Lilies Beach

Pub date January 5, 2010
WriterGary Hanauer

Rating: A

Mendocino’s Lilies Beach, one of Northern California’s top swimming holes, has more water than the last few years. “And,” adds Jeanne Coleman, the affable education director of the nearby Mendocino Woodlands Camp Association, “people can’t drive to it because of a fallen bay tree, so it’s never crowded.” Coleman’s never seen more than 30 people there, and that group was on a field trip from the Woodlands. “I’m looking forward to going there right now,” she told us last summer. “I like it because it keeps getting sunlight late into the day and has a nice gravel sand bar.” Plus, when we spoke with her, Lilies’ stream orchids were in full bloom.

Lilies is great to visit in summer or early fall, when temperatures often rise into the 80’s, even though it may be only in the 50’s just down the street in nearby Mendocino village. Depending on the previous winter’s storms, roads leading from Little Lake Road near Highway 1 in Mendo may be rutted, but usually passable. Expect a nice, fairly mellow crowd with a mix of men and women with up to half of them nude, a drop from 10 years ago. There’s usually a sprinkling of youths, who deputies sometimes cite for underage drinking. In the past, some visitors have complained about trash and noise from adjacent homeless camps, but the campers have only occasionally been spotted in recent years. “Nobody cares whether you have clothes on,” adds Coleman. “And it gets less traffic and trash than anywhere else nearby. I often see people stop off who have been mountain biking.” 


Legal status:

Part of the Big River unit of Mendocino Headlands State Park. According to a park planning document, the hole at Lilies is considered a “local gathering spot” and swimming there is “currently not restricted,” a sign that nudity may be permitted to continue.


How to find it:

From Albion, take Highway 1 north to Mendocino, then turn right on Little Lake Road, the first right turn past the main Mendocino turnoff sign. Drive four or five miles east on Little Lake until you see a sign for Mendocino Woodlands. Follow the dirt road that starts there for about three miles. When you see the Woodlands retreat, go right about .3 miles, until the dirt road ends next to Big River. Park just off the road, where you see other cars pulled over. Follow the trail that begins there a quarter mile to the beach. Or, to save 1.5 miles, from Mendocino drive 3.5 miles east on Little Lake until you spot a dirt road with a yellow Forest Service gate. Follow the road to a second yellow gate. Just past the gate, at the juncture of several roads, turn right and take the dirt road to the parking area.  The walk from the Woodlands only takes about 20 minutes.

The beach:

Are you ready to enjoy a beautiful forest riverbank with nice water for swimming? If so, then you’ll probably like Lilies. Bring flip-flops or old shoes to wear in the rock-strewn creek. To reach the beach from the path, wade across the water to a site that’s part sand and also has some gravel.  

The crowd:

Anywhere from a few (more the norm) to 20 people can usually be found at Lilies, depending on the time of year and weather, according to frequent visitor Henry. That’s quite a plunge from the crowds that came in the ’80s and ’90s, when some 50 to 200 users would appear on hot summer days, nine out of 10 of them usually going nude. Nudists, including small groups and families who often come in the summer, enjoy the town’s favorite swimming hole along with swimsuit-wearing teens and adults.



Increased ticketing of off-road drivers and underage drinkers reported; bumpy, rutted roads after heavy winter rains; trash near parking area; poison oak may be present; rocky river bottom; cold water; long walk to beach.