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A Comprehensive Guide to MacKerricher State Park

A Comprehensive Guide to MacKerricher State Park

Experience nature's bounty at Mackerricher State Park—explore tide pools, hike trails, spot seals, observe birds, and camp under the stars. Team


4 min read

June 28, 2023

MacKerricher State Park is an exceptional testament to the natural beauty of the Californian coastline. Located three miles north of the city of Fort Bragg, California, this impressive natural wonder extends along nine miles of coastline and covers over 2,400 acres. A diverse tapestry of ecosystems unfolds within the park's boundaries, including beaches, dunes, wetlands, tide pools, forest, and a unique inland lake.

The park's historical roots can be traced back to the Pomo Indians, who once populated the area and used the abundant resources provided by land and sea for survival. The park's name is a nod to the indigenous heritage, as it originates from the Pomo word "Makodam," which was anglicized to "MacKerricher."

The area underwent significant changes over the centuries, experiencing logging, farming, and even the operation of a railway line - The Ten Mile Beach Railroad - which was in service from the late 19th century to the mid-20th century. The tracks were removed after the line closed, but remnants can still be seen in the park today. The land was acquired by the State of California in several stages between 1949 and 1977, and today, it is managed by the California Department of Parks and Recreation.

Glass Beach is a must-visit location when going to MacKerricher State Park

When to Visit

Each season in MacKerricher State Park offers unique experiences for visitors, so the perfect time to visit largely depends on what you're looking to get out of your trip.

Spring in the park is a delightful time for wildflower enthusiasts, with the landscape bursting into a colorful carpet of blooming flowers. Birdwatchers can also revel in the springtime spectacle, as a variety of migratory birds take refuge in the park's diverse habitats.

As summer rolls around, the park becomes a haven for water sports enthusiasts. The moderate temperatures make it an ideal time for swimming, fishing, and boating on Cleone Lake, a rare freshwater lake just inland from the coast. Tide pools are also a major attraction in the summer, offering a chance to discover colorful sea anemones, starfish, and other marine life.

Fall ushers in a quieter time in the park, with the hustle and bustle of summer visitors fading away. It's the perfect time for tranquil walks on the beach or forest trails, and if you're lucky, you might catch a glimpse of the magnificent migrating gray whales off the coast.

Winter, while cooler and often wet, is a magical time to visit. The seals come ashore to birth their pups in the protected sand dunes. Make sure to visit the Seal Watching Station to safely and respectfully observe these incredible creatures in their natural habitat.

Cleone Lake is a tranquil area that is perfect for a fun lake day.

Getting There and Fees

The best way to reach MacKerricher State Park is by car. From Fort Bragg, simply take Highway 1 north for approximately three miles until you reach the park entrance. If you're coming from further afield, Fort Bragg is roughly a three-hour drive north of San Francisco along the scenic coastal Highway 1.

There are two main parking areas within the park: the Laguna Point area and the Lake Cleone area. Both require a day-use parking fee of $8.00 per vehicle, payable at self-registration stations located at the parking lots. There's also a $7.00 fee for seniors, while disabled visitors can park for free.

Camping is popular in MacKerricher State Park, and there are several campgrounds available. Fees vary depending on the campground and the time of year, ranging from $25 to $45 per night for a standard site, and $50 to $75 for a group site. It's advisable to book in advance, especially during the busy summer months.

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Top 5 Things to Do at Mackerricher State Park

1. Explore the Tide Pools at Laguna Point

At low tide, the coastline near Laguna Point reveals a myriad of marine life in its easily accessible tide pools. Starfish, sea urchins, anemones, crabs, and a colorful array of other species can be observed up close in their natural habitat. It's a fantastic and educational experience for both children and adults, and interpretive signs scattered around provide interesting information about the creatures you'll encounter.

2. Hike the Ten Mile Dune Trail

The Ten Mile Dune Trail is a favorite among nature lovers and hikers. Winding along the coastline for nearly five miles, this trail offers stunning views of the ocean, dunes, and the coastal forest. If you're lucky, you might spot a herd of deer, a playful sea otter, or even a spouting gray whale off the coast.

This hiking trail at Ten Mile Dune Trail is a great way to spend a day outdoors.

3. Go Bird Watching

MacKerricher State Park is a birdwatcher's paradise, hosting over 90 species of birds throughout the year. The park's diverse habitats make it a favored stopover for migratory birds. From the Osprey soaring above Lake Cleone to the bright red Snowy Plovers nesting in the park's protected areas, there's plenty to captivate bird enthusiasts of all levels.

4. Visit the Seal Watching Station

One of the most remarkable experiences in the park is watching the seals from the designated Seal Watching Station. During winter, you can observe the seals giving birth and nurturing their pups in the dunes. It's an unforgettable sight that affords a rare glimpse into the life cycle of these fascinating marine mammals.

It's so easy to lose several hours watching seals just goof around.

5. Camp Under the Stars

Camping is a must-do for anyone visiting MacKerricher State Park. With multiple campgrounds scattered throughout the park, visitors have the opportunity to spend the night under the clear, star-studded sky, surrounded by the calming sounds of nature. Whether you prefer tent camping or have an RV, the park caters to all needs. Remember to make a reservation in advance, especially in the busy summer season.

In conclusion, MacKerricher State Park is more than just a destination—it's an experience. Its unique combination of diverse habitats, abundant wildlife, and historical relevance make it a place where every visit feels like a new adventure. Whether you're hiking the trails, spotting seals, observing the rich birdlife, exploring tide pools, or simply camping under the stars, the park offers an array of engaging activities that foster a deeper connection with nature.

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