Wednesday, October 5, 2022

Trinidad Head

View south to the Lost Coast from Trinidad Head
1.5 miles loop, 350 feet elevation gain 
Difficulty: Easy
Access: Paved road to trailhead, no fee required

Trinidad Head is a mighty headland jutting out into the Pacific Ocean, rising above one of the oldest European-American settlements on the far northern coast of Northern California and providing stunning views of Humboldt Bay and the Lost Coast to the south. The loop hike around this great rock is short but still a bit of a workout and provides a couple of very nice views. This is a nice stop for travelers on their way to or from Redwood National Park while traveling on US 101 along the coast.

I hiked Trinidad Head during a January visit to Redwood National and State Parks. Trinidad Head is right by Trinidad, a small town of about 300 people just off of US 101 north of Eureka and Arcata. While Eureka is the closest city, Trinidad Head is a long drive from any of California's major metropolitan areas. From Eureka, I took US 101 north to exit 728, leaving the highway for Trinidad's Main Street. I turned left onto Main Street, following it as it made a turn to the left and became Trinity Street, and then turned right onto Edwards Street when I came to a T intersection on a bluff above the coastline. I took Edwards Street west and down the hill, soaking in the immense ocean views paired with the idyllic seaside town vibe, and then parked at the large gravel parking area at the bottom of the hill just short of the Fisherman's Wharf. There's plenty of parking here.

A replica of the old Trinidad Head Lighthouse stood on the northeast corner of the parking area. The original lighthouse- of similar dimensions- was built in the 1860s on Trinidad Head, while the Coast Guard operates a more modern beacon on the Head today. Although the lighthouse structure itself was diminutive, it was built almost 200 feet up a bluff on Trinidad Head. One of the tallest recorded waves on the US Pacific Coast slammed into this lighthouse in 1914, a wall of water over 200 feet high that temporaily extinguished the lighthouse's beacon.

Trinidad Head Light replica
There were two ways to start the hike: the first was to follow the one-lane paved road that wrapped behind the lighthouse replica and began to ascend, while the other was to follow a more eroded dirt trail that led uphill from the south end of the parking lot to meet that paved road. Either way, the paths united on the paved road that ascended steadily up the slopes of the massive headland. Bushy vegetation surrounded the trail but there were still occasional views to the north, where I could the see the town of Trinidad.

After 200 meters of hiking from the trailhead, the paved road came to a sharp switchback. Here, the Trinidad Head Trail, a single-track path, broke off from the paved road. There was a nice view over the town of Trinidad at this trail junction, which also featured views over the wild cove to the northwest of the town where waves pounded against forested seastacks. This junction was the split point for the loop: I took the right fork for the Trinidad Head Trail to begin a counterclockwise journey around the headland and later returned on the paved road.

Waves pound the coast at Trinidad
The trail was cut into dense, bushy vegetation that rose quite high to surround the trail and block most of the views. After coming around to the west side of Trinidad Head, the trail passed by a spur trail leading downhill and to the right (which I ignored) and began a steady uphill climb. A rocky promontory came into view ahead of the trail- I followed the trail through a set of switchbacks to reach the saddle just below the promontory at the half-mile mark. At the saddle, I took the spur trail that led uphill to the right and quickly came to an exposed outcrop with a bench that featured sweeping, open views of the Pacific Ocean. To the west, a scattering of seastacks bore the brunt of incoming waves from the ocean. Beautiful coast views were the main feature of views to both the north and south, although I was most impressed by the southerly view to the King Range and the Lost Coast, over 30 miles away. 

Dawn at Trinidad Head
As I had come to Trinidad Head at sunrise, I was surprised when I was joined at this viewpoint by a number of locals: the headland seems like it probably the most scenic spot in the vicinity of the town. After soaking in the the views for a bit, I left the summit to the locals and continued on the Trinidad Head Trail counterclockwise around the headland. Leaving the saddle, the trail descended briefly before making a few more switchbacks through a brushy but open slope to gain a ridge and meet up with the gravel road leading to the Trinidad Head's summit. There were more nice views of the King Range to the south from here; I could also make out the shape of Humboldt Bay, delineated by sandbars on the coast. I also came across a stone cross at the last switchback: this is a replica of an older wooden cross that Spanish explorers erected on Trinidad Head in 1775.

Prisoner Rock and the Lost Coast 
The single-track trail joined up with the much wider gravel road less than a hundred meters away from the high point on Trinidad Head. As that high point is now topped with communications equipment, I chose to finish up the loop and return to the trailhead, turning right at this junction at 0.8 miles and following the gravel road gradually downhill.

The gravel road began descending down the east side of the promontory, cutting through a tunnel of high brush. After making a sharp switchback turn, some views of the coast to the south appeared above the road. At 1 mile, the gravel road joined up with the paved road that I had initially followed up to start the hike.

Coast views from the trail up Trinidad Head
The final half mile of the trail was a descent along the paved road. There were a few spots along this road where the bushes near the trail opened up enough for lovely views of the town of Trinidad and the rocky coast to the south. At 1.3 miles, I returned to the original junction with the Trinidad Head Trail where I had started the loop. I followed the paved road down the final fifth of a mile back to the parking lot by the lighthouse to wrap up this short but enjoyable outing.


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