive panels with information about the shaping of the coastline, the coastal Pomo people, and wildlife; they provide good viewpoints for spotting harbor seals that have hauled out on the rocks, sea lions, and, if you’re lucky, gray and humpback whales on their migration route from December to April. On a clear day you will have unimpeded views of the mountainous Humboldt County coastline. Although it was gray on my visit, there were plenty of bright spots that gave me reason to linger: crashing waves created white sea-foam that danced on the abundant, offshore sea stacks; a black oystercatcher whistled in a captivating fashion; and harbor seals bobbed playfully in the water.
The facilities listed below meet all of our access criteria unless otherwise noted.
Accessible Visitor Center: Yes
A very small visitor center by the entry kiosk has a gift shop, animal pelts and specimens, and information about the natural history of the park. Adjacent to the center, a humpback whale skeleton provides visitors a sense of the scale of this large mammal.
Beach Wheelchair: Yes
One-day advance notice is requested: (707) 961-0404
Accessible Parking: Yes
Adjacent to the visitor center, at Cleone Lake, Laguna Point day-use lot, and the small lot at the foot of Old Haul Road in Fort Bragg. A large public lot near the Beachcomber Motel on Highway One provides access to the Haul Road trail. It has a firm surface but no designated accessible spaces.
Accessible Restroom: Yes
At Lake Cleone parking lot; a portable unit is in the lot off Highway One by the Beachcomber Motel.
Accessible Picnic Tables: Yes
The only accessible day-use picnic table is next to the visitor center. Its location at the park’s entrance kiosk may not be desirable. Tables at Lake Cleone are on sand.
Hours: Sunrise to 10 pm. Haul Road trail: 6 am-10 pm. Visitor center: Generally Fri.-Sun., noon-4 pm (call first).
Map: See here.
Dogs: On a leash