Fort Ross is a State Historical Park in the North Coast of California. Although fairly remote, it is well worth a visit as you will become one of the few people who know about the Russian contribution to the colonizing of California.
The fort is in a remote area with little food or services. There is no cell phone service in this region.
Fort Ross was a Russian fur trade outpost in what is now Sonoma County, California. It was established by the Russian-American Company in 1812 and sold to John Sutter in 1841, owing to the depletion of the local population of fur-bearing marine mammals, and to the decreased strategic importance of a supply base for Russia's Alaskan colonies following the Convention of February 28, 1825 with the British. It was the southernmost outpost of a Russian presence in the Pacific Northwest and Alaska. The fort and the surrounding settlement was home to Russians, Aleut hunters in their employment, and native Kashia Pomo. This unique site has been the subject of intensive archaeological investigation. It is designated a National Historic Landmark.
The fort is on a small peninsula that juts out into the Pacific Ocean. The edge of the peninsula forms a large bluff (20 m) that can make it somewhat difficult to gain access to the beaches. Large coastal mountains covered in a thick forest tower over the park.
Flora and fauna
There is a wealth of wildlife activity in the region, particularly on the isolated beaches that run below the bluff. Sea otters, sea lions and many impressive sea birds are abundant in the area. Whales are also known to migrate along the coast.
Much of the beaches are covered in large piles of kelp (seaweed) with the occasional tide pool near by. It makes for a great place to explore for wildlife but not great for beach swimming.
Warm in summer, rainy and foggy (and occasionally sunny) in winter. Fort Ross is often foggy earlier in the day, so you may prefer to be there a little later in the day. Dress in layers, and if you are planning on swimming, expect the Pacific Ocean to be cold.
Bus service from the Sonoma County Airport (Mendocino Transit Authority route 95) stops at the Fort Ross Store, about two miles north of the Fort Ross State Park.
Fees and permits
A day-use vehicle permit costs $8.
Expect a bit of a walk. From the visitor center and parking lot down to the fort proper it is a quarter mile walk. To get down to the beaches expect about a 20- to 30-minute hike.
- 1 Old Russian fort. Tours of the fort are available in Russian and English.
- Russian Burial Grounds
- Russian Orthodox Church
- Visitor center and museum – Cultural and historical information about the Russian, Alaskan, and Kashaya people who lived and traded in northern California.
- Sea Otters
- Sea Lions
- Hike at the park or along the beach. In the park, you can walk around the old fort and along miles of trails to the old cemetery and orchard. Some trails are challenging for people with mobility limitations, and all of them can be wet and windy.
- Cultural Heritage Day – last Saturday in July every year, 10AM-5PM. The fort comes alive with costumed re-enactors. This is a fun way to see the fort as it was in its heyday.
- Fishing and shellfishing (check warnings about seasonal marine biotoxins first).
- Scuba diving. The S.S. Pomona wrecked nearby.
There is a souvenir shop at the visitor center where you can get some great Russian memorabilia, such as post cards with a historical California/Russia post card.
The fort does not sell food, so be sure to pack a lunch or expect to drive out of the park to a restaurant or local store to get some food. The nearest food is at the 150-year-old Fort Ross Store, which is located two miles north of the park and which sells everything you need for a picnic. There are picnic tables and wheelchair-accessible restrooms in the park.
There are motels located about a half mile drive further up Highway 1. You can also just camp in your car, although it is not recommended that you do this in the Fort Ross parking lot.
The Reef campgrounds closed in 2018, but there are multiple camping facilities within a short drive or bike ride, including at the nearby Salt Point State Park (8 miles north) and Sonoma Coast State Park (15 miles south).
The coastal mountains that tower over the fort have some great hiking trails. Just ask at the visitors center. there are also hiking trails along the bluffs to the north and south of the fort.
- Stillwater Cove Regional Park, five miles north of Fort Ross. On hot summer days, Canyon Trail (a 1.6 mile loop, from the parking lot) is an excellent choice for a shady walk.
|Routes through Fort Ross|
|Fort Bragg ← Sea Ranch ←||N S||→ Jenner → San Francisco|