Fort Ross State Historic Park in Sonoma County is part fortress, part settlement. It was originally built in 1812 as part of the Russian-American Company, a commercial enterprise to supply goods to Russian outposts in Alaska and the Pacific Northwest. Most of the buildings date to 1836 and offer a well-preserved peek into an overlooked piece of California history.
Fort Ross is a vital cog in the multicultural history of California. The southernmost settlement for Russian efforts of North American colonization, the now state historic park is a compound comprising several buildings surrounded by a stockade wall. Several Russian-era buildings have been reconstructed, including the Fur Warehouse and a Russian Orthodox chapel. Built from an existing structure in 1836, the Rotchev house is thought to be an original building. A museum and working windmill are more recent additions.
To best experience the historic park, take a private tour to learn about Russian history in the region as well as details about their interactions with Alaskans, Native Americans, and the Spanish, and about the region’s later history as a ranching community. Save an hour or two to explore the park’s beach.
Things to Know Before You Go
- Fort Ross is a must for history buffs visiting Sonoma County.
- Dress in layers, as the weather can change quickly. Mornings are often foggy and damp, afternoons are often clear and sunny, and a breeze is almost constant.
- Wear sturdy walking shoes for exploring the park’s buildings, beaches, and windswept bluffs.
- There is no food available at Fort Ross State Historic Park but drinking water is available. Facilities are available at the visitor center.
- The park’s buildings are not accessible to wheelchair users, but some picnic areas, trails, and beaches are.
How to Get There
Fort Ross State Historic Park is about a 2.5-hour drive north of San Francisco, 12 miles north of Jenner on Highway 1. You must drive there, as public transportation is unavailable. There is paid parking on-site, a short walk from the park’s visitor center and sights.
When to Get There
The park is open from sunrise to sunset every day of the year, and its buildings are open daily from 10am to 4:30pm. June through August is the park’s busiest season, when campgrounds book up well in advance. During the high season, Park Interpreters offer presentations are available during the week and on weekends; at other times of year, presentations are on weekends only.
Activities Near Fort Ross
Fort Ross State Historic Park abuts Northern California’s world-renowned wine country, and nearby wineries are widely recognized for their pinot noirs and chardonnays. The Russian River, which meets the Pacific Ocean at Jenner, is one of Sonoma County’s most famous wine-producing regions. After a visit to Fort Ross and some tasting rooms, head to Guerneville to see stands of old-growth redwood forests and experience another side of California's rich history.