About Russian Gulch Waterfall
Russian Gulch Falls (or Russian Gulch Waterfall) was a well-known and popular waterfall near both Mendocino and Fort Bragg.
Sitting in Russian Gulch State Park, this 35ft waterfall was pretty well-known and popular, especially since the state park featured other scenic features like sea arches, blowholes, beaches, and even a fern canyon of its own.
As you can see in the photo above, we happened to see it in low Autumn flow.
However, I’ve seen photos in the literature where Russian Gulch Creek can expand the waterfall and drape over a wider area of its underlying rock face.
Maybe one of these days, we’ll come back during a more lush season to really see the falls take on a different form.
Hiking Options for the Russian Gulch Waterfall
It turned out that there were multiple ways to experience the Russian Gulch Waterfall – a long way and a short way.
Because the Fern Canyon on Russian Creek was closed during our late November 2020 visit, we didn’t bother doing the longer 6-mile round-trip hike from the official western entrance of the reserve near Hwy 1.
Had we been able and willing to go that route, we could have done any number of routes to fully experience all Russian Gulch State Park had to offer, including its own Fern Canyon.
The western side of the reserve also featured other scenic attractions like a sink hole, a blowhole, sea arches, and even a beach so this excursion could easily be extended to take a whole day.
Instead, we opted to do a much shorter 2.8-mile round-trip out-and-back hike that started from the Caspar-Little Lake Road on the eastern end of Russian Gulch State Park.
And that’s how we’ll describe this waterfall excursion.
The Shortest Trail to the Russian Gulch Waterfall
From North Boundary Trail at the eastern end of Russian Gulch State Park (see directions below), we went past a gate and followed the wide road or trail for about 400ft.
Then, we encountered another gate just past a fork in the road, which marked the official entry into Russian Gulch State Park.
So we continued past this second gate and followed the straight-shot North Boundary Trail for another 0.2-mile before reaching a signed trail junction with the Waterfall Trail on the left.
Thus, we deviated from the North Boundary Trail and then proceeded to follow the much narrower and more lush Waterfall Trail, which descended as it made a couple of bends into a forest full of redwood trees and ferns.
We pretty much persisted along this descending and well-forested trail for another 0.6-mile before the trail reached what appeared to be a fork with a false trail.
While we knew to keep right at this fork, it seemed like more than a few people managed to keep going straight into that false trail (which I knew not where it went since we didn’t take it).
At this point, the trail pretty much followed Russian Gulch Creek as it eventually reached another trail junction in another 1/4-mile or so.
At this junction, we kept right to descend towards the top of the Russian Gulch Falls before it made the final descent to the footbridge fronting the waterfall itself.
Had we gone left at the junction, it would have taken us on the Fern Canyon Trail, which can also loop back towards the Russian Gulch Waterfall or continue further to the west right into the depths of the canyon.
Anyways, when we reached the brink of Russian Gulch Falls at about 0.1-mile from the junction, it reminded me of the Silver Falls part of the Big Basin hike near Santa Cruz, which also did the same thing.
Of course, Russian Gulch Falls was significantly shorter and busier so the atmosphere here was quite a bit different.
Once we made it to the footbridge fronting Russian Gulch Falls, we got to experience its main segment on the right side.
However, all the fallen redwoods here and overgrowth made it tricky to take an all-encompassing shot of the waterfall’s context unless I continued hiking on the trail as it ascended past the other side of the footbridge for a more elevated perspective.
Indeed, given the myriad of ways to even reach this waterfall, we definitely had to share this spot with dozens of people during our visit (not ideal from a social distancing standpoint).
And when we finally had our fill of the Russian Gulch Waterfall, we then hiked back up towards the east entrance by the Caspar-Little Lake Road.
Overall, this upside-down 2.8-mile return hike took us a leisurely two hours, which we enjoyed because it was serene enough for us to have a nice chat while experiencing all the benefits of being in the moment in the best of the Mendocino Coast’s nature.
Russian Gulch Falls (or Russian Gulch Waterfall) resides in Russian Gulch State Park near Mendocino in Mendocino County, California. It is administered by the California Department of Parks and Recreation. For information or inquiries about the area as well as current conditions, visit their website.
I’ll describe how we drove to the Russian Gulch Waterfall’s Trailhead from Fort Bragg since that was how we did it.
We easily could come here from Mendocino since they’re both valid starting points for the short drive to reach the trailhead.
Anyways, from roundabout at the southern end of Fort Bragg, we headed south on the Hwy 1 for nearly 4 miles before turning left onto the Caspar-Little Lake Road (Road 409).
Then, we followed the Caspar-Little Lake Road for the next 3.3 miles to the end of the paved part of the Road 409 where we looked for parking on the road shoulder.
The North Boundary Trail’s gate was just nearby where the Road 409 became unpaved.
Overall, this drive only took us about 10 minutes or so.
Had we driven up from Mendocino, then we’d only have to drive roughly 3.5 miles north of the traffic light with Little Lake Road before turning right onto the Caspar-Little Lake Road.
Then, we’d follow this road as described above for roughly 3.3 miles before looking for parking on the road shoulder near the North Boundary Trail’s east entrance.
Note that as of our November 2020 visit, we didn’t have to pay any state park fees to park at this trailhead.
However, if we parked on the western side of Russian Gulch State Park, then we’d likely have to pay the state park fees at an entry kiosk.
I can’t say more about driving to that side of the park since we didn’t do it, but I’m keen to augment this page once we’re finally able to exercise that option.
For geographical context, Fort Bragg was 10 miles (15 minutes drive) north of Mendocino, 35 miles (an hour drive) north of Willits, 43 miles (under 90 minutes drive) south of Leggett, 141 miles (3 hours drive) south of Arcata, 110 miles (about 2.5 hours drive) northwest of Santa Rosa, and 164 miles (about 3.5 hours drive) north of San Francisco.
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