Wednesday, November 30, 2022

Yurok Loop and Hidden Beach

False Klamath Rock on the Yurok Loop
2 miles loop, 250 feet elevation gain
Difficulty: Easy
Access: Paved road to trailhead, no fee required

While Redwood National Park is best known for its soaring forests containing the world's tallest trees, the park also protects a wild and spectacular stretch of Northern California's Pacific coast. The short hike from False Klamath to Hidden Beach via the Yurok Loop is an easy way for hikers to see the surf of the Pacific crashing against seastacks and washing onto rocky beaches. The Yurok Loop Trail is a reference to the Yurok People who have long inhabited the redwood forests near the mouth of the Klamath River. The loop is itself just a brief, mile-long hike, but it is far more rewarding to tack on an additional mile round-trip to visit Hidden Beach. No coast redwoods are visible on this hike, although you'll drive by plenty on the way to the trailhead. The shortest and easiest access to Hidden Beach is via a one-mile round trip hike from a trailhead off Highway 101 near Trees of Mystery, but accessing Hidden Beach via the Yurok Loop is far more scenic with nearly constant seaside scenery.

Redwood National Park is a long drive from any major metropolitan area, at over six hours of driving from the San Francisco Bay Area. Klamath, the town closest to the trailhead, is at a fairly central location in this elongated national park, falling roughly halfway between Orick on the south side of the park and Crescent City on the north side of the park. The Yurok Loop Trailhead lies 6 miles north of the town of Klamath at the Lagoon Creek Picnic Area, which is to the west side of Highway 101. Coming from the north, Lagoon Creek Picnic Area is reached soon after Highway 101 descends down the Last Chance Grade. There are pit toilets and parking for about 30 cars at the picnic area.

The Yurok Loop Trail starts at the northern end of the Lagoon Creek parking lot. The trail left the parking lot and delved into some shrubby woods, reaching a junction with the Coastal Trail in less than a hundred yards. The right fork of the Coastal Trail provided beach access and headed north, while the the left fork led towards the Yurok Loop; I took the left fork, crossing a low berm separating Lagoon Pond from the ocean. At two under two hundred yards from the trailhead, I came to the split for the Yurok Loop: I chose to hike the loop counterclockwise, taking the right fork to follow the coast first.

After taking the right fork for the Yurok Loop, the trail briefly followed a log-strewn lagoon separated from the Pacific by a sandy beach. In the distance, I could see Highway 101 beginning its climb up the Last Chance Grade to Del Norte Coast Redwoods State Park.

False Klamath Beach
The trail began a gentle uphill climb and reached a clearing with views down the coast in both directions just 150 yards after the start of the loop. This is perhaps the most scenic spot of the hike: massive seastacks dot the coastline in both directions and especially to the south, with the sweeping coastline visible all the way down to Sue-Meg State Park. Massive False Klamath Rock, a 200-foot seastack coated in guano, lay just offshore of the point at which I stood.

Surf crashing against the Klamath coast
Leaving the viewpoint, the trail continued south along the coast, dipping into the forest at times. At just over a half mile from the trailhead, I came to a junction where the Yurok Loop split from the Coastal Trail: while the Coastal Trail headed to the right along the coast towards Hidden Beach, the Yurok Loop headed left and inland into the forest back towards the trailhead. While I would later return on the Yurok Loop, I took the Coastal Trail at this junction to continue towards Hidden Beach.

False Klamath Rock and a rocky cove
The Coastal Trail mainly stayed in a Sitka Spruce forest as it headed south towards Hidden Beach, but it broke out onto an open grassy slope with views of Hidden Beach ahead at about 0.8 miles from the trailhead. This stretch of trail was quite scenic and was an excellent vantage point for the waves crashing against the rugged seastacks off the coast of Hidden Beach.

View towards Hidden Beach
At a mile from the trailhead, the spur trail to Hidden Beach split off to the right from the Coastal Trail, near where the separate access trail from Trees of Mystery met the Coastal Trail. The spur descended briefly but steeply through a tunnel of vegetation to reach Hidden Beach, a gray sand beach scattered with logs and pebbles. Green, forested slopes descended to the beach  and a tiny island south of the beach sported a photogenic single pine. Waves sweeping off the Pacific crashed against the larger rocks near the waterline on the beach. Arriving shortly after sunrise on a winter day, I had the beach entirely to myself, although if you come later in the day during a warmer season you can almost certainly expect company.

Hidden Beach

Surf off the coast of Hidden Beach

Seastacks at Hidden Beach
After soaking in views of the beach, I backtracked to the Coastal Trail and followed it back north to the junction with the Yurok Loop at 1.5 miles. This time, I took the right fork of the loop and followed it through a forest of Sitka Spruce, descending to parallel the shoreline of Lagoon Pond. At 1.9 miles, I arrived back at the start of the Yurok Loop; turning right here, I retraced my steps from early in the hike back to my car.

This is an enjoyable hike, but perhaps not a highlight of Redwood National Park. While the coastline here is pretty, there are no redwoods along the trail, making this a less distinctive destination when compared to the many other coast access points in Northern California. Still, visitors to Redwood National Park looking for an easy adventure that's a change of pace from the region's great forests will find this a brief but nice seaside diversion.

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