Wednesday, December 28, 2022

Los Vaqueros Vista Grande

Brushy Peaks and windmills rise over Los Vaqueros Reservoir
5 miles loop, 1200 feet elevation gain
Difficulty: Easy-moderate
Access: Paved road to trailhead, Los Vaqueros Watershed entry fee required

The Vista Grande Trail in the Los Vaqueros Watershed in California’s Contra Costa County lives up to its name, delivering lovely views of Los Vaqueros Reservoir and the rolling hills on the eastern edge of the Diablo Range. Los Vaqueros Reservoir is a fairly recent addition to the network of reservoirs in the Bay Area, its dam completed in 1998 to provide water to the Bay Area’s rapidly expanding outer suburbs, including Walnut Creek, Concord, Livermore, and Antioch. A loop consisting of the Eagle Ridge and Vista Grande Trails is perhaps the best way to appreciate this man-made lake, which is set amongst grassy, oak-dotted hills under the shadow of the Altamont Pass windfarm. The scenery along this loop hike is lovely, but this is a surprisingly quiet trail; don’t let the entry fee to the watershed deter you from visiting. Winter and spring are the prettiest times to visit, when the grassy hills are green; check the watershed’s website before you come to make sure trails are open.

This hike consists of a loop starting at the visitor center below Los Vaqueros Dam: starting by following the Walnut Trail along the road to the start of the Eagle Ridge Trail, the loop then follows the Eagle Ridge Trail steeply uphill and then along a long, scenic ridge, then follows the Vista Grande Trail down a separate ridge, finally returning via the Los Vaqueros Trail to the dam and then following a paved road back to the parking lot.

I hiked the hills of Los Vaqueros on a lovely if slightly chilly December day, when plentiful rains that winter had already turned the hills of the Diablo Range bright green. The Vista Grande Loop is accessed from the watershed’s northern entrance, which is not far from the city of Antioch; hikers from the Central Valley will find approaching from Antioch the easiest. As I was coming from the Bay, my route was a bit more complicated: I followed I-580 east out to Livermore and left the freeway at the Vasco Road exit. I followed Vasco Road north across the Diablo Range until coming to the first stoplight in the Central Valley: here, I turned left onto Camino Diablo. I followed Camino Diablo for 2 miles to its four-way stop intersection with Walnut Blvd, where I turned left and followed Walnut Blvd past the entrance kiosk to the end of the road at the large parking lot and visitor center below the dam. There are pit toilets near the parking lot; I’m unsure if there are nicer bathrooms in the visitor center as it was closed during my visit. At the time of my visit, Los Vaqueros Watershed charged a $6 entry fee or $4 for local ratepayers in eastern Contra Costa County.

The initial half mile opening stretch of this hike from the visitor center to the base of the Eagle Ridge Trail was somewhat confusing. Walking down to the bottom of the hill at the parking lot, I started looking for a trail heading north from the pit toilet- poor signage here made it unclear whether the Walnut Trail, which park maps showed running parallel to Walnut Blvd, was a paved path slightly upslope from the road, a grassy path separated from the road by a barbed wire fence, or just the wide shoulder of Walnut Blvd itself. After trying out each of these options for a short distance, I decided to just follow the road shoulder as the most obvious route; it later became clear, though, that the grassy route on the other side of the fence was the formal Walnut Trail.

After following Walnut Blvd north for a half mile, I came to a gated dirt road on the left (west) side of Walnut Blvd. There’s no parking at this gate, so unfortunately hikers interested in just hiking the Eagle Ridge Trail should still park at the visitor center at the end of the road. I went through the gate here and came to a multi-way trail junction. The wide road-trace of the Mariposa Canyon Trail headed up a gulch from here, while the Walnut Trail led parallel to Walnut Blvd on either side; I took the right fork for the Walnut Trail to head north. After just a few meters along the Walnut Trail, I came to a second junction for the Eagle Ridge Trail, which split off to the left. I hopped onto the Eagle Ridge Trail, a wide and somewhat muddy road trace which immediately began a steep ascent up its namesake ridge.

Cows grazing in the green foothills of the Diablo Range
The Eagle Ridge Trail was very direct and steep in its initial ascent, climbing 500 feet in about a half mile before leveling out on the crest of the ridge. The trail was completely out in the open, providing ever improving views as I climbed uphill. A viewshed initially confined to the nearby rolling hills with grazing cows soon widened to include the Central Valley, higher peaks in the Diablo Range, and the wind farm at Altamont Pass to the south.

