The Coastal Trail
Length 12.6 mi · Climbing 2370 ft
This out-and-back hike starts at Wilson Beach and climbs through some attractive fir, spruce, and alder forests interspersed with sunny meadows. Although there aren't any redwoods for the first three and a half miles, the woods nontheless appear to be old growth and include some gigantic spruce trees. Traffic noise detracts somewhat from the otherwise enjoyable scenery.
Shortly after DeMartin Campground, the trail enters old-growth redwoods. Perhaps because the trail is on the dryer east side of the ridge, the old growth in this section is a run-of-the-mill redwood upland with small to mid-sized trees, not the primeval, fogbound forest found on the nearby Damnation Creek Trail. It's still very scenic, though. Unlike some other parts of the Coastal Trail, this appears to be a purpose-built singletrack. This section of the trail is also separated from the freeway by a ridge so there's no traffic noise.
The trail is little-used and the first three and a half miles can be a bit overgrown. Although the trail is clearly visible and mowed, there's no tread (e.g., bare dirt) in this area, just a thick mat of grass and other vegetation. Allow some extra time for this part of the hike as it's hard to walk at a normal pace on this surface. The rest of the hike, under the redwoods, is considerably easier but may require scrambling over fallen branches in winter.
Start at the Wilson Creek parking lot, which is on the west side of Highway 101 across from the former Redwood AYH Hostel. The parking lot is right at the point where northbound Highway 101 begins to climb into Del Norte Redwoods.
To reach the trailhead, either walk a few yards along the beach and ford Wilson Creek, or walk along Highway 101, across the bridge and over the creek. In either case, the trail climbs a knoll covered in a very attractive, bright and open forest of white-barked red alders and light-grey fir. Rounding the top of the knoll, there are some glimpses of a large seastack. Traffic noise drifts up from Highway 101. The trail begins to descend, but fortunately not very far; it crosses a saddle and soon begins to climb again. There aren't any redwoods here, but this appears to be natural, since there are very large (apparenly old growth) spruce trees scattered along the trail.
The trail leaves the woods and climbs through a series of open meadows. Grass grows on the trail and there may be no visible tread, but it's still clear where you're supposed to go.
Older maps show a split in the trail just before the DeMartin campground. The left branch, which bypassed the campground, no longer seems to exist. This is unfortunate since it passed by a scenic little pond, which is still visible through the woods.
The trail passes through the DeMartin Campground, which is in an attractive fir grove. Some of the sites are wooded, while others are sunny. It's one of the nicer environmental campgrounds in RNSP, although it does get a little traffic noise. After the campground the trail descends slightly, then begins an insistent climb. There's a noticable change in the woods; the dark spruce are gone, replaced with light-colored red alder and fir.
Soon the trail enters the redwoods. Because this is a natural redwood boundary, the trees are on the small side at first, but as the trail crests a ridge, you enter full-blown old-growth uplands. The trail briefly contours around a ravine that has recently been burned in a forest fire; the groundcover is gone, giving the area a somewhat barren look. Mostly, though, the trail contours above a ravine filled with small- to mid-sized redwoods.
There's no traffic noise at all on this side of the ridge, and the forest is very open, with some good-sized trees. There are a lot of rhododendrons; a few stretches are densely-packed with the trees. The groundcover is a lush mixture of ferns and, in some areas, redwood sorrel.
The trail meanders around many gullies while remaining more or less level, but near its end, the trail climbs to a ridgetop. The forest loses its openness as an understory of huckleberry closes in around the trail. The trail crests the ridge and descends to Highway 101.
© 2008-11 David Baselt