Wednesday, July 29, 2020

Indian Sands

Indian Sands above the Pacific Ocean
1 mile loop, 250 feet elevation gain
Difficulty: Moderate
Access: Paved road to trailhead, no entrance fee required

Indian Sands is a small dune with huge views perched on a cliff high above the Pacific Ocean on the Oregon Coast in the Samuel Boardman State Scenic Area. This short but steep trail is an excellent way to experience this wild stretch of the coast, combining the sand dune with classic Oregon Coast views of rocky headlands and sea stacks with roaring surf. This hike is particularly enjoyable because this corner of the coast sees relatively light traffic; however, don't mistake this hike's short distance with it being easy, as the trail is quite steep and narrow in parts.

I hiked Indian Sands on a road trip from California to Washington State with Anna. The hike is a far from any large metropolitan area: the closest town is Brookings, Oregon just to the south and it is just north of the Oregon border from California's Redwood National Park. From Brookings, we took US 101 north for 8 miles and then turned off to the left for Indian Sands. The trailhead has ample parking, but there were only a handful of cars when we visited on a summer Sunday afternoon.

From the trailhead, we took the trail leading off into the forest to the south (off to the left of the parking lot from the perspective of the drive in). This trail immediately started a steep descent through forest until intersecting with the Oregon Coast Trail after a fifth of a mile. This intersection can be a bit confusing: ignore side trails until you come to a sign marking the Oregon Coast Trail and then turn right to follow the Oregon Coast Trail to the north.

The Oregon Coast Trail is a long distance trail of about 400 miles covering the length of the Oregon Coast from Astoria to Brookings. Unlike its inland brethren, the Pacific Crest Trail, the Oregon Coast Trail has yet to receive specialized guidebook attention or to achieve superstar status among long distance hikes. We followed the Oregon Coast Trail north for a stretch, dropping further in elevation onto sandy terrain. We made a slight detour off the main trail to visit the top of a nearby bluff, which provided fabulous views of the coast and of the largest dune at Indian Sands. Many social trails branched out from this area leading down towards the top of the bluffs above the ocean, one of which leads to a view of a natural arch; we did not venture further downhill here. We spotted the Thomas Creek Bridge- the tallest span in Oregon- just to the north. Summer wildflowers bloomed to add some color to this somewhat severe scene.

Oregon Coast south of Indian Sands
Indian Sands
Continuing along the trail, we emerged onto a small sandstone bluff a beautiful sand dune below us. This was the main dune at Indian Sands: to reach it, we found a point on the left (west) side of the bluff to drop down to the dune. There was no defined trail across the sand but to continue the hike we aimed in the direction of a small sand saddle to the north.

Sand dunes atop cliffs
North winds poured out of the saddle as we crossed the small sand dunes. These winds are likely responsible for creating these dunes out of the sandstone that makes up the cliffs on the coast here. An archealogical dig at Indian Sands yielded evidence of human habitation some 12000 years ago, making this the oldest known site of human activity on the Oregon Coast.

Arriving at the saddle, we rejoined the formal trail as it headed east, hugging the side of a steep seaside slope. The views from the saddle and along this stretch were incredible and were perhaps the most enjoyable part of the hike. Dramatic seastacks lined the coast to the north and hammering waves crashed against the cliffs of the Boardman Scenic Area coast.

View north along the Oregon Coast from Indian Sands
The trail here narrowed to just a foot wide as it traversed a steep slope, although the narrowness of the trail was made less visually daunting by the grasses and shrubbery that surrounded the trail. Wind-shaped trees formed tunnels around the trail in places, but largely the trail was out in the open and delivered nonstop outstanding views of the coast.

Oregon Coast Trail
The trail began to make its way uphill as we traversed the side of the cliff, enjoying the stellar views of the seastacks and coast. Even as the rest of the north coast disappeared, we still had incredible views of the dramatic pillars of rock just below us that had been shaped into sharp fins by the pounding ocean.

Seastacks north of Indian Sands
Finally, the trail turned inland and began a short but extremely steep climb, pushing steadily uphill on a narrow and eroded trail for over a hundred feet of elevation gain until reaching a wooded stream valley. The Oregon Coast Trail continued heading north here but at an unmarked junction with an obvious trail, we made a right turn, crossing a stream and then pushing through some final uphill in the forest to return to the parking lot.

This is a short but very enjoyable hike with big views of the Oregon Coast, a nice sand dune, and not too many visitors. It's a great short hike stop for anyone passing by on a road trip and a good place to enjoy the ocean in a spectacular natural setting with no crowds.

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