Views of the grassy rounded hills of the Diablo Range from Eagle Ridge
At one mile, the trail flattened it a bit as it reached the top of Eagle Ridge. Over the next two miles, the trail followed the ridgeline of Eagle Ridge, ascending gradually along this open, grassy crest. There were lovely views of Mariposa Canyon below and the hills that I would hike through ahead. As I passed under a set of power lines and continued hiking along Eagle Ridge, the views continuously evolved and improved. Soon I could see out to the suburban sprawl of Brentwood and the Montezuma Hills wind farm, which dotted the green expanse of the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta. Clouds above the Central Valley obscured views of the Sierra Nevada across the valley, but on rare clear winter days it should be possible to see directly across the Valley from Eagle Ridge to the snowcapped peaks from Tahoe to Yosemite.

Looking up Mariposa Canyon from Eagle Ridge
Brentwood, Central Valley, and the Montezuma Hills wind farm
At 2.5 miles, the trail began to ascend a bit more aggressively again, reaching the high point on Eagle Ridge at 2.8 miles from the trailhead. The views from the high point on Eagle Ridge were lovely: Mariposa Canyon lay below, with Vista Grande Ridge just across the valley. The many layers of ridges of the Diablo Range lay beyond that. Twin-peaked Mount Diablo itself, its rugged and majestic form contrasting sharply with the gentle, rolling hills of Los Vaqueros, rose to the west.

Diablo Range views from Eagle Ridge
Mount Diablo from the high point along Eagle Ridge
Leaving the high point, the Eagle Ridge Trail began a gentle descent and reached a junction at a saddle at 3.2 miles, marked by an emergency call box. Here, the Eagle Ridge Trail headed off to the right. The Vista Grande Trail lay straight ahead: this was the path that I took forward.

The Vista Grande Trail- also a road trace- had a well-maintained gravel tread that was much more pleasant to hike on that the muddier Eagle Ridge Trail. Leaving the junction, the trail made a short ascend to gain the crest of Vista Grande Ridge. Arriving atop the ridge, I found a splendid panorama of Los Vaqueros Reservoir nestled amidst green, gently rolling hills. Brushy Peak rose on the other side of the lake, surrounded by an armada of wind turbines. Rounded hills, beautifully backlit by the late afternoon sun, rose from the grassy plains of Round Valley below, and Mount Diablo’s twin peaks stood magnificently to the west. Los Vaqueros- “the cowboys”- is named after the Rancho Canada de los Vaqueros, a Mexican land grant that covered the hilly region that is today beneath the surface of the reservoir.

Looking back to Eagle Ridge and the Central Valley
Los Vaqueros Reservoir, with Brushy Peak and the Altamont Pass wind farm in the distance
I hiked along the Vista Grande Trail for the next mile, following the top of the ridge and passing a junction with the Mariposa Canyon Trail at a saddle at 3.8 miles. A fence confined the trail to the top of the ridge; it’s good to stay on trail and follow the rules here as Los Vaqueros is the drinking water supply for Contra Costa County! The trail transitioned from gravel back to dirt after the junction with the Mariposa Canyon Trail, ascending from the saddle to reach the highest point of the hike at 4.2 miles. This unnamed high point along Vista Grande Ridge provided what were surely the grandest views of the hike: all of Los Vaqueros Reservoir was visible below, with the green hills of the Diablo Range running to the northwest and southeast of where I stood.

Shining grassy hills in Round Valley
Mount Diablo viewed from the high point of the Vista Grande Trail
The Vista Grande Trail began an extremely steep descent as it left the high point, following the ridge to the southeast towards the reservoir. Shortly after leaving the high point, the Crest Trail branched off to the left; while the Crest Trail also leads back to the parking area, I stayed on the Vista Grande Trail, which stayed on the ridge and continued providing marvelous views of the reservoir. The trail passed through a gate afterwards and reached a junction with the Los Vaqueros Trail at 4.7 miles. The views were stunning throughout this descent, especially the lovely views of Brushy Peak rising above the field of wind turbines that form part of the Altamont Pass Wind Farm.

Following the Vista Grande Trail down to Los Vaqueros Reservoir
At the junction with the Los Vaqueros Trail, I took the left fork, which followed a turn in the ridge and continued a very steep descent towards the dam. This stretch of the hike was very scenic but also very muddy after recent rains, so by the time I reached the dam at 5.1 miles my boots were coated in mud. I enjoyed some final views of the reservoir from the observation deck on the west end of the dam, then descended a staircase down to the road up to the dam and followed the road downhill for a third of a mile back to the visitor center where I had parked.

