Richard Wiens, The Triplicate

It's only 56 miles south of Crescent City, but it took us more than five years to get to Patrick's Point State Park. Closer-to-home redwoods, coastlines and river canyons kept us spectacularly occupied. There's irony in that, because some people know little about the splendor of the North Coast other than what's to be found at Patrick's Point.

Jutting into and looming over the ocean 25 miles from Eureka, it's probably as far north as many visitors go. That's a mistake, of course, but you can hardly blame them for assuming it can't get any better than this.

Laura and I had driven by the highway turnoff many times, intrigued but always intent on getting somewhere else.

And the fact is, by spending three and a half hours cherry-picking some of the high points and a few of the descents, we still haven't seen most of Patrick's Point. After forking over the park's $8 day-use fee, we didn't even stop at the Visitors Center, much less the re-created Yurok village and the Native American Plant Garden in the park's interior. On a splashy Sunday, we were intent on getting to the edges.

To see it all would require at least two full days. We only traversed about half of the Rim Trail along with some of its side-effects, but it was more epiphany than mere introduction. We were reminded of the lush, meandering trails around ocean coves at Point Lobos State Park south of Carmel. And we haven't really been anywhere else that brought to mind that patch of paradise.

The adventure began inauspiciously. Just past the park entrance, our intended road to the left was closed. That would have taken us directly to Palmer's Point at the south end of Rim Trail.

Instead, we drove the main road until we could turn left, which eventually deposited us in a parking lot at the epicenter of the park's stark magnificence. Heck, we didn't even have to get out of the car to behold Wedding Rock. The stone edifice came complete with a winding trail and ant-size people near its crown. We were glad we'd brought our binoculars.

We resisted the temptation to head straight for the top - someone was already up there, and we Del Norters are used to trekking world-class routes all by ourselves. Instead we headed south on the Rim Trail, then turned right to reach the precipice that actually bears the name Patrick's Point. It afforded a more complete view of Wedding Rock to the north, still topped by a couple of colorful ants.

We regained the Rim Trail heading south but were soon diverted by the stone steps of a path to the left circling up to Lookout Rock. We were getting the hang of things: For all its impressive variety of foliage and ocean views, Rim Trail was a means to various ends on side trails, some up and some down. Lookout Rock would've made a great picnic spot, but this place is full of them and we were only a half-hour out of the car.

Other than this deserving detour, we adopted a policy that seemed to pay off - at every fork in the path, turn toward the ocean. This soon led us down an unmarked side trail to Rocky Point, a stony lowland expanse that gave us our first clue the waves were especially rambunctious. Their foamy spray shot up in patterns that dwarfed but roughly matched the contours of the sea stacks they crashed into.

Looking north, Patrick's Point blocked Wedding Rock. To the south loomed the more-distant Palmer's Point, where we'd originally intended to start.

Back on the Rim Trail, Point Lobos came to mind again as we encountered a dynamic cypress tree, its trunk twisting inland and its branches seaward. It resembled the LoneCypress, an icon of the Monterey Peninsula.

Six minutes farther along, part of the trail was washed out, requiring a tricky 10-foot descent.

We stuck with the policy of always turning toward the ocean at several more junctions, only some of which bore signage. About a half-hour after the Rocky Point side-trip, Rim Trail fed onto the paved road that had been blocked back at the park entrance. We followed it to the parking lot at Palmer's Point, the westernmost jut dotted with picnic tables that practically screamed lunchtime. We acquiesced.

A trail to the right promised access to the beach below, but a couple coming the other way said it was a bit of a scramble. So we went just far enough to appreciate the view of Rocky Point to the north, then started heading back.

We'd only gone 1.2 miles on the Rim Trail, but with all the sideshows - plus the picnic - we'd already been out and about for nearly two hours. It took another 45 minutes to get back to the Wedding Rock parking lot, and this time we gave in and followed the path onto the behemoth.

Near the end, the trail turned into a stone pathway. It was like something out of a Tolkein novel with thick rock walls perfect for perching atop and gazing down at nature's wave machine going full throttle. No wonder this place would never be a fortress of solitude! We encountered a would-be surfer sans board -he said he was willing to take on waves 2-3 feet taller than he was, but these were higher than that.

Our journey concluded with its biggest splashes after we descended some steps just north of Wedding Rock to a flat area seemingly designed for front-row viewing of winter waves exploding over the rocks.

We shot our signature photo there before returning to our nearby car. The rest of Patrick's Point would have to wait for another day, but we'd seen enough to know we'd be back.


The hike: In Patrick's Point State Park, a stretch of the Rim Trail from Wedding Rock to Palmer's Point and back. With some side-stepping, it's about 3 miles in all.

Highlights: One majestic coastal scene after another, with extra-strength waves of winter providing the icing on the cake.

Sweat level: Rim Rock is easily traversed, except for a washed-out section south of Rocky Point. Side paths offer varying degrees of difficulty.

Getting there: Take the park turnoff 56 miles south of Crescent City on U.S. Highway 101. Pay the $8 day-use fee and drive to the Wedding Rock parking lot.