The Skunk Cabbage Trail
Length 7.6 mi · Climbing 1050 ft
Due to federal budget cuts, the 0.75-mile-long access road to the Skunk Cabbage trailhead has been closed. (June 2013)
Although this enjoyable trail doesn't have any redwoods (except for a few at the very beginning), the rich greens and the lushness of its woods gives it a certain resemblance to the lowland trails of Prairie Creek. The trail climbs gently through a strikingly lush and richly green ravine forested with moss-covered spruce trees and covered with ferns before reaching a coastal bluff and descending to an exceptionally scenic beach.
Although at least some parts of the trail have been logged, there are few signs of logging other than a short stretch of stumps about two miles in. It's likely that much of the area is naturally devoid of redwoods. The trail certainly doesn't have the dismal, obviously-logged look of Davison Road. The interpretive sign at the trailhead indicates that parts of the trail are old-growth, but it's hard to tell which parts, except that the appearance of the forest seems to improve slightly as you get further in.
The trailhead is just off Highway 101 north of Orick and just south of Elk Meadow; the short access road is well marked.
The first few miles of trail are flat, but the trail is bumpy with lots of protruding roots so walking can be a little slow. The trail initially runs above a wide, shallow creek valley. Alongside the trail, moss-encrusted spruce trees drip with lichens, and ferns cover the ground. Turning right, the trail crosses the creek and enters a dense spruce grove, the trees a yellowish shade of brown. There are a few redwood stumps here. The distant roar of the ocean can be heard.
The trail turns into a narrow side ravine and the climb becomes steeper, until finally the trail reaches a bluff overlooking the ocean. A short side trail leads to an overlook with a bench. From this point there used to be two trails leading down to the beach, but now there's only one. The trail heads north along the blufftop, continuing to climb for a while before finally starting its descent. The views are screened by trees, but there are some glimpses of the ocean. The surf crashes loudly below.
The trail descends gently through pale grey spruce trees, occasionally breaking out into coastal scrub. Near the ridge the spruce forest is disheveled-looking and not very attractive, with some stumps. However, a little further down the scenery improves as the trail descends through a little ravine with a handsome spruce grove.
The trail leaves the woods for good just before reaching the beach. The last few yards of trail descend through coastal scrub and are rather overgrown. The singletrack ends and dumps you onto a wide and remarkably unspoiled beach. The end of the trail is marked with a 4 x 6 foot wooden sign for the benefit of people who are hiking down the beach from the north.
Although there's no visible trail after this point, the hike can be extended by continuing up the deserted beach for many more miles. Three shallow creeks cross the beach but are normally only a few inches deep. The beach, with its backdrop of spruce-covered hills, is quite scenic and enjoyable, and makes a nice change from the region's wooded trails. On rare occasions there may be elk on the beach; once a curious seal poked his head up above the waves and studied me as I passed by.
© 2010, 2012 David Baselt