Brushy Peak and the Altamont Pass windmills
The Los Vaqueros Dam was completed in 1998, forming the reservoir where there had once been a valley amidst the Diablo Range hills. The earthen dam has already been raised once, in 2012, to expand its capacity; there are proposals now to raise the dam further to meet the growing water demand of the expanding Contra Costa County suburbs.

Los Vaqueros Dam
I saw just one group of hikers on my entire day of hiking- and this was on a federal holiday! Los Vaqueros has not been fully discovered by Bay Area hikers yet, but it is a charming landscape with lovely trails. While not unique enough to warrant a visit from out-of-state visitors, I do recommend this hike for locals looking to branch out from the more crowded parks of the Bay Area.

Wednesday, December 21, 2022

Antler Point

View of Halls Valley from the Canada de Pala Trail
9 miles round trip, 1300 feet elevation gain
Difficulty: Easy-moderate
Access: Paved but windy road to trailhead, no fee required

The miles of grassy ridges in Santa Clara County’s Joseph D. Grant County Park culminate in the rounded summit of Antler Point, a nearly 3000-foot-high summit that delivers panoramic views of the southern end of California’s San Francisco Bay Area. Although the Twin Gates Trailhead is just minutes from California’s second largest urban agglomeration, the hike to Antler Point has a remote feel as it’s bordered by the oak woods and grasslands of Halls Valley to the west and mighty Mount Hamilton to the east. The open ridgeline walk along the Canada de Pala and Pala Seca Trails to reach Antler Point from the Twin Gates Trailhead is spectacular along the entire course of the hike and best of all, this hike is far quieter than the loved-to-death parks at Mission Peak and Rancho San Antonio. The trail is completely out in the open, making it a nicer hike in the cooler months and a poor fit for hot, dry summer days.

There are two approaches to Antler Point: one is to hike up from the Grant Lake and connect with the Canada de Pala Trail, while the second is to start at the Twin Gates Trailhead and follow the Canada de Pala Trail along a ridgeline for most of the way. I chose to hike to Antler Point from the Twin Gates Trailhead, as the ridgeline route provides sweeping panoramas over the complete course of the hike and has slightly less elevation gain.

I hiked to Antler Point on a sunny late December day, after a recent storm had dropped a dusting of snow atop Mount Hamilton. From San Jose, I took Alum Rock Ave (Highway 130) east into the Diablo Range. Highway 130 became extremely windy as it entered the mountains but straightened out as it entered Halls Valley. After passing the main entrance to Grant County Park, the road became extremely windy again; just over 3 miles past the park entrance, the road came to a saddle and the Twin Gates Trailhead lay on the left (north) side of the road here. There was a small parking lot here with room for about 10 cars and a porta-potty; the $6 Grant County Park entrance fee is not collected at this trailhead.

I passed through a gate to get started on the Canada de Pala Trail, a wide dirt road trace that ascended past an initial grove of oaks onto the grassy crest of a ridge. The trail ascended steadily over the first __ miles along the top of the ridge, passing underneath a set of power lines and passing by a junction with the Yerba Buena Trail at 0.5 miles. Views quickly opened up, with lovely southerly and westerly panoramas covering Halls Valley and the distant Gabilan and Santa Lucia Ranges. El Toro, a small but distinctive peak near Morgan Hill, was easily recognizable from here. Mount Tam made its only appearance of the hike here, appearing far to the north; on the day of my hike, the Bay itself was shrouded in fog all morning even though the higher elevations were clear, so I had a lovely view of Mount Tam rising above a sea of fog.

View over the hills of Grant Park, Mount Tam in the distance
Santa Lucia Range from Canada de Pala Trail
Mount Hamilton soon came into view to the east, rising on the other side of Smith Creek’s canyon. Stormy and cold weather during the days preceding my hike had dusted Mount Hamilton’s summit in snow; the mountain’s fresh white coat matched the domes of the Lick Observatory that cap its summit. Mount Hamilton is the tallest mountain on the southern end of the Bay, reaching 4265 feet, so it receives snow more often than any other South Bay peak.

The Lick Observatory atop snowy Mount Hamilton
At 0.7 miles, the Canada de Pala Trail leveled out as it arrived on the crest of the ridge. The trail undulated with the ups and downs of the ridge over the next mile, with lovely views throughout. The trail stayed to the left of an initial high point along the ridge, passing a small pond to the left; benches placed every mile or so along the trail made for nice stopping points to enjoy the views.

