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Everything to Know About Van Damme State Park

Everything to Know About Van Damme State Park

The natural splendor of Northern California is clear at the diverse and rich Van Damme State Park. Team


3 min read

July 20, 2023

Situated three miles south of the charismatic coastal town of Mendocino, in the ever-beautiful Northern California, Van Damme State Park offers an idyllic setting for lovers of outdoor adventure and natural beauty. Spanning an expansive area of over 1,830 acres, the park serves as a stunning testament to California's bountiful biodiversity and rich history.

Van Damme State Park is a trove of natural wonders, with its terrain comprising everything from serene coastal beaches to a flourishing pygmy forest. A diverse collection of trails weaves through these landscapes, offering hikers a direct line to the heart of the park's beauty.

Named after Charles Van Damme, the son of early Mendocino County settlers, the park has a fascinating historical backdrop. Born on the schooner "Frolic," which famously shipwrecked nearby, Charles accumulated wealth from a successful lumber business and a popular ferry service between Richmond and San Francisco. In his later life, Charles bought and maintained the land that would eventually become Van Damme State Park. Upon his death in 1934, the land was gifted to the people of California, and was officially designated a state park in 1938.

Mendocino County is a gorgeous place to visit and houses Van Damme State Park.

When to Visit Van Damme State Park

Visitors can enjoy Van Damme State Park all year round, with each season presenting its own unique beauty and activities.

During spring, the park comes alive with a vibrant palette of wildflowers and flourishing greenery. The trails are less crowded, making it an ideal time for those seeking solitude in nature. Additionally, the moderate temperatures make it perfect for hiking and exploring.

Summers at Van Damme are delightful and mild. While inland areas can experience sweltering temperatures, the park enjoys a pleasant coastal climate, making it an excellent summer escape. It's also the perfect season for kayaking in the park's waters, sunbathing on the beach, or camping under the stars. In fall, the park's foliage adopts warm hues, presenting a breathtaking spectacle. As this season tends to be dryer, it's a great time for camping and exploring the park's diverse terrain.

Winter brings a different charm. The park is quieter, the air crisp, and the landscape often takes on a serene, hushed beauty. It's the perfect time for photographers or those seeking tranquility.

Little River, the area in which Van Damme State Park is located, is a beautiful coastal locations with astounding views.

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Top 5 Things to Do at Van Damme State Park

Explore the Pygmy Forest

A unique feature of Van Damme State Park, the Pygmy Forest is home to mature, dwarfed trees that are centuries old. A wooden boardwalk trail provides a path through this miniature ecosystem, allowing visitors to witness this fascinating natural phenomenon up close. Interpretive displays along the trail offer further insight into the unique soil conditions that have resulted in the pygmy forest's formation.

Hike the Fern Canyon Scenic Trail

One of the most popular activities at Van Damme State Park is hiking the Fern Canyon Scenic Trail. The trail follows Little River inland, weaving through a captivating landscape abundant with ferns, hence its name. As you traverse this 8-mile round-trip path, you'll witness coast redwoods, douglas fir, and alder trees forming a verdant canopy overhead. It's a moderate hike, making it accessible for most fitness levels and providing an immersive way to experience the park's natural splendor.

The Fern Canyon Scenic Trail is a popular location for hikers in the area.

Kayak Along the Coastline

Van Damme is famous for its sea caves, accessible via the park's beach. Rent a kayak from a local outfitter and paddle out to explore these natural wonders. As you glide along the crystal-clear waters, keep an eye out for seals, sea otters, and a variety of birdlife. For the inexperienced or those seeking a guided adventure, local companies offer guided tours.

Camp Under the Stars

With 74 campsites nestled within the lush coastal forest, Van Damme State Park is an ideal location for camping. Spend a night under the stars, roasting marshmallows over the fire, sharing stories, and immersing yourself in the tranquility of nature. For a unique experience, book one of the park's kayak-in environmental campsites situated along the banks of the Little River.

Visit the Visitor Center and Participate in a Park Program

Stop by the park's visitor center to learn more about the park's flora, fauna, and cultural history. Additionally, the park offers interpretive programs throughout the year. These programs may include guided hikes, junior ranger programs, and campfire talks, making them an excellent addition to any visit to Van Damme State Park.

Van Damme State Park offers an array of activities that promise rich, unforgettable experiences. Whether you're hiking through Fern Canyon, kayaking along the coastline, or exploring the mystic Pygmy Forest, the park invites you to immerse yourself in its diverse landscapes and engage with its captivating history.

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