Richard Wiens, The Triplicate

Go beach-to-bridge along this stretch of Oregon Coast Trail

Colorado taught Laura and I to hike. From our home along the seam between the Rockies and the Great Plains, Pikes Peak called to us.

It looked like the world's largest rock plopped above the timberline. Up close, its lower slopes held endless playgrounds of climbs and descents amid pines, firs, aspens and mountain streams.

At the edges were vast downward views. Barren flatlands to the north, south and especially east. Rival peaks in the distant west. But we were transplanted West Coasters, and every time we gazed out at a landlocked panorama, we imagined water.

Moving to Del Norte was like coming home - with a twist. Not only did

we replace the thin air and alpine aridness with marine breezes and

lush forests, but we landed in the midst of old-growth redwoods. Hiking

in solitude beneath the tallest trees in the world is an unparalleled

experience. Even the critters maintain a reverent silence.

Then there are the coastal trails of Del Norte, southern Curry and

northern Humboldt counties. We've been knocking them off section by

section and each has its charm, some veering inland and others hugging

ocean bluffs. Most recent was a 5.6-mile round-tripper north of

Brookings from Whaleshead Beach to the Thomas Creek Bridge that did a

bit of each.

We'd been to Whaleshead before, but never the easy way. From the

south, there are a couple of tightly wound, death-defying descents to

the beach. One can be accessed from the Whaleshead viewpoint turnoff on

U.S. Highway 101. But drive a few hundred feet farther north and take

the Whaleshead picnic area turnoff, and you'll be on easy street. The

road ends at a parking lot and picnic table only a gentle slope away

from the sand.

Check it out - the big stone does resemble the front end of a giant

marine mammal. Then double-back to another parking area closer to the

highway. The Coast Trail, as they call it in Oregon, picks up here.

We headed north and quickly got into some cardiovascular climbing. We

meandered past branchy Sitka spruces and came upon a quaint bench

somehow secured into an embankment a few feet above the trail. It

promised a significant vantage point, but when I climbed into the seat

the view was mostly obscured by young trees that must have post-dated

the bench.

A few more steps did bring us to one of those Pacific panoramas we

could only fantasize about in the mountains of the Midwest. Glimpses of

rocky shores through the trees are the ultimate rewards of coastal

trails, and we enjoyed them before and after a short stretch that

followed the highway.

About a mile and a half in, a babbling brook accompanied the path

briefly. Then the trail softened as we skirted the edge of Indian Sands -

a collection of high-altitude dunes and precipices that is simply one

of the coolest places on Earth. A left turn would have taken us there,

but it was already late afternoon and we had an appointment with the

bridge. Another junction offered two paths in the same direction - we

chose the left because it offered a more gradual ascent. Shortly after

the paths reunited, we crossed the

Indian Sands parking area and plunged back into the woods.

Soon we were taking in a new sea-stacked view of blue. At one point

along a bluff the foliage formed an arch - a natural altar to pass

under. Veering inland again, we came to a junction bearing a helpful

homemade sign: a viewpoint to the left, the highway - and presumably the

bridge - to the right. The left path proved short. Back on the main

trail, we walked only a couple more minutes before spotting the mammoth

green span through the trees.

Within 10 minutes, we'd reached our turnaround point at the southern

edge of Thomas Creek Bridge, Oregon's highest at 345 feet. Another

stretch of the Coast Trail began on the other side of the gorge,

promising a walk along China Beach and views of Natural Bridges and Arch

Rock, but that'll wait for a future expedition.

The low sun cast a golden hue on the return trip. The second half of

an out-and-back always provides completely different views from the same

trail. Even with the afternoon ebbing into evening, we tarried a bit

each time the trail opened out to another of the crescents that line the

region's coast.

These days, the plains of Colorado make for distant memories.


THE HIKE: A 5.6-mile round-trip along Oregon's Coast Trail from Whaleshead Beach to the Thomas Creek Bridge.

HIGHLIGHTS: The path toggles back and forth between lush inland woods and ocean-view bluffs, and the journey is bookended by landmarks: Whaleshead Beach to the south, Thomas Creek Bridge to the north. Halfway to the bridge, the path skirts the eastern edge of Indian Sands - if you have the time, the high-altitude dunes are definitely worth a side trip.

SWEAT LEVEL: Like most stretches of coastal trail, this one has its ups and downs. The ascents are not prolonged, so you can control your heart rate by how fast you climb them.

GETTING THERE: From Brookings, drive north past the first few Boardman State Park turnoffs, watching for the Whaleshead Beach picnic area sign (not the Whaleshead Beach viewpoint, but the next turnoff after that). Find the trailhead next to a parking area on your right - before you get to the beach parking area.