A rare chance to ride through old-growth trees
The only problem with mountain biking through jaw-dropping redwood giants is keeping your eyes on the trail.
Alessandro Broido of Rock Creek checks out the view while riding the Last Chance section of the Coastal Trail south of Crescent City. Del Norte Triplicate/Adam Spencer
One of the only sections of old-growth redwoods open to mountain biking is the Last Chance section of the Coastal Trail south of Crescent City.
“It's one of the few places you can ride your bike and see lots of old-growths and rhododendrons,” said Rachel McCain of Redwood National and State Parks.
Most of the trail follows an old section of Highway 101 that was used from 1919 to 1930 until landslides on the cliffs south of Enderts Beach forced 101 to its current route. You can still see white street-lines and sewer grates on some parts of the old highway.
There are two ways to approach this redwood ride: the easy way and the hard way.
The hard way is more than seven miles, requiring two cars, a steep 3/4 mile uphill (where I usually walk my bike), and a 1,000-vertical-foot downhill over a mile span that is very rocky and extreme at points.
For the adrenaline junkies drawn to that intense drop, two cars are needed for a seven-mile, one-way ride. Park one car at Crescent Beach Overlook or at the bottom of the hill on Enderts Beach Road if you want to cruise down the paved hill to finish the ride.
The trailheads are the same for both the easy and hard routes: drive south on 101 and park at one of the small turnouts at mile marker 15.6 on Highway 101 just south of the Damnation Creek Trailhead. On the west side of the highway, just before the road heads inland, you will find a gate that marks the beginning of the old highway.
The sun sets on Adam Spencer and a day of hard riding on the Last Chance section of the Coastal Trail. Submitted
Safer and more spacious parking at the Damnation Creek trailhead will also lead to the old highway portion of the Coast Trail, but you have to walk your bike down a half-mile section of the trail and you miss out on about a mile of old highway/redwood biking.
Depending on which trailhead you choose, the Coastal Trail offers three to four miles of relatively flat mountain biking through towering coastal redwoods and soon-to-be flowering rhododendrons.
This could be an out-and-back trail of about six to eight miles, without any steep drops or climbs, but for the full-ride, pedal onward.
The route remains on the old highway route for 1.5 miles, dropping 200 vertical feet. Then you reach a humped culvert, marking the end of the old highway and the beginning of a steep climb. This section follows the landslide that happened in the late 1920s, moving the highway.
It takes at least 20 minutes of uphill trudging to finish the 400 vertical-foot climb spanning three-fourths of a mile.
While panting uphill on the steep cliffsides, catch your breath and take in the beautiful vistas of Enderts Beach and the Pacific. The climb weaves through stands of alder trees, since redwoods get “salt burn” if they’re too close to the sea, McCain said, and alders are the first tree to grow after a disturbance like the landslide.
At the top of ascent you reach a flat ridge where the east side of the trail is the Mill Creek Watershed and the west flows to the ocean.
After that it’s all downhill. A 1,000 vertical-foot drop that brings you to Nickel Creek Trail and a gravel path leads to the Crescent Beach Overlook. Keep your hands on the brakes as this drop is very rocky, often slippery and sometimes crosses a miniature stream.
Most mountain bike trails in redwood parks are converted from old logging roads in areas which, of course, have been logged, making the Last Chance Ride a rare opportunity for biking in old growth.
For more information on trails within redwood parks, visit nps.gov/redw/planyourvisit/brochures.htm and click on “Bicycling” or pick up a brochure from any Redwood parks visitor center.