|| California | north coast | sonoma coast
|Fort Ross was founded in 1812 as a Russian settlement, and continued until 1841 when the Russians let the colony go. The people who lived there were Russians and Aleuts, who hunted sea otters and seals for fur, grew food to feed themselves and provide for the Alaskan Russian colony, and traded with ships that docked in the cove. Far removed from Spanish California to the south, Fort Ross is a unique outpost. Kids will get a completely different sense of 19th century California with a visit to Fort Ross.
|Visitor Center – Before visiting the Fort, check out exhibits about native Kashaya Indians, history of Fort Ross, how the Aleuts hunted for fur, agriculture at Fort Ross and watch a video about the colony.
|In front of the center is a replica full size windmill - the first windmill in California was built here at Fort Ross in 1814- and picnic tables.
|Fort Ross is comprised of weathered redwood buildings, enclosed in a wooden stockade. The 14 ft stockade has two blockhouses (watchtowers) at each corner. Kids will want to climb up the blockhouses, check out the cannons and peer through the slits (for shooting rifles).
In the center of the stockade are more cannons, a well (secure water in case of attack), and flagpole (once a ship’s mast).
|The first floor of the Kuskov House is an armory chock-full of rifles and gun powder, upstairs there’s a trading store with stocked pelts, cloth, candles, rope, and bedrooms with painted beds, and beautifully decorated chest. Don’t miss the trapdoor over the stairs.
|Before you go into the wooden chapel at the corner of the fort, ring the bell outside, it has a great tone. Inside the chapel, there’s a characteristic high round dome and altar. (Unlike the Spanish in California, the church did not have central importance in the Russian settlement.)
|The Officials’ Quarters where where unmarried Russians slept and took their meals. Check out the bedrooms (with blankets and pelts), kitchen and dining area, which has wooden handmade chairs, benches and tables, kitchen pantry and the always-present samovar for tea.
|Check out the exterior of the Rotchev House, it’s made of original hand-hewn logs. In the 1830’s, the interior of the house was quite elegant, this was the family home of Alexander Rotchev, commander of the settlement, and his wife and daughters.
Sandy Cove – After you’ve seen the fort, go down to Sandy Cove, a lovely sheltered beach with fine black sand, driftwood, and shells. Kids can imagine sailing ships who stopped here to trade their goods and pick up furs. Play in the sand, scramble around on the rocks, and bring your picnic lunch.
Russian cemetery – Instead of taking the trail to the beach, follow the trail up the hill to the Russian cemetery. This short hike over Fort Ross Creek and through the woods is delightful. In the cemetery are buried 150+ Russian colonists, Aleuts, and local Native Americans.
Whale watching – Trail around the bluffs is a good location to look for migrating gray whales, March and April, December and January. Bring binoculars.
Tip: Bring drinks, snacks, and a picnic with you when you visit Fort Ross. The gift shop in the visitor center has a few snacks, but Fort Ross over 10 miles on a winding road from Jenner, the closest place to get food.
Any time of year, Fort Ross can be foggy and windy. Bring a light jacket or fleece for everyone in the family.