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Walk Your World: The definitive coastal trail

The ocean is seldom out of view for trekkers on the grassy footpath that is the Hidden Beach Section of the California Coastal Trail.
The ocean is seldom out of view for trekkers on the grassy footpath that is the Hidden Beach Section of the California Coastal Trail. Del Norte Triplicate / Richard Wiens
It’s Del Norte’s quintessential stretch of the California Coastal Trail, descending from a panoramic perch above the mouth of the Klamath River to the cozy confines of an enclosed, driftwooded shoreline. The lush footpath dips and climbs along the continent’s edge with a nearly constant ocean view. In spots, one westerly misstep might produce a fast immersion.

Laura and I were North Coast newcomers when we first happened upon this section of the Coastal Trail in the spring of 2008. We’d mainly driven up Requa Road to check out the view of the river’s mouth, but the downward path along ocean bluffs beckoned. A sign promised Hidden Beach in 3 miles, which sounded too good to pass up despite the fact that we were starting 600 feet above sea level.

We later discovered much shorter routes to Hidden Beach: it’s about a mile south of the Lagoon Creek parking lot off U.S. Highway 101, and only a half-mile from Trees of Mystery on an east-west, highway-to-coast shortcut.

But if you’ve got the time and the stamina, the approach from the south is hard to beat, and you’ll really earn that picnic lunch at Hidden Beach.

Spring seemed far away on the last Sunday in January. The trail was a lighter shade of green than we remembered. This time around crab boats were a constant visual companion, their lights piercing the blue-gray daylight each time they turned toward us.

We saw one offshore as soon as we began our descent from the Klamath Overlook parking lot, exactly 20 road miles from Crescent City. By then we’d already taken in the view south of the river’s mouth, which barely requires getting out of the car.

Curving northward, we reached the junction with the half-mile trail to the actual overlook in seven minutes. It’s definitely worth the side-trip if you haven’t done it, or it would make a nice short hike of its own, but this day we kept to the high ground of the Coastal Trail as it meandered to its own fenced observation point 15 minutes later.

From here, with the right weather conditions, you can see north all the way to Castle Rock and Point St. George. Continuing on, much-closer features manifested, starting with white-bark alders as the inland side of the trail filled out like a hedge. There really was the sense of trespassing on someone’s landscaped coastal estate, lush with green ground cover, then ferns, then gnarly old-growth spruces as the path veered ever-so-slightly away from the sea.

About 45 minutes in, the trail widened for a while as if following an old mule train path back to Requa. In less than half an hour the effect was gone and we were back to a footpath, rounding right past a couple of ravines.

One crab boat after another marked our progress, and after a little over an hour of walking we had our first view of a squat sea stack we knew to be part of the Hidden Beach rock configuration.

A few minutes later, we caught a quick glimpse of the tree-topped rock that is the beach’s signature feature. We didn’t see it again until it materialized straight ahead after we’d taken a left turn onto the 150-foot final descent toward Hidden Beach. (Note: Seconds before making that turn, we’d passed the right-hand turn onto a half-mile trail leading to the highway at Trees of Mystery).

About an hour and 40 minutes after our departure, we were scrambling over a cluster of small driftwood logs to reach the sands of Hidden Beach, especially smallish due to the high tide. We perched on a rock and ate lunch with the surging waves looking more threatening than they were due to slope of the sand.

Thanks to the shorter options for reaching it, you can sometimes encounter fellow travelers at Hidden Beach. This day, we saw exactly no one from the time we left the parking lot to the time we returned. Not even a banana slug.

Like any descent to the sea, the return trip involved most of the trek’s climbing. I’d been trying to live in the moment on the way down, but there were climbs coming back that I found myself enduring rather than enjoying. So it goes with the ups and downs inherent in a hike to the beach — we are cardiovascular beings.

Of course, you could make this a two-vehicle excursion, leaving one at the Lagoon Creek parking lot before driving up Requa to the overlook parking lot. Then you’d be looking at a one-way, 4-mile journey, most of it downhill. You’d probably even have the energy to tack on the Yurok Loop Trail.

But Laura and I were content to retrace our steps, resting more frequently and noticing some things we’d missed, including an especially mossy stretch seemingly fit for leprechauns.

We’ve never been to Ireland, but with Del Norte’s lush Coastal Trail options, we probably have a pretty good idea what we’ve been missing.

Reach Richard Wiens at This e-mail address is being protected from spam bots, you need JavaScript enabled to view it

TRAIL NOTES:

The hike: A four-hour, six-mile round trip from the Klamath River Overlook parking lot north to Hidden Beach. Go another mile north and you’d reach the Lagoon Creek parking lot.

Highlights: Almost constant ocean views through diverse terrain featuring giant spruces, white-barked alders, and a beach turn-around that lives up to its name.

Sweat level: The descent is 600 feet, but thanks to the ups and downs you probably do at least twice that much climbing. If that sounds excessive, there are much easier ways to reach Hidden Beach from the north and east.

Getting there: A 20-mile drive from Crescent City, south on U.S. Highway 101 and then up Requa Road. 

 


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