The Big River Unit of Mendocino Headlands State Park offers 7,400 wild acres for exploration. Acquired in 2002, it includes 1,500 acres of coastal estuary wetlands. You can swim, bike, canoe, jog, walk your dog (leashed) or hike along the beautiful Big River. The beaches along the river are perfect for swimming and sunbathing. Big River’s lower 6 to 8 miles provide a wonderful boating experience. Private canoes, sailboats, kayaks and rowboats can put in at the primitive boat ramp at the eastern edge of the sandy beach just below the trailhead. Along Big River’s northern bank, Big River Haul Road provides a flat, wide, scenic promenade leading to nearby Jackson Demonstration State Forest and Mendocino Woodlands State Park.
The trailhead is at the end of a dirt road that can be reached by turning east (inland) off Hwy 1 just north of the Big River Bridge. For a more serious walk, start in the village, cross the beach under the bridge and continue along the shore until you come to the gate at the trailhead. People are cautioned to stay on the main road; there are numerous dead-end logging roads and skid trails throughout the Big River Unit that make it easy to get disoriented and lost. You can also hike along the shore to find marsh and tidewater wildlife. The Big River protects, preserves and is home to great blue herons, osprey, wild ducks, river otters and over 27 endangered, threatened or special concern species of wildlife.