Every time we came close, we’d already felt satisfied with our journey. From the north, we were stopped short by the sight of Natural Bridges, a textbook final destination. From the south, well, we never were moved to walk across the high-in-the-sky Thomas Creek Bridge.
Finally we made getting to China Beach the whole point of a trip north, timed it with the help of a tide chart, and discovered a secluded coastline that was pretty easy to get to and well worth the effort.
Trails descend to the north and south ends of the beach, so the hike can be done as an out-and-back or a one-way journey employing two vehicles. We chose the former, parking at an unmarked turnoff on the coast side of U.S. Highway 101 shortly after crossing the aforementioned tallest bridge in Oregon.
A giant spruce spread its limbs in welcome before we even got out of the car. Its spiky brethren soon surrounded us along the immediately downward trail that was both darkened with shade and illuminated by the nearby expanse of the sea.
Ten minutes in, a side path veered left. It had been praised as “so worth it, stunning,” on a homemade map helpfully attached to the Coast Trail post back at the parking lot. So we took the plunge and after two minutes of utter lushness reached a precipice that afforded our first view of the beach to the north.
Regaining the main trail, we wound our way through a spruce wonderland lit up with diagonal sunrays. About a half-mile in, we passed a side trail to the right that would have taken us to the nearby North Island viewpoint parking lot. This would make for an even easier starting point for the descent to China Beach from the south, but we were happy to have embarked where we had.
Another 10 minutes and the spruces gave way as the beach came into view, gradually revealing its magnificence: solitary sand stretching into blue water dotted with all manner of sea stacks.
Forty-four minutes out of the car, we scrambled over a short field of driftwood and touched down. China Beach is about a mile long, and three-quarters of it stretched north. We walked that way, awed by the setting’s perfection. We crossed the mouths of two creeks gurgling out of the forested bluffs rising to the east, the second helped along by two huge pipes — no doubt utilitarian but also an incongruous manmade intrusion.
This was the end point of Spruce Creek and also the narrowest spot on China Beach — impassable at high tide. It was already two hours past low tide, but we figured we could get to the beach’s northern terminus and back in dry fashion.
Another 10 minutes and we reached the turn-around point, which nature had seemingly marked with two boulders leaning against each other to form an upside-down “V.” By then we had spotted a Coast Trail post off to the right that represented the northern route back up to the highway, but we would be retracing our steps to the south.
We beat the encroaching waves past the narrow point and then, time back on our side, seated ourselves for a picnic on a driftwood log.
When the return trip is uphill, lunch is always a mixed blessing, its nutritional energy boost partially offset by the extra-baggage effect. But it was only about 350 feet bottom to top, and most of the ascent was gradual. A few breathing breaks and we were in the spruces. And less than three hours after setting out, we were back in the car, happy to finally have China Beach under our belt.