The ridge along the Canada de Pala Trail
After a long stint on the ridge, the Canada de Pala Trail descended towards a saddle, passing a junction with Los Huecos Trail at 1.8 miles. At 2.2 miles, the trail passed a junction with the Halls Valley Trail coming up from the Grant Lake from the left and shortly afterward arrived at the low point along the ridge. From here, the trail followed the ridge as it began rising towards Antler Point to the north, starting the most sustained ascent of the hike with over 400 feet of elevation gain over the next mile. Views down into Halls Valley were especially scenic in this section, with Grant Lake visible beneath the grassy hills bounding the valley to the west and pretty oak woodlands covering the north-facing aspects of the tributary ridges. I was very taken by the wildness of this view, which was accentuated by a bobcat crossing the trail in front of me.

Bobcat in the ridgetop grasslands
At 2.7 miles into the hike, I came to a junction where the Canada de Pala Trail split from the Pala Seca Trail. Here, the Canada de Pala Trail headed off to the left and departed from its ridgetop perch; the Pala Seca Trail took over the ridgetop route instead, branching off to the right. I took the Pala Seca Trail, which made a sustained ascent over the next half mile to reach the undulating crest of the ridge at 3.2 miles. As we emerged onto this crest, we could see Antler Point rising at the far end of the grassy ridge.

The Pala Seca Trail winds through grasslands towards Antler Point
I followed the Pala Seca Trail along the flat top of the grassy ridge, enjoying some views of Mount Hamilton, Smith Creek’s deep canyon, and the many layers of ridges of the Diablo Range to the east. At 4 miles from the trailhead, the Antler Point Trail branched off to the right from the Pala Seca Trail next to a bench with a view of San Jose. Here, the dirt road hiking ended: the Antler Point Trail was a single-track path traveling through tall grass.

San Jose in a shroud of haze
I followed the Antler Point Trail for a final 0.4 miles to the end of the ridge, arriving at Antler Point itself at just under 4.5 miles from the trailhead. The end of the trail here was not actually at the highest point on the ridge, a 2999-foot local maxima that lay just to the east; however, this slightly lower peak rose like the prow of a ship above Santa Clara Valley and thus provided the best views. From the summit, I could see the skyline of downtown San Jose, the long strip of San Jose International Airport, and San Francisco Bay itself to the north; the Santa Cruz Mountains, including Loma Prieta, Mount Umunhum, and Black Mountain, rose on the other side of the valley, forming the western bound of a valley that has driven a global technological revolution over the past half-century. The views south along the grassy ridges that I had hiked along to get to Antler Point was lovely as well, the afternoon light turning the mix of green and grey vegetation into a silvery sheen.

El Toro and Fremont Peak to the south
Rolling grassy ridges of Grant County Park
The Pala Seca Trail in the shadow of Mount Hamilton
Santa Clara Valley and the Santa Cruz Mountains from Antler Point
After eating a light lunch and enjoying the views, I retraced my steps to the trailhead. Except for the area directly around the Twin Gates Trailhead, I saw just five other hikers all day on this trail, so this is a far quieter hike than some of the too-well-loved hikes that are a bit closer to the Bay Area. The road to get to Twin Gates is a bit twisty, but otherwise there’s little reason for Bay Area hikers looking for a quiet and scenic outing to skip the hike to Antler Point. Bring water, avoid hot days, and hike during winter or spring when the hills are greener.

Wednesday, December 7, 2022

Whale Gulch

The Lost Coast
5 miles round trip, 700 feet elevation gain
Difficulty: Easy-moderate
Access: Rough dirt road to the trailhead (high clearance advised), Sinkyone Wilderness State Park entrance fee required

Sinkyone Wilderness State Park protects some of the most spectacular and undeveloped stretches of California's largely roadless Lost Coast and the hike from Needle Rock to Whale Gulch is a relatively easy excursion that visits some of the area's most stunning seaside scenery. The Lost Coast is one of California's great gems: while the more popular access point at Shelter Cove is already gradually being discovered, the Sinkyone Wilderness stretch of the Lost Coast is still far off the beaten path. This lovely hike follows grassy coastal bluffs with fabulous views to two pristine black sand beaches and ends at the bottom of lush, fern-filled Whale Gulch. If you come, you're likely to see more elk than people.

The drive to get to the trailhead at Needle Rock Visitor Center in Sinkyone Wilderness State Park is quite an ordeal: the park is about an hour and a half from US 101 on winding country roads that are narrow, potholed, and eventually unpaved. The trailhead is 2.5 hours from Eureka, 3 hours from Ukiah, and over 5 hours driving from the San Francisco Bay Area, so it makes sense to save this hike for a trip to this corner of the coast unless you live nearby. A higher clearance vehicle can be useful on the drive to reach the trailhead; although I made it in a standard clearance compact car, my car really struggled at points.

Redway and Garberville are the closest towns with services. Whether you arrive from the north or the south on Highway 101, take the exit for Redway, which will put you on Redwood Drive; follow this road into downtown Redway and turn west onto Briceland Road, at the Shop Smart grocery store. Follow the windy but paved Briceland Road west for 12 miles across the Eel River and through the town of Briceland to a split between the roads to Whitethorn and Shelter Cove; take the left fork to continue towards Whitethorn. The road stayed divided and paved for the next 4 miles through Whitethorn; after passing through this village, the road divide ended. The road became windier and narrower as it ascended until it reached a saddle and a junction with Usal Road at 22 miles from Redway. The pavement ended here; I drove through the junction to continue following Briceland Road, which turned into a rough gravel road that descended steeply through the forest and was only wide enough to accomodate a single vehicle in both directions. I followed the gravel road for a bumpy final 4 miles downhill to the Needle Rock Visitor Center, encountering a few spots along the way that almost seemed like too much for my front-wheel drive standard clearance compact car. There was parking for over 10 cars outside the visitor center but I was the only car present on the day of my visit; this location is so remote that it's hard to imagine the parking ever fills. A state park entrance fee is collected in fee envelopes; bring cash or come with a valid California State Parks pass.

The hike to Whale Gulch follows a two-and-a-half-mile stretch of the Lost Coast Trail north from Needle Rock Visitor Center. The first mile is perhaps the most consistently spectacular, with constant views of the coast from grassy benches on the way to the junction for Jones Beach. After the short detour down to Jones Beach, the Lost Coast Trail continues another mile to the mouth of Whale Gulch, where there is informal access down to the black sands of Whale Gulch Beach. The final half mile leaves the coast and ascends into a lush ravine, ending where the Lost Coast Trail crosses the stream.

From the parking area by the visitor center, I backtracked slightly along the road for fifty meters to reach a wooden shelter. The Lost Coast Trail broke off from the road and led downhill to the coastal bluffs here, marked clearly with a sign. Upon reaching the coastal cliffs and my first direct view over the Pacific of the hike, I found the area's eponymous Needle Rock at the base of the cliffs, with surf crashing through its natural multi-legged arch with the arrival of every wave.

Needle Rock
After kicking things off with this beautiful coastal view, the Lost Coast Trail had consistently scenery over roughly the next mile. The view to the north was especially beautiful- in fact, the scene of Chemise Mountain's forested slopes dropping steeply to meet the waters of the Pacific is, in my opinion, one of the most spectacular and iconic views of California's entire Pacific coast. The trail followed the cliffs along an open stretch of brushy terraces here, providing the open conditions that allowed for continuous views.

Chemise Mountain and the Lost Coast
The trail left the coast at only a few points, typically ducking inland just briefly to cross over small gullies carved into the coastal terraces here. Despite the trail's remoteness, most of these gully crossings were on well-built wooden bridges that belied the region's true wilderness character.

Sinkyone Wilderness coast
Views of Chemise Mountain and the Lost Coast featured front and center as I continued hiking northward along the Lost Coast Trail. The Lost Coast is so named because it is the longest roadless stretch of Pacific coastline within the contiguous United States. When US 101 and Highway 1 were built in the twentieth century, they went around this extraordinarily rugged stretch of coast. As a result, the coast north of Fort Bragg and south of Eureka is largely wilderness, with a few exceptions such as the road to Needle Rock and a separate road to Shelter Cove, the only true seaside town of the Lost Coast. The most famous stretch of the Lost Coast lies between Shelter Cove and Mattole Road, to the north; although the stretch of the Lost Coast in Sinkyone Wilderness is even quieter than other parts of this already unpeopled seascape, it is clearly no less beautiful.

Lost Coast Trail on the way to Whale Gulch

Waves on the Pacific
At about a mile from the trailhead, the Lost Coast Trail came to a distinctive grove of eucalyptus trