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Walk Your World: DeMartin’s south side offers a different look

 Even after the meadows fade away and the foliage closes in, the trail is grassy for about the first half of the climb. The Daily Triplicate/Richard Wiens
Even after the meadows fade away and the foliage closes in, the trail is grassy for about the first half of the climb. The Daily Triplicate/Richard Wiens
If it weren’t part of the same stretch of Coastal Trail as one of the best paths through old-growth redwoods anywhere, the southern portion of the DeMartin Section would be a destination hike in its own right.

No, the three-mile-or-so route from Wilson Creek north to a “primitive” campground doesn’t pass by any redwoods of note. Those are all farther north, along the stunning portion of DeMartin described in last month’s installment of Walk Your World. But today’s hike does go through twisting mazes of old-growth spruce and features nice views of the sea stacks below.

I’ve divided the DeMartin Section of the Coastal Trail into two hikes not only because they are such distinctly different terrains, but also because the northern terminus is a spot on Highway 101 that provides no parking space. If you’re driving there, the best way to access the redwoods stretch is to park farther north at the Damnation Creek trailhead, which adds another mile each way. Someday Laura and I may do the whole thing, but we’ll probably stop for the night at the midway campground that is the turnaround point of today’s journey.

The parking is easy for the southern portion of DeMartin. Just pull into the Wilson Creek lot on the west side of Highway 101 about eight miles north of the Klamath River bridge. The beach known as False Klamath Cove stretches out to the south.

There are actually two ways to access the northbound Coastal Trail from here. You can walk north along the side of the highway and cross the bridge over Wilson Creek before turning right onto an access trail. Or, from the parking lot, you can figure out a way to ford Wilson Creek beneath the highway bridge. It was summertime and the water wasn’t raging, so we chose the latter approach.
 TRAIL NOTES
THE HIKE: Southern half of DeMartin Section of Coastal Trail, about six miles if done as an out-and-back from Wilson Creek to the primitive campsites.

GETTING THERE: Start at the Wilson Creek parking lot on the west side of U.S. Highway 101 about 13 miles south of Crescent City, choose an option for crossing the creek (see story) and pick up the Coastal Trail heading north.

HIGHLIGHTS: Grassy meadows and mixed-species forests, including some gnarly old-growth spruce. Views of the rocky coastline are rare but impressive.

SWEAT LEVEL: The first half of the hike is mostly uphill. It’s not especially steep, but somehow the climb seems more arduous on an open path such as this as opposed to closed-in trails through the redwoods. By the time you reach the turn-around point at the primitive camp, you’ve elevated nearly 800 feet.

After looking both ways, we fast-walked across the highway onto Wilson Creek Road where the Redwood Hostel is located. Just a few feet down the road we turned left at the trailhead and found the creek, while not raging, to be a bit more feisty than we’d expected. We ended up turning left toward the beach and walking alongside the creek till it thinned out in the sand. That’s where someone had conveniently placed a driftwood log across the creek-turned-rivulet, and away we forded.

We were finally on the Coastal Trail heading north. A steady climb along a wide and grassy path was pedestrian at first, like following a swath cut through a sloped field full of uneven, potentially ankle-turning hazards. The green meadows shimmered in the sun, but eventually the environs closed in on us, narrowing the route to more of a single-track trail through a mixed-species forest. It was nice to be walking on packed dirt instead of grass.

They aren’t redwoods, but the trees along the route are scenic nevertheless. The Daily Triplicate/Richard Wiens
They aren’t redwoods, but the trees along the route are scenic nevertheless. The Daily Triplicate/Richard Wiens
The trees grew grander as we climbed, some spreading out parallel branches from their trunks on up. Admiring these non-redwood trees of mystery — white-barked alders, light-grey hemlocks and especially the spruces — we almost missed the first ocean view that opened up behind us.

We were into our second mile of climbing when we reached a crest and found a green, thickly wooded valley stretching out in front of us. The trail descended, but not all the way to the valley floor. Instead, it turned seaward along a saddle, opening out to a first-rate panorama of the blue Pacific, resplendent with grass-topped sea stacks.

Pacific sea stacks come into view during a brief downhill stretch.The Daily Triplicate/Richard Wiens
Pacific sea stacks come into view during a brief downhill stretch.The Daily Triplicate/Richard Wiens
The ocean view lingered during a brief descent, but soon enough we were climbing again. The sign back at the trailhead said it was 2.75 miles to the DeMartin Camp, our intended picnic spot and turnaround point. A National Park Service Web site put it at 3.4 miles. Getting hotter and hungrier, we were leaning toward believing the latter, although I suspect it’s no more than three. A big pile of likely bear defecation distracted us, and soon enough we came upon the first of the campsites.

Despite the remote location, the word “primitive” might be a bit harsh. Each of the 10 sites had a picnic table, bear-proof food locker and fire pit, and there was one campground restroom.

Had we trekked a bit farther north, we knew from our prior hike, the Coastal Trail would have climbed through berry thickets (hence the bear presence) and entered the redwood portion of the DeMartin Section.

Instead, we embarked on the return trip, content with full bellies and the knowledge that it was almost all downhill from there.

 


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