I am a fan of healthy New Year celebrations, hiking through the Redwoods, cross-country skiing in the Adirondacks, sweating out holiday cheer in a Bikram yoga class. This year we headed up to Mendocino County to explore the headlands and check out the sand dunes I had heard so much of.
The air was crisp and the sky was clear, as we settled into a cozy campsite at Van Damme State Park. Since it is winter, you can easily pull right into a campsite, sans-reservation, but be prepared. It was probably around 30 degrees at night, so bring your sleeping pads, down sleeping bags, winter coats, hats and mittens.
During the day the sun was out and the temperature much higher. Our first hike took us to the Mendocino headlands, 3 miles along the coastal bluffs. A fogless sky allowed us to see the spouts from a school of whales migrating south for the winter. Many people were visiting for the New Year holiday, and this beginners’ hike is an easy and beautiful way to ease into those new year fitness resolutions. Be careful along the trail edges as there is no barrier.
Our second day of hiking took us north of Fort Bragg to explore the sand dunes we had seen on many a coastal road trip.
The Inglenook Fen-Ten Mile Dunes Natural Preserve, is located in MacKerricher State Park between Ward Avenue and Ten Mile River. You can access the dunes from roadside parking lots along Highway 1. At MM 65.16, turn left (west) onto Ward Avenue and drive 0.8 miles to an unpaved parking area. From there a coastal hike runs for about four miles along the dunes. An old logging trail used to run through the middle, but was removed in 2013 as part of a restoration project. We primarily hiked along the beach and wandered east a few times to take in the sandy landscape.
The dunes can reach up to 130 feet in height, and can be a challenge to traverse, but the coastal hike is rather flat and easy for beginners. Be sure to bring water and sunscreen.
The preserve, a unique ecosystem, contains the last remaining coastal fen in California. A fen is a mix between a bog and a marsh that houses a unique mix of plant life and insects. Due to the fragility of the environment, dogs are not allowed. You can spot many shore birds along the coast, including the threatened Snowy Plover.
The two day hikes, a stark contrast in scenery, were a great way to celebrate the holiday, looking forward to sharing more with you as we venture into the new year.