Located 3 miles south of Mendocino, Van Damme State Park initially appears to be just a quaint beach and cove protected by one of the many headlands found along this stretch of coast. The cove is popular with beachcombers, kayakers, and divers; it reveals only part of the park's picture, however. The majority of the park's acreage is tucked away across Highway 1 and includes Van Damme State Park Campground and the lush Fern Canyon and Fern Canyon Trail.
With approximately 70 campsites, the campground sees most of its activity during the spring and summer once abalone season opens. In the winter you'll likely have the campground to yourself. The day use parking area on the ocean side of the highway is one of few overnight vehicle camping lots found along the coast, a welcome respite for many driving the CA-1 coastal highway at night.
Draining into the ocean at Van Damme Beach, Little River connects the cove with the forested campground and Fern Canyon, through which the river flows. The Fern Canyon Trail, open to both hikers and bikers, is a beautiful fern-filled canyon shaded by young coast redwoods that entice visitors to explore. The trail follows Little River up the canyon for 2.5 miles and then continues into a cypress and pine pygmy forest. The forest's stunted growth results from acidic, nutrient-poor topsoil and a hardpan subsoil layer that is impenetrable for roots.
Note that Van Damme State Park does not allow dogs on the Fern Canyon Trail.