I really wasn’t sure what to expect when I started the trail known as the Ecological Staircase at Mendocino County’s Jug Handle Reserve, but it turned out to be a really great hike — not too physically demanding and yet a decent workout. All the way out to the Pygmy Forest and back, it totals about 5 miles. After taking the stairs down to the creek near the beginning of the hike, the remainder of the trail leads gently upwards. As I was rushing to get back to my starting point at 12:30 I actually jogged part of the way back down the trail (using my walking stick to keep me stable) and was glad to find the soft earth and downward path easy on the knees!
Jug Handle State Reserve was created in 1978 and now covers 778 acres. To quote from The Hiker’s Hip Pocket Guide to the Mendocino Coast, the staircase “consists of five wave-cut terraces, each about 100 feet higher and 100,000 years older than the one below… Each terrace rose above the one below as a result of the tremendous tectonic forces that have built the coast ranges as the Pacific oceanic tectonic plate collides with the North American continental plate.” Jug Handle Creek flows through the first terrace, creating a beautiful riparian landscape.