Mendonoma: Ft Bragg-Jughandle State Reserve-Ecological Staircase Trail Hike

Sunday, July 19, 2015

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Jug Handle State Natural  Reserve is located on the Mendocino coast. The park features a 2.5-mile self-guided nature trail called The Ecological Staircase which explores five wave-cut terraces formed by glacier, sea and tectonic activity that built the coast range.

Each of the terraces was uplifted from sea level about 100,000 years before the one below it. Plants on each terrace represent a more advanced stage in succession, indicating what the previous, next lower terrace may look like in 100,000 years. The lowest terrace consists of prairie; the second is covered with pines; the third supports a unique pigmy forest with knee-high trees possibly several decades old. (

Pick up a trail guide map at the trailhead-go straight to begin the headlands loop for a walk through plant communities around the first terrace; North Coast Bluff Scrub, the Coastal Prairie and the Bishop and Closed-Cone Pine Forest.

Walk through the coastal prairie and bluff scrubs out to the edge of the point:

Spectacular views around Jughandle Cove:

Beautiful Jughandle Cove Beach Area:

Exit bluff area into the coastal forest of spruce and fir.

At the trail split-go straight to stay on the Ecological Staircase Trail through the Bishop Pines.

The trail goes underneath the Jughandle Creek Bridge to the wooden staircase.

The staircase takes you down through the lush riparian habitat along Jug Handle Creek.

The trail continues through an area dominated by non-native plants such as Monterey pines.

The second terrace begins at trail post #18 which is dominated by Sitka spruce and Grand fir-walk through the forest pass the Hairy Manzanita and Rhododendrons which grows in moist coniferous coastal forest and mountains.

The trail continues through the forest dominated by redwoods which grow the tallest and live the longest of the trees found along coastal California.

At trail post #25-you’ll come upon the small tributary of Jughandle Creek-in the winter a stream runs through here. Continue through the forest towards the third terrace.

At trail post #30-you’ve arrived at the third terrace-the beginning of the Pygmy Forest community with stunted redwoods. Hundreds of thousands of years of leaching have produced white soil leached of nutrients which leads to the redwood needles turning yellow.

Follow the gravel path to the beginning of the boardwalk at trail post #32. The ecological staircase ends here at the Pygmy Forest. The only place in the world that the Pygmy Forest occurs is in a few isolated patches here in Northern California. The trees and shrubs are stunted by an extremely poor, highly acidic soil underlain by an iron hardpan. 100 year old trees only reach the height of a few feet. You’ll see pygmy Bolander pines, Cypress, Labrador Tea shrubs, Manzanita, Rhododendrons and lichens.

Follow the arrows to the gravel path and return on the ecological staircase trail back to the Jughandle parking lot.

This trail takes the visitor on a tour of the geological updrift from the coast to the Pygmy Forest two and a half mile inland. This marine terrace sequence illustrates a successional story unparalleled elsewhere in California. Some trees found in the 70-acre Hans Jenny Pygmy Forest Reserve grow nowhere else in the world! The composition and processes responsible for this unique ecological setting offer a diverse selection of interpretive opportunities. ( *Some trail descriptions taken from the Nature Trail Guide

This is a fantastic scenic hike around the coastal bluffs to the dense forests along Jug Handle Creek and to the highlight at the Pygmy Forest! Kick off your shoes post hike and hit the sandy beach for the remainder of the day!

5.5 Miles with 265′ of elevation gain
Time: 3 hours with a few stops
Hike: Moderate-challenging
Parking: No fee at Jughandle State Reserve parking lot located one mile north of Caspar-adjacent to Hwy 1
Porta-Potty-NO WATER
Dog Friendly
Bring plenty of water & food/snacks-No facilities along this trail

Weather: Sunny and warm. Temps ranged from the low to high 70’s with NW winds.

Jughandle Reserve

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