By Richard Wiens

When we first descended to Hidden Beach last spring, the place seemed aptly named. My wife Laura and I had just traipsed three miles from high above the mouth of the Klamath River northward along the Coastal Trail, encountering no one.

This, it seemed, was a beach you had to earn access to.

We picked our way through a sprawling field of driftwood, and Hidden Beach was revealed. Sea stacks staked out oceanfront property to the north. A single rocky giant guarded the south, topped by a tenacious tree that windstorms just couldn't bring down. The pitched slope made rollicking waves just a few feet away appear as if they were going to barrel right into us.

We picnicked alone, as if this sunny stretch of sand had been bequeathed to us post-apocalypse.

The strenuous three-mile climb back to our car parked at the end of Requa Road/Patrick J. Murphy Memorial Drive reinforced the notion that we'd been to a beach few others would see.

If we hadn't been sweating so profusely, maybe we would have paid more attention to the note in our hiking book (andquot;Best Short Hikes in Redwood National andamp; State Parks,andquot; by Jerry and Gisela Rohde) about an easier access to Hidden Beach from the north. That discovery would wait for half a year.

On the first Saturday in September, we parked in the Lagoon Creek Picnic Area 13 miles south of Crescent City. By then we'd hiked other stretches of the Coastal Trail, but none finer than the one we were returning to. This time we'd approach from the north, and the first stretch would be entirely new ground for us.

We circled around the mill pond, foreboding only if you knew its polluted history. Soon we were on the Yurok Loop and all the sights associated with the Coastal Trail kicked in: Glimpses through the trees of the beach at False Klamath Cove to our right, and foliage straight ahead dense enough to make the trail seem like a tunnel through the forest.

As Yurok Loop veered left we stayed on the Coastal Trail and soon spotted an old friend through the spruces and alders: the tree-topped rock of Hidden Beach. Our secret stretch of coastline was just a mile in from the roadside picnic area, and there was an even shorter east-west path to it from another Highway 101 turnoff!

The good news: if you can handle the final 50-yard descent and scramble over the driftwood, it's easy to get to Hidden Beach. The bad news: It's easy to get to the Hidden Beach.

The solitude of our spring sojourn was replaced by a late-summer experience to be shared with fellow travelers. We chatted briefly with a German couple bound for Hidden Beach. They lamented that the currency exchange rate wasn't as favorable to Europeans as it had been a few months ago. Two more hikers crossed onto the beach access trail from the aforementioned east-west expressway. Gazing downward, we saw a man sprawled out next to a log with all the accessories needed for an afternoon beside the surf.

We decided not to take the final descent to not-so-Hidden Beach, choosing to remember it as it had been. Instead, we braced ourselves for a three-mile ascent southward to the Klamath River Overlook. We passed a banana slug that seemed to be taking in too much sun on its downhill slime. The barking chorus of a colony of Steller sea lions wafted upward.

Several water breaks later, we leveled out on a final stretch of greenery, taking care to stay east of a precipitous plunge to the Pacific. Rather than walk all the way to the road, we took a half-mile side trail 350 feet down to the Mouth of Klamath Overlook.

The mouth was clogged with boats and the sandbar with cars we saw as we gazed south. We were too far away to observe details, but there was obviously a substantial welcoming party for the migrating chinook. Closer by, a sea lion swam lazily, perhaps sated after violating the government's ban on ocean fishing.

It was time to pull lunch out of our backpacks, but first there were beer cans to clear away from the viewpoint's bench. I hoped those who had tossed the empties aside were young and secretly regretted the act even as they laughed about it.

The return trip was four and a half miles long, but mostly downhill after we regained the Coastal Trail. Walking the same stretch we'd struck out on as early explorers six months before, we discerned an obvious seasonal shift. Spring's lushness had given way to a lighter shade of green.

There was more congestion to deal with as we again crossed the Hidden Beach access trail - two more hikers taking the easy way in.

We were too tired to feel proprietary, even though we knew they were headed for our beach.

The secret was out.

Trail notes

THE HIKE: Del Norte County's southernmost stretch of the Coastal Trail, starting at Lagoon Creek Picnic Area and walking first west, then south to the Mouth of Klamath Overlook before doubling back. It's easy to incorporate the entire Yurok Loop into this hike (part of it is the Coastal Trail, and you can hit the other part on your way back).

HIGHLIGHTS: Great views of False Klamath Cove to the north, Hidden Beach to the west (accessible by a 50-yard side trail) and the river's mouth to the south.

SWEAT LEVEL: Do it all and you've hiked more than 9 miles, with plenty of strenuous climbing on the stretch from Hidden Beach to Mouth of Klamath Overlook. Shorter routes are available to all the main attractions, but keep in mind the lyrics of Aerosmith: andquot;Life's a journey, not a destination.andquot;

GETTING THERE: From Crescent City, drive south 13 miles to Lagoon Creek Picnic Area. A Redwood National Park map would cover this stretch.