Gualala Bluff Trail is popular wildlife viewing spot

Gualala river breaking through

Gualala River Breaking Through, photo by Bob Rutemoeller

High drama wildlife encounters can happen when you least expect them.

Local resident Tony Applegarth was walking the Gualala Bluff Trail when he saw a harbor seal in the estuary with a sizable steelhead in its mouth, slapping it against the water to stun it.  Two bald eagles came swooping towards the seal and fish, so the seal dived underwater.  It resurfaced, trying to turn the struggling fish around as the eagles flew closer.  Finally, the seal positioned the big fish lengthwise and gulped it down.  The disappointed bald eagles flew away.

While you can’t expect to encounter such drama daily, RCLC’s Gualala Bluff Trail (“GBT” or “Bluff Trail”) is known for wildlife viewing and scenic estuary overlooks.  Photographers stroll along it looking for that special photo opportunity.

It’s a place to see shore birds land on the water, harbor seals haul out on the estuary’s sand, and river otters fish the fresh waters. Gray whale migrations are visible out to sea.  After winter rains, the bar-built estuary breaks through and the Gualala River flows out to sea.

The Bluff Trail draws many visitors with its easy access from town, as it sits on the estuary side of Gualala’s eateries and hotels. The Bluff Trail was one of the early properties developed by RCLC and build in three stages finishing in 2013.

Mary Sue Ittner, who coordinates the volunteers maintaining the GBT, reports that the trail saw lots of visitors in the summer of 2020 as people flocked to the coast for needed recreation.

Mary Sue has been scheduling, recruiting and training monitors/volunteers since 2004 but she and her husband Bob Rutemoeller, a board member and RCLC’s Treasurer, have been involved since the trail’s beginning and played a major role in planning and building the trail.

Mary Sue adds, “The Bluff Trail is really a family affair, as Bob walks the trail every week” and checks on drainage and maintenance.  Mary Sue, with her native plant knowledge, propagates plants for the trail and supervises plantings, while they both weed.

Generous volunteer helpers such as Mary Sue and Bob as well as others, keep RCLC’s conservation properties well-maintained so visitors and locals alike can enjoy their coastal experience. She says the perks of grooming and weeding the trail include “good views of the river and wildlife” and “people thank us for our work.”

If you have a couple of hours to volunteer a month and like to get outside, the Bluff Trail always needs willing hands. Contact Mary Sue Ittner directly at

Donations for the maintenance and upkeep of the Bluff Trail can be made on the RCLC website at


Volunteers on Gualala Bluff Trail

Volunteer Bob Rutemoeller and helpers, photo by Mary Sue Ittner

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