Nearby trail is surprisingly remote
Almost everyone has been to the overlook at the end of Enderts Beach
Road, the one with the stunning view of majestic rows of waves in the
foreground and Crescent City in the background.
And most folks have probably also been to the oceanside picnic area off of Enderts Beach Road.
But how many of you have walked the two-mile section of Coastal
Trail between the two points? I'd guess not many. That's partly because
I've done it twice and encountered no other humans, but mostly because
the stretch has an eerie remoteness, as if deep in the backcountry even
though it's only a few hundred feet from the beach and actually
crisscrosses the road.
It's enough to make a pensive hiker wonder what's around the next bend, and I've had memorable wildlife encounters both times, once in August and then last Saturday.
As we strike out, let's deal with a couple of issues.
First, all the signage around here refers to "Crescent Beach," which seems to be more of a state of mind than an actual place. After all, if you walk down South Beach at low tide you can make it all the way to the jutting point that the overlook rests atop. So that's all South Beach, right?
South of the point is indisputably known as Enderts Beach. So where, exactly, is Crescent Beach? Does it exist only on signs and in hiking books, long ago renamed South Beach in the local vernacular?
It's something to ponder while departing from the picnic area parking lot on a flat grassy trail that crosses the road and soon intersects (turn right/south) another flat grassy stretch of the Coastal Trail.
All this flat grassiness raises another question: Is January really the right month to take this hike? My shoes were damp a tenth of a mile in. Then the trail turned marshy for a short stretch, and despite my efforts to skirt the edges, those shoes partially disappeared in the muck.
Soaked so early, I actually considered abandoning the quest and marking this down as only a spring-to-fall recommendation. My spousal hiking companion had already weighed in on this issue by staying home and dry. But y'know, squishy socks aren't that bad if you don't dwell on them, and the winter air was warm. Besides, if I'd turned around, I would have missed the herd.
I mentioned earlier that this trail, despite its proximity to familiar environs, has a wild, off-the-grid feel. During the August hike we encountered suspected bear scat, then a giant owl that pushed off with a whoosh when we got too close. And last Saturday, as red alders started hemming in the path, I glimpsed an enormous head up ahead.
A section of my imagination shouted a bear warning, but I'd already dodged what looked like elk scat. About the time I became sure of what I was seeing, the head turned into a full-bodied elk suddenly on the fly, followed by a fleeing mob of 10-15 more.
I admired the crossing just long enough to blow any chance of photographing it. But I was on my toes - forgetting for a while how wet they were - as I proceeded, and soon spotted a solitary elk cow that was staring me down from the brush. She never made a move and I blinked first.
The alders dwindled, and the trail opened to new views of the ocean before tightening up again. I endured a less-egregious mud patch before recrossing the road and arriving at what would have been an awesome picnic spot if it hadn't still been mid-morning. There was even a table ensconced at the edge of a winding bridge over Cushing Creek, leading to stairs and the beginning of the climb to the overlook.
By the way, this was the longest of several wooden bridges, and in the January version of this hike, they were all slippery.
About a half-mile of bluff climbing followed, affording nice views of the sea below (Crescent Beach? The south end of South Beach?). Near the top, the trail actually joined the road for about a tenth of a mile, then re-entered the brush for a final push to the overlook.
I spent only a moment on the signature views before sitting down at a picnic table, fending off a tourist dog as I pulled off my shoes. There was very little water left to wring out of my socks before heading back down.
THE HIKE: A four-mile round-trip from the picnic area off Enderts Beach Road to the overlook and back along the Crescent Beach section of the Coastal Trail. You could also start at the overlook. Or, make it a 2-mile, one-way hike by leaving a second vehicle at your destination, then driving to the starting point.
HIGHLIGHTS: Walk through a red alder forest on the flat section, enjoy a quaint picnic spot where a bridge crosses Cushing Creek, then take in great ocean views as you climb the bluffs to the well-known overlook that affords the best view of all.
SWEAT LEVEL: Most of the trail is grassy and level, but there's a half-mile of climbing to the overlook.
GETTING THERE: From U.S. Highway 101 south of Crescent City, take Enderts Beach Road to the picnic area parking lot.