McKinleyville is located in Humboldt County, Calif., about 300 miles north of San Francisco, a drive you can make in about six hours. Redwood National Park is only 30 miles north of McKinleyville, while the Oregon border is about 100 miles away.
McKinleyville is nestled on a bluff overlooking the Pacific Ocean, with a backdrop of redwood and Douglas fir-covered mountains to the east. The Mad River snakes its way around the south side of town and part way up the coast before emptying into the Pacific Ocean.
Whether you’re an outdoor enthusiast or you’re just looking for a quiet place to kick up your feet and relax, McKinleyville is the place to be. A lot of us think of it as paradise, and for good reasons. There are all sorts of beautiful and interesting things to see around town.
There are trails for biking and hiking. There are vistas where, if you’re lucky, you might spot whales spouting off the coast. You can meander on our beaches or go fishing on the Mad River. And don’t forget to take a gander at the World’s Largest Totem Pole, a one-of-a-kind piece of folk art located in the center of town.
McKinleyville offers shopping, a wide range of services, restaurants and cafes. If you’re thinking about relocating, there are lots of different housing opportunities from modest apartments to luxury homes with ocean views.
We hope that you enjoy your visit. Make sure you visit some of the places listed on this website. There’s much more to see in McKinleyville than what you might notice at first glance. So get out there and explore our little town. You’ll discover why we’re proud of McKinleyville and consider it paradise.
One of McKinleyville’s most popular features is the Hammond Trail, which extends 5.5 miles from the Mad River at the south end of town to Clam Beach at the north end.
Part of the California Coastal Trail, the Hammond Trail is used by hikers and bikers, and is mostly paved and car-free, except for a few sections.
The trail was built along portions of the old Hammond Railroad line, which once connected the bygone timber town of Crannell to the port of Humboldt Bay.At the south end, the trailhead begins on the Hammond Bridge, a trestle bridge which spans the Mad River and has stood there since 1942. From the bridge you can ride up the bluff, where the trail levels out and extends north. It passes by Hiller Park, which has a restroom, a playground, picnic tables, its own network of hiking trails, as well as the town’s unofficial dog park.
From there you’ll pass over the old railroad grade, lined with ferns, black huckleberry, thimbleberry with a green canopy of Sitka spruce, red alder and shore pine.
Further up the trail, you’ll be treated to clear vistas of the Mad River and Pacific Ocean. You’ll likely see a variety of birds including great blue herons, great egrets, mallards and peregrine falcons. Look for harbor seals in the estuary.
If you’re on a bicycle, you’ll probably want to turn east on Murray Road and connect to the bicycle route about a quarter mile up the hill. This paved section of the trail parallels the freeway and is the official bicycle route. It crosses over Widow White Creek and takes you to Letz Lane, where there’s little traffic. Continue north on Letz Lane until you reach the next portion of the Hammond Trail.
If you’re on foot, don’t turn on Murray Road. Just keep heading north on the pathway. Eventually, it will wind its way up a hill, and then take you down a footpath which crosses a bridge over Widow White Creek. This is a really pretty section of the trail, but it’s off limits to bicycles.
Both the bicycle and the pedestrian routes reconnect before Letz Lane. At the north end of Letz Lane, the trail returns. You’ll bicycle by Vista Point, which overlooks the Pacific and includes views of Trinidad Head. From there, a gravel trail extends down the hill to the beach where the pavement returns.
The Clam Beach portion of the trail is fun, as the path gently undulates up and down the dunes until its crosses Strawberry Creek and ends at Clam Beach.
But just because the trail ends doesn’t mean your bike ride has to end. There’s very little traffic on Clam Beach Drive, so it’s a safe and pleasant ride north to Little River State Beach.
If you’re so inclined, you can jump on the freeway and continue northward to Scenic Drive and on up to Trinidad. Likewise, if you’re at the south end of the Hammond Trail, go explore the Arcata Bottoms, where narrow country roads slice through dairy ranches and grazing land. There are lots of neat old barns.
You can begin your journey along the Hammond Trail just about anywhere, although that depends on how much of it you want to see and how much time you have. A good starting spot is Hiller Park, where there’s a restroom and plenty of parking. From there, head north on the trail and explore. If you still have time, head south.
Hiller Park & Mad River Bluffs
If you want to take a short hike or you need to run your dog, Hiller Park is the place to go. It’s located off Hiller Road on the west side of town.
The park includes restrooms, picnic tables, barbecue pits and a playground. There’s plenty of parking. It’s adjacent to the Hammond Trail and the Hiller Sports Complex, where Little League and soccer games are played.
If you walk west from the parking lot and pass by the fenced playground area, you’ll reach a large meadow. This is McKinleyville’s unofficial dog park. It’s nothing fancy, but it’s pretty and there’s an active group of dog enthusiasts who visit the meadow daily with their pooches and really enjoy it.
If you go beyond the meadow the path splits in two, with one trail headed southwest and the other northwest. Both pathways lead to the adjacent Mad River Bluffs. The boundary between the two parks is fuzzy. Most visitors, and even many residents, assume it’s all just one big park. But, because there are people in town who care about this, we must point out that Hiller Park is owned and maintained by the McKinleyville Community Services District. Mad River Bluffs is owned and maintained by the non-profit McKinleyville Land Trust. Now that we got that out of the way, none of this really matters as long as you’re respectful, follow the rules and pickup your dogs’ poop.
The Mad River Bluffs property is about 74 acres located on the banks of the Mad River. It includes a network of trails that pass through a forest of coastal pine and Sitka spruce. It’s not unusual to see deer in the open meadows.
There are several vista points where you can see the Mad River and Pacific Ocean. There are trails leading down to the river.
Another option is to take the Hiller Loop Trail at Hiller Park. It circles the 34-acre wastewater treatment facility which consists of five treatment ponds filled with cattail and various wildlife. There are a large number of ducks and geese who reside near the ponds, as well as a small herd of goats whose job it is to keep the grass down.
The loop is about a mile long and well-worth the effort.
Although McKinleyville is a wonderful place, it does have a dark underbelly. While generally a safe place to visit, there are thieves that will steal anything that’s not nailed down. You need to lock up your bicycle if you’re going to leave it unattended. If you leave your car at a parking lot near the Hammond Trail or at any of the local beaches, but your valuables in a trunk or out of sight. One of the preferred methods used by our local scumbums is the “smash and grab.” They smash car windows and grab everything they can. This situation totally sucks and we wish there was something we could do about it.
Some things to see and do in McKinleyville
- Clam Beach
- At the north end of town is Clam Beach, the ideal location for beachcombing, surf fishing, clamming, hiking, riding horses and picnicking. The beach is long and wide, and strewn with driftwood. You can spend hours exploring the beach and the dunes. There’s also a campground.
- Vista Point
- Vista Point is a parking lot off U.S. Highway 101 perched on a bluff overlooking Clam Beach and the Pacific Ocean. You can drive right up and enjoy the view without even getting out of your car. On a clear day you can see Trinidad Head. You may also spot gray whales during their spring and fall migration.
- Beau Pre Golf Club
- McKinleyville is home to Beau Pre Golf Club, a challenging 18-hole championship golf course located on Norton Road. Pine and spruce trees line most of the fairways, some of which extend up into the hills and include views of the Pacific Ocean. For information call (707) 839-2342 or visit beaupregolf.com.
- Mill Creek Falls
- This waterfall is located south of the Mill Creek Marketplace, the shopping center at the south end of town. To see the falls take Central Avenue to Turner Road and drive west a short distance. Roll down your windows and listen to the roar of water cascading down the falls. Park along the road and look down into the gorge, Keep in mind that this is private property, so be respectful.
- Pony Express Days
- The annual town festival is held on the first weekend in June. It’s a little slice of Americana. The main event is the parade down Central Avenue on Saturday. It features school bands, community groups, floats sponsored by local businesses, equestrians, old cars and much more. After the parade the festival moves to Pierson Park and includes a barbecue, live music and all sorts of family friendly activities. Over at the McKinleyville Rodeo Grounds off Kjer Road at the north end of town there’s a gymkhana. Traditionally, on the Thursday before, there’s a Firemen’s Muster at the Mill Creek Marketplace. Events change year to year.
- McKinleyville Art Night
- On the third Friday of every month, McKinleyville celebrates its local artists during McKinleyville Art Night. There are venues all over town. Art is on display in various shops and offices. There are often free hors d’oeuvres and drinks. There’s live music and special events. For more information visit www.mckinleyvilleartsnight.com, or pick up a copy of the McKinleyville Press the Wednesday before.
- Azalea State Natural Reserve
- If you’re visiting McKinleyville in April or May, make sure you stop by Azalea State Natural Reserve, located off Azalea Avenue up the hill from North Bank Road. Each spring pink and white blossoms from the western azalea (Rhododendron occidentale) scent the air. The 30-acre park includes hiking trails and a picnic area.
- Mad River Estuary
- As you can see on the map, the Mad River marks McKinleyville’s southern boundary. It wraps around the southern edge, flows north and empties into the ocean near Murray Road. The location of the mouth changes every winter, migrating north and south. There are several ways to get down to the river. At the west end of School Road there’s a short trail that leads down to the river. If you don’t mind climbing over a few obstacles, you can get to a small clearing under the Hammond Bridge. You can get to the river from Mad River Bluffs and off the Hammond Trail near Murray Road. If you want to kayak in the river, your best bet is to use the boat launch on the other side of the river. You’ll have to drive to Arcata and find your way to Mad River County Park.
WORLD’S LARGEST TOTEM POLE
McKinleyville is home to the World’s Largest Totem Pole, which towers over the McKinleyville Shopping Center in the middle of town.
The pole was carved by the late Ernest Pierson, with the help of Johnny Nelson, in 1962 from a 500-year-old redwood tree. Pierson carved the totem pole because he wanted a landmark for his new shopping center.
You’ll notice a plaque on the base declaring it the “World’s Largest Totem Pole.” Note that Pierson used the word “largest,” not tallest.
The totem pole was the tallest in the world when it was first erected. But in 1973, a taller totem pole was put up in Alert Bay, British Columbia. It’s 174 feet tall and is made out of two logs spliced together and held up with guy wires.
Not to be outdone, Pierson decided to add to the height of his totem pole in 1984, at least according to newspaper accounts at the time. The pole was taken down. The outer sap wood on the pole had rotted, so the pole was recarved and repainted.
When it was put back up, Pierson added antennae feelers at the end of the lightning rod at the very top. This brought the height of the McKinleyville Totem Pole to 174 feet, according to a column written by the late Monica Hadley in the Sept. 27, 1984 edition of the Arcata Union. That number is significant because it’s exactly one foot taller than the totem pole in Alert Bay, British Columbia.
But was the pole accurately measured? In December 2011, the McKinleyville Press decided to find out. Professional surveyors with Points West Surveying Co. were enlisted to measure the true height of the totem pole.
They found that the highest point on the pole – the wind-damaged brass rod which is a remnant from the antennae feelers that once graced the top – is 159 feet, 5 1/2 inches up from the bottom of the wood pole. The circular object near the top is 157 feet and 6 5/8 inches up. The top of the hat on Thunderbird stands at 144 feet, 8 inches.
Although the pole is slightly shorter than previously claimed, it’s still the world’s tallest totem pole made out of a single log. Also, considering the size and girth of the old-growth redwood tree that it’s carved from, it safe to declare that it’s the world’s largest totem pole.
The characters on the pole, from the top down, are Thunderbird, Redheaded Woodpecker, Coyote, Blue Jay, Frog, Crow, Beaver, Owl, Grizzly and American Indian.
The McKinleyville Totem Pole is not a static work of art. It’s ever changing, with nature interjecting herself into the viewing experience.
On a clear morning, the pole is bathed in an orange light. Grizzly Bear, Redheaded Woodpecker and Beaver – characters repainted by artist Duane Flatmo in 1998 – take on a warm, cheerful glow. As the sun reaches its zenith, pinline shadows are cast in the carved outlines, giving the pole contrast in the harsh light. By evening, the pole becomes a silhouette.
The sky is always part of the viewing experience, providing a backdrop of process blue, or cotton ball clouds, or, more often than not, a sea of gray. Sometimes the weather acts as a filter, with Crow and Blue Jay visible through a gauze-like layer of fog.
Make sure to visit and admire this one-of-a-kind piece of folk art.