It’s relatively remote, it’s beautiful and for much of the year it’s not crowded.
There’s a lot to be said for Manchester State Park in southern Mendocino County and the scenic promenade along the beach which is this week’s featured trail. It is located between Point Arena and the city of Manchester, north of Sonoma County.
The large beach encompasses 1,400 acres with ponds, cliffs, grass covered dunes and five miles of spectacular sandy shoreline. It is the closest point to Hawaii in North America. Alder Creek borders State Beach to the north, where the San Andreas Fault empties into the Pacific Ocean, and offers excellent rainbow trout fishing. At the mouth of the stream is a freshwater lagoon inhabited by migrating water birds. The Garcia River flows into the sea at the southern border.
The hike begins at Alder Creek and walks south along the secluded beach backed by dunes dotted with giant driftwood logs. We visited it at the height of a clear, sunny day in May and found it almost deserted, leaving us several miles of coastline to explore leisurely at our own pace.
Aside from a dozen beachcombers, the only other human evidence was a log that had been hollowed out to serve as a hearth and a few driftwood lean-tos, including one in the shape of a ship decorated with feathers.
Because the coastline curves gently, it forms a collection basin for logs and other marine debris. We spotted a shard of blue plastic with Japanese letters and imagined it was from an ill-fated fishing boat halfway around the world.
Following the “trail” can sometimes be difficult. At Davis Lake, it branches off without signage, for example, with a branch leading inland from the beach to the well-equipped KOA Kampground. In other places, the trail starts from the beach through dunes that lead to low cliffs covered in plants, becoming little more than a separation of grasses.
Point Arena Lighthouse and Stornetta Public Lands serve as constant landmarks to the south, however, just as scenic as the ocean to the west. To the north and east, the pastoral landscape is filled with herds of sheep and herds of cattle that graze along the hillsides.
At the start of the trail
17502 Alder Creek Beach Road, Manchester (39.003986, -123.694091)
From Gualala, just north of the Sonoma County line, travel 21 miles north on Hwy 1 to Alder Creek Beach Road at mile marker 22.48. The exit is located 7 miles north of Point Arena and 2 miles north of Manchester. Turn left and travel 0.7 km to the trailhead at the end of the road.
Two additional roads lead to the national beach. The southern access is on Stoneboro Road at kilometer 19.65. Turn left and drive 1.6 km to the parking lot at the end of the road.
The central access is on Kinney Road at kilometer 21.48. Turn left and travel 1.1 km to the trailhead at the end of the road. En route, the road passes through Manchester Beach KOA.
From the north end of Manchester State Beach, descend the dunes and head out to the ocean along the large lagoon formed by Alder Creek. Bend south (left) on the sandy beach, passing piles of driftwood under the sheer cliffs. Eroding cliffs are starting to fade into low dunes along this isolated stretch of coastline. 0.6 miles away is a wide open trail heading inland. Up to the 150-meter draw is Davis Lake. A marked side trail follows the south side of the long, narrow lake, leading through wetlands to the KOA campsite.
Back on shore, continue south along the beach, with a view of Point Arena and the lighthouse further up the coast. As the dunes start to grow, watch for a separate trail channel in the cliffs. Go up the canal to the cliffs. Stroll through the tall grass overlooking the coast. Bend east to the trailhead parking lot at the end of Kinney Road. Come back by retracing your steps.
To extend the hike, the trail continues south along the coastal dunes. The mouth of Brush Creek is another half mile, and Hunter’s Lagoon, is just under a mile, tucked away in the dunes. Climb the 80-foot dunes for a view of the mile-long narrow lagoon. The trail leads to the parking lot at the end of Stoneboro Road 1.5 miles away.
Robert Stone is the author of “Day Hikes Around Sonoma County” (Day Hike Books, 2016).