Steep descents to remote beaches are a North Coast specialty. Redwoods give way to spruces, alders and other trappings of lower lands as the forest shade disappears into the glow of a vast clearing ahead. Damnation Creek, its trailhead just 13 miles south of Crescent City, is the definitive downhill trek, a 1,000-foot drop over a mile or so to well-earned solitude at the sea.
A little farther south, several routes access the final plunge to Hidden Beach. It's easier to reach, and thus more likely to have other visitors, despite its name.
Laura and I had been hankering for another forest-to-ocean experience, and two Saturdays ago we decided to check out what Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park had to offer. As I've written a few times before, while this hiker's paradise is in Humboldt County, it's close enough to be claimed as part of Del Norte's redwood empire.
Our timing could have been better, but hey, you can learn from our mistakes as well as from our triumphs along the trails.
We reached the beginning of the Ossagon Trail after driving about
21andfrasl;2 miles south on the Newton B. Drury Scenic Parkway. The trailhead is
on the west side, just across the road from an entrance to the Hope
Creek Trail's old-growth extravaganza.
At first there were plenty of redwoods going our way as well, spiced
with a dash of skunk cabbage. For 12 minutes we walked gradually uphill -
I made a mental note that we'd appreciate that stretch on our way back,
allowing us to glide toward the finish line after a 700-foot climb.
We were at the ridgeline soon enough and pointed downward on a dirt
trail. After two-tenths of a mile of descent, we veered left at a bench
and the path subtly transformed into an abandoned roadbed.
Now we were following the old Ossagon Road, where "cars were actually
allowed on this steep, narrow route until the 1960s," according to the
redwoods hiking book by Jerry and Gisela Rhode that I carried in my
slightly overloaded backpack.
Lower and lower we went, twisting through sprawling groves of red
alders. A half-hour after setting out, we crossed Ossagon Creek on a
substantial wooden bridge. After that, leafy foliage closed in on us
even as the sky brightened and the Pacific came into occasional view.
We knew the descent was nearly over when we had to start dodging elk
scat. Fifteen minutes after crossing the bridge, we were confronted with
the first consequence of choosing this particular hike after a
prolonged period of heavy rain.
This close to sea level, the second crossing of the creek was
supposed to be easy - no bridge required. But the trail literally
dissolved into fast-flowing water. We might have turned around then if
we hadn't seen the lush green flatlands beyond. Instead we picked our
way along the creekside until we found a jumping-across point.
That excitement delivered us to the aforementioned greenery, complete
with primitive campgrounds and picnic tables. We'd found an idyllic
lunch spot, but we were surrounded by impromptu wetlands that blocked
every effort to find a path to the beach.
Someday, after drier weather, we'll do this hike again and make it
all the way to a junction with the Coastal Trail and then the Ossagon
Rocks to the north. This time, without that final gratification, we
still faced the task of re-jumping the creek and regaining 700 feet of
Perhaps that's why we tarried at the table, reveling in one of our
favorite experiences: breaking bread in the middle of nowhere.
THE HIKE: A nearly 4-mile round-trip from Newton B. Drury Parkway to the beach on the Ossagon Trail.
HIGHLIGHTS: Early redwoods that give way to red alders and eventually lush green lowlands. Take the trail after a dry stretch and you should make it all the way to the sand and the Ossagon Rocks.
SWEAT LEVEL: The descent is 700 feet. So is the ascent.
GETTING THERE: Take U.S. Highway 101 35 miles south of Crescent City to Newton B. Drury Parkway, then it's about 2 1/2 more miles to the trailhead.