Big River – Mendocino
Location: Mendocino, CA
Features: River, beach, kayaking, fishing, surfing, boat ramp, dog-friendly, hiking, nearby rentals, wildlife (seals, otters, fish, birds), biking, horseback riding, redwoods
The Big River, which is the longest undeveloped estuary in Northern California, offers a wide variety of activities. From the parking lot, you have several options — the river, the trails, or the beach!
Growing up, my family and I would kayak this river every year. And, every year it is just as beautiful as the last. This wide river is home to many water creatures including seals, river otters, coho, and steelhead.
Don’t be surprised if you make friends with the seals and otters, as they often like to visit your boat!
The Big River flows west from the Mendocino Coast for about 35 miles. This river is a great spot for kayaking, canoeing, outrigger canoeing, downwind sailing — you name it.
There is a boat launch (unpaved) that allows you to back any trailered boat into the water. It also provides easy water access to drop your kayak off while you park.
If you don’t have your own boat, there is a rental location right near the water that has just about everything!
Hiking and Biking
The trailhead starts at the east end of the parking lot, farthest from the beach. Look for the gate past the bathrooms. This unpaved road, called Big River Haul Road, leads you along the river for several miles.
This road is multi-use, and is open to hikers, bikers, horseback riders, and dogs.
Big River Haul Road ends 8.3 miles from the starting point, but has several satellite trails. These are mostly unmaintained, as they are former logging roads. In total there are over one hundred miles of trail connecting to other parklands.
As long as you are confident in finding your way back to the haul road, you’re welcome to explore as many miles as you wish!
To get to Big River Beach, park on the west end of the parking lot, closest to the highway. Follow the river under the bridge where it runs right into the ocean. On the beach you can surf, swim, kayak, meander through the driftwood, or of course, just relax.
The Big River runs right into the ocean at this beach, which is something you don’t see very often. The contrast of the forested river running into the sandy beach is truly spectacular.
Like many (or all!) of the other beaches in Mendocino, this beach is dog-friendly! Just make sure that your pooch is on-leash and under control.
Top 3 Adventure Hacks
1) Go fishing
You need a license to fish when you want to go fishing, if you do, make sure you have the proper gear. You could bring your fishing hat to protect you from the heat of the sun and bugs that might disturb you.
2) Get friendly with the animals
You may come across seals, otters, and ospreys. They can be friendly with you and you might as well return the favor.
3) Go for a walk along the river
There’s a scenic walk along the river you wouldn’t want to miss. You can catch the sea breeze there, a perfect walk to end a perfect day.