Winter is a good time to approach Yontocket from the south. Ponds along the way are full of themselves and the Ridge Trail dries out quickly after the rains. The wildflowers of spring are absent, but so are the bugs of summer.
The Ridge Trail from Kellogg Road to Yontocket is one of the Del Norte hiking paths where dogs are allowed. It’s open to horses as well. Del Norte Triplicate / Richard Wiens
There are no sand dunes on this stretch. No redwoods, either, and just one fleeting ocean view. So there you have what the trail to Yontocket is not.
What’s left? A serene stroll amid the pines and spruces, sometimes closed in, sometimes opening out to ponds, marshy side trails and panoramic expanses. And something more: the realization that you’re journeying toward the ultimate place of Tolowa tribal sacredness. Once a village and the scene of a massacre, it’s now a pair of cemeteries.
The knowledge can lend a sense of anticipation and reverence to every step.
You probably won’t be alone. This is a popular route for joggers, dog-walkers and horse riders. But it’s Del Norte-style congestion — encountering another party every mile or so.
After driving north on Lower Lake Drive and west on Kellogg Road, park near the first trailhead on the right, marked by a gate. A beaten-up sign promises ponds, marshes, Yontocket and ultimately the Smith River.
You can map the route in advance by going to tolowacoasttrails.com. Unlike some parts of Tolowa Dunes State Park, the map is fairly inclusive of the trail options in this area.
Throughout, the trail follows a two-track road used only by authorized vehicles. Within a few minutes, side-routes lead left to two sets of primitive campgrounds. Twenty minutes in, the Marsh Trail veers left, but it’s well-named and this time of year the prudent choice is to keep right on the Ridge Trail. A spare sign at the junction refers only to “Marsh” and “Ponds,” so go with the latter.
Later an unmarked side-trail to the right would weave right around the ponds, but again it’s tough slogging this time of year. Keep on the main trail and pond views kick in just fine, including one watery expanse that provides more of a lake effect (pictured). This is also the point where the Marsh Trail rejoins the Ridge Trail.
A pond in all its winter splendor. Del Norte Triplicate / Richard Wiens