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Mendocino's beaches, bluffs, forests ... by bike.

It's not obvious just where to go for a good bike ride in the getaway country around Mendocino and Fort Bragg, a few hours north of San Francisco. Scenic areas abound but often draw heavy traffic. And many of the roads in this region, though picturesque, are shoulderless and dangerously narrow. To help you go bike cruising, we've put together four easy to moderate routes. They take you into deep forest, above a sandy beach, and onto coastal bluffs. The first three are on state park pathways separated from automobiles; the fourth includes Mendocino streets with wide shoulders and pull-outs. Drive to the start of each ride. November into March is the rainy season, but fine sunny days often come between storms. Except for Mendocino Headlands State Park, open for day use only, camping is available at state parks for $12 per night; reserve through Mistix, (800) 444-7275. Van Damme and Russian Gulch state parks charge an additional $5 entry fee. Woodland climb (moderate). In 2,072acre Van Damme State Park, about 3 miles south of Mendocino on State 1, you can ride up a shady paved road (closed to cars) that rises out the back of Fern Canyon, then add a walk through tiny trees in a "pygmy forest." Leave your car at the Lower Campground parking lot, then cycle up Fern Canyon Scenic Trail-a roadway here under second-growth redwoods as you follow Little River. At 21/2 miles, the pavement ends and the trail crisscrosses the stream (check for high water after a major storm). Then continue cycling south on Old Logging Road, a wide and well-shaded dirt road. From here it's a moderate climb just over a mile out of the canyon to the ridgetop. At trail's end, you reach the start of the Pygmy Forest Trail (park and lock your bike here). The 1/4-mile self-guided loop walk winds through tiny pines and firs (some 40 years old, yet only a few inches high) stunted by the poor soil and shallow hardpan. Backtrack to return for a 7-mile round-trip ride and 1/4-mile hike. At the small, docent-run museum near the park's entry, don't miss the Living with the Sea displays; hours are 10 to 4 weekends (free). Falls bike-hike (moderate). In thickly forested 1,245-acre Russian Gulch State Park, 2 miles north of Mendocino on State 1, you can cycle up the park's main canyon and detour on foot to the falls. Park in the main lot, then pedal inland on the only paved road. Soon you'll pass the campground; beyond it, the road is closed to autos. The road follows a creek bed and is level for the first 1/2 mile, then climbs as redwood and Douglas fir trees crowd its margins. After 21/2 miles, the road ends at a small picnic area in a redwood grove. If you'd like to continue on a short hike to the waterfall (no bikes allowed), park and lock your bike here. Take the trail's left fork, which climbs 1/4 mile to the falls. In winter, the 36-foot, spring-fed falls really gush. Hike back to your bike the way you came. Then cycle back on the road for an outing of 5 miles by bike, plus I 1/2 miles on foot to and from the falls. Beach ride (easy). At 2,030-acre MacKerricher State Park, north of Fort Bragg on State 1, you ride above the sandy beach on a paved road called the Haul Road (used by logging trucks from the 1950s to 1982, when a storm washed out a section of it). Begin at the park's southernmost entry parking lot (entry is free), off State I about 1/2 mile north of Fort Bragg; just north of a wooden trestle called Pudding Creek Bridge, look for a yellow gate on the highway's west side. Park in the lot and cycle north on the paved road. Its first 2 miles are open to cars from 8 to dusk; beyond the auto gate, it's open only to bikers and pedestrians, and you can cycle 1 1/2 miles to the mile-long washout. You'll ride past rocky bluffs and tiny Lake Cleone (a side trail leads 1/4 mile to the lake). To reach Laguna Point, walk your bike on a short spur off the trail. At the point, proceed to a tidepool overlook and a rocky promontory where sea lions haul out if the sea is not too rough; bring binoculars. Go on to the washout, then backtrack for a 7-mile round trip. It's an easy, level trail-but no fun on really windy days, when gusts catch you crosswise, making the going slow while flinging sand into your eyes. Town and headlands loop (easy). In the town of Mendocino, this 4-mile loop follows streets from the art center to the headlands and back, offering great views along the way. We list it last since it's exposed to wind and some traffic-both of which are lightest early or late in the day. Wide shoulders and pull-outs on the open bluff offer safety. Before starting, you might pick up picnic supplies at the nearby cheese shop at Little Lake Street and Lansing Drive (open 10 to 6 daily). Start at the Mendocino Art Center, at 45200 Little Lake (open 10 to 4 daily, with a gift shop and garden). Head downhill on Little Lake, which becomes Heeser Drive, and curve around to blufftop pull-outs in 346-acre Mendocino Headlands State Park (free entry). You can picnic and watch for ships or brown pelicans, then continue on Heeser as it climbs steadily to Lansing Drive (take care: this is the busiest street on our routes). Head south a block on Lansing, turn left on Palette Drive, and go uphill past the stylish Hill House Inn. Palette returns you farther south on Lansing. Cruise downhill a couple of blocks to Little Lake, then cycle uphill on it back to the art center. Guides, maps, local bike rentals One good guide to area hiking and biking is The Hiker's Hip Pocket Guide to the Mendocino Coast, by Bob Lorentzen (Bored Feet Publications, Box 1832, Mendocino 94560, 1989; $11.95). To pick up free maps and rent touring or mountain bikes, stop at the Fort Bragg Cyclery, 579 S. Franklin Street (open 10 to 6 Mondays through Saturdays). Or try the Mendocino Cyclery, 45040 Main Street (open 10 to 5 daily), for city, mountain, and tandem bikes. Rates are $6 to $9 per hour, $25 to $38 per day. Fort Bragg is 160 miles north of San Francisco, about a 4-hour drive via U.S. 101 and State 20; Mendocino is 8 miles south on State 1.
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Publication:Sunset
Date:Dec 1, 1990
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