Tuesday, March 9, 2021

Navarro Point

Mendocino Coast north of Navarro Point
0.7 miles round trip, 100 feet elevation gain
Difficulty: Easy
Access: Paved road to trailhead, no entrance fee required

This short hike visits a magnificent headland along California's Mendocino Coast and is a lovely brief stop along the state's famed coastal Highway 1. Just north of the mouth of the Navarro River, Navarro Point is one of the higher headlands along the Mendocino Coast and is the first stop along the coast many travelers will encounter if arriving in the Mendocino area by Highway 128. This short and easy hike descends across a prairie to stunning coastal views and a chance to spot harbor seals and other ocean life.

I hiked down to Navarro Point during a trip to the Mendocino Coast with Anna. The hike is about a three hour drive from San Francisco via US 101 and CA Highway 128; it is 10 miles south of the town of Mendocino off Highway 1 and 20 miles south of Fort Bragg. The turnoff is not marked for Navarro Point: instead, there are just signs for a Coastal View (no RVs). When driving north on Highway 1, the trailhead is at the first such sign after passing the junction with Highway 128; when driving south, look for the Coastal View sign 10 miles after leaving the town of Mendocino. There is a turnoff here where a short road leads to a small parking lot, where there is a sign announcing that you are at the Navarro Point Preserve and Scenic Trail.

There are a variety of paths that one can explore at the Navarro Point Preserve: three trails depart from the trailhead, linking together in a short network of trails which can be combined to hike a number of different loops up to just over a mile long. The best coastal views, however, come from the trail that makes a beeline from the parking lot across the open grasslands towards the ocean. This trail reaches the coast in just 0.15 miles and then provides the option to walk all the way out to the tip of a headland that has amazing views. We did a round-trip hike on that shortest leg.

View across the prairie at Navarro Point
Leaving the parking lot on the middle of the three trails, we cut across the prairies that define much of the coastal landscape in Mendocino County and descended towards the ocean. We quickly reached the top of coastal bluffs with northerly views that included a hole-in-the-rock sea stack. Continuing out to the headland, we soon had views of the coast to the south as well, which initially focused just on a small bay to the south but soon included the mountainous coast south from here towards Point Arena. The trail crossed a narrow isthmus that's likely to collapse away in the coming years and ended at the tip of the headland, which delivered stunning views down both sides of the coast and felt very much like the edge of the Earth.

Navarro Point
Looking north along the Mendocino Coast
View back from the tip of the headland
A couple of harbor seals were lounging on the rocks to the south of the headland, all of them making loudly barking to the others. Sea palms dotted the surf-battered rocks. Upwelling of nutrient-rich water from the depths of the Pacific offshore here make for extremely productive ecosystems along the California Coast, supporting massive kelps forests and plankton populations that in turn sustain fish and marine mammal populations. In winter, gray whales can be spotted off the coast here.

Harbor seals lounging
This is a short but worthwhile walk: although this particular hike is perhaps not worth a long drive from the San Francisco Bay Area or any other major city, Navarro Point is a good spot to include in any trip to the Mendocino Coast, with scenery just as impressive- if not more so- as the headlands near Mendocino and Fort Bragg.

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