Friday, February 26, 2021

Laguna Point

Black sand beach at MacKerricher State Park
0.6 miles loop, 20 feet elevation gain
Difficulty: Easy
Access: Paved road to trailhead, no entrance fee required

Laguna Point is a headland with nice views along California's Mendocino Coast. The most popular attraction at MacKerricher State Park, this short hike starts a black sand beach, passes by a set of tidepools, and ends at a seaside overlook with views up and down the coast. It's a nice hike and worth a short detour, but I did not find it to be one of the highlights of the Mendocino Coast.

I visited MacKerricher State Park during an October trip to the Mendocino Coast with Anna. The state park is easily accessible from both Fort Bragg and Mendocino and is just north of Fort Bragg. From Fort Bragg, we reached MacKerricher State Park by taking Highway 1 north for 3 miles and then turning left at the sign for MacKerricher State Park. Upon entering the park, we passed a display that included an impressive grey whale skeleton. Shortly after passing the entrance station- which did not collect fees for day use- we arrived at a T-intersection with Mill Creek Drive. Here, we turned left, passing the campgrounds and then following the road to its end at the state park's main parking lot, where there was room for about 50 cars.

The trail- which was boardwalk for its entire length- left the trailhead and headed into a grove of cypresses by the shoreline. From the trailhead, we had nice views of MacKerricher State Park's black sand beach, one of a number of such beaches along the North Coast. Low forested ridges rose behind the beach.

Mendocino Coast from Laguna Point Trail
Leaving the trailhead, we quickly arrived at a fork in the trail for the two directions of the loop hike; we took the right fork, which kept us close to the coast on the hike out to Laguna Point. There were numerous viewpoints along the trail where we stopped to enjoy the waves of the Pacific crashing on nearby rocks or on the black sand beach. On a clear day, views to the north would likely extend to the Lost Coast; the time of our hike was unfortunately foggy, limiting us with views that stretched to nearby mountains and the Ten Mile Dunes just to the north.

After we stopped by a viewing platform on a headland that jutted out to the north, we arrived at a spur trail that led down a staircase to a rocky stretch of coast with many tidepools. We followed the staircase down to the beach and did some brief exploration of the tidepools here: we found sea anemones and hermit crabs, among other sea life, inhabiting these rocky saltwater pools. While the rest of the hike was on boardwalk and could be easily done in most shoes, exploring the tidepools required stepping on uneven and slippery surfaces and would be best done with hiking boots or some other water-resistant shoe with good traction.

Tidepools off the trail
Returning to the boardwalk, we soon joined up with the other leg of the loop, where we turned right and then arrived at the far point of the loop: Laguna Point, a low bluff jutting out into the Pacific. On the day of our visit, there was patchy fog up and down the coast, limiting the range of our views, but we could still see south to Fort Bragg from the point. In winter, Laguna Point is a good spot for spotting gray whales offshore here: the whales migrate annually between the cold but rich waters of the Bering Sea and the warm waters off Baja California. Humpback and blue whales can also be seen at certain times of year from the Mendocino Coast.

Laguna Point
While our visit was too early for spotting gray whales, we did still see a group of harbor seals lounging out on the rocks off the Laguna Point. Lounging amidst a forest of sea palms and sprayed constantly with Pacific surf, these harbor seals made their presence known with constant barking.

Harbor seals on Seal Rock
After taking in our fill of the view here, we took the other leg of the loop back to finish a counterclockwise circuit to Laguna Point. This return leg cut straight through the prairie before returning to forest and closing the loop just meters away from the parking lot.

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