On a journey from one postcard-quality landmark to another, we gaped at skyscraper sea stacks topped with tall trees while descending and ascending a sun-soaked rainforest of stately spruces.
Last Saturday, Laura and I enjoyed the best stretch of true coastal trail we've yet to find in these parts. And even though our lunch spot was called Secret Beach, almost the entire route clove close to U.S. Highway 101 and could be accessed from multiple parking areas.
That's America's Wild Rivers Coast for you: Easy to get to; nobody else there. And in the case of Arch Rock and Natural Bridges, beautiful bookends for an afternoon above the beach.
We started at the northern tip of the Samuel H. Boardman Scenic
Corridor, a 12-mile stretch of heaven north of Brookings. We'd walked
southerly sections a couple of years ago, long enough to forget the
strenuous ups and downs of the Oregon Coast Trail. Somehow there's a
tendency to underestimate such pathways andndash; they generally don't stray far
from the highway as they meander between official shoreline
To tackle a tough trail, you've got to be in the middle of nowhere,
Wrong. I've been married to Laura long enough you'd think I'd know
that one can get one's ass kicked by something beautiful.
Even though we didn't get out of our car until 1:30 in the afternoon,
we naively thought we could make it all the way south to China Beach
and back before sunset. A rather obscure map in a hiking book told us
that round-trip would cover only about 5 miles, but it didn't tell us
about all the altitude adjustments along the way, plus the sudden
stoppages brought on by stunning scenery.
We set out from the Arch Rock Viewpoint parking lot, and since you
can't see its main attraction from there, we strolled a paved loop for
two-tenths of a mile. This alone is worth the price of a trip across the
state border. The rock sports a tunnel big enough to sail a full-size
crab boat through, and the loop also offers arresting views of the next
cove to the north.
More coves, capes and islands awaited as we joined the leafy-floored
Coast Trail from the south end of the parking lot. Giant Sitka spruces
and copious ferns made for a great sideshow, but they never shielded us
for long from varied views of the sea below.
Within 15 minutes we reached the highway's Spruce Island Viewpoint,
and that broad, tree-topped expanse hogged our attention for quite
awhile as we climbed above it. Rounding Deer Point, a whole new series
of rocks and waves spread out to the south, along with a pristine,
seemingly unreachable beach.
The ascent continued along an eastward stretch and even presented a
few switchbacks. We passed near the highway again, turned back seaward
and climbed some more. Another fine example of a forested sea stack
materialized to the north, but soon we were staring south where a whole
colony of rock towers graced another sandy expanse. Within minutes we
descended to a right-hand turnoff toward Secret Beach. Ironically, this
was the only point in the hike when we encountered fellow travelers.
They were headed back toward the highway, but sandy footprints left no
doubt: The secret was out.
Still, Laura and I ended up lunching in solitude at what we agreed
was the best picnic spot ever - a rocky precipice near not only a
sea-stacked beach, but also twin waterfalls at the slack-jawed mouth of
We'd already remarked on the hike's similarity to the series of coves
at Point Lobos State Park south of Carmel. Now we were reminded of
Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park in Big Sur, the only place where we'd
ever seen a waterfall closer to the ocean than where we were now,
munching salami and cheese sandwiches.
The winter sun was low enough to rouse us from the idyllic perch
sooner than seemed natural.
More climbing ensued as we crossed over the rushing creek - what
would it be like after a good rain? By the way, make sure to take the
wooden bridge southward instead of a wider path that heads east toward
the highway. After some ascension that included a few muddy patches, we
were back at the highway within 30 minutes anyway, this time at the
Thunder Rock Cove parking lot.
By then we had reluctantly skipped the turnoffs for the Thunder Rock
Cove loop. It promised still more the ascent-descent that had already
kicked our post-holiday butts, and the daylight was dwindling. Still,
it's only 7/10's of a mile - definitely ground to tread in the future.
Another 10 minutes and we reached the Natural Bridges Cove parking
lot. I've already mentioned that our hiking book map was less detailed
than we might have wished. So, frankly, is the official state park map
available on line. So it was pretty funny when we finally found a more
thorough map drawn with colorful marker pens on a white board nailed to a
Coast Trail post at the parking lot's edge.
A wooden platform just a short distance south of the turnoff affords a
great view of Natural Bridges, an extended finger of coastline
featuring not one but two yacht-sized tunnels. Alas, by the time we
arrived the bridges were shadowy - back-lit by the lowering sun. Truth
is, I shot the photo of Natural Bridges that accompanies this story back
in the summer of 2008, much earlier in a much-longer day.
Still, we had reached our destination landmark and turnaround point.
We quickened our steps going back, almost making it before sunset. While
the late start had cramped our style a bit, the golden glow of day's
end cast a new hue on the surroundings.
Lit up in red, even a patch of dead ferns turned scenic. After an
afternoon of oceanic splendor, it seemed a fitting final scene.
The paintings by Laura Wiens of Arch Rock and Natural Bridges that
appear on Page B1 are currently displayed at the Triplicate office.
THE HIKE: A meandering four miles or so (maps are vague) from Arch Rock
to Natural Bridges on the Oregon Coast Trail.
HIGHLIGHTS: Stupendous views of coves, islands and sea stacks
throughout. At Secret Beach, the ocean view is enhanced by twin
SWEAT LEVEL: With all the ups and downs, it's a surprisingly
strenuous hike that is well worth the effort. Still, the route
frequently intersects with highway turnandshy;offs, so you could reach some of
the best viewpoints with much less effort if so desired.
GETTING THERE: From Brookings, drive about 12 miles north on U.S.
Highway 101 and turn left at the Arch Rock Viewpoint. Do the Arch Rock
loop, then join the Coast Trail at the south end of the parking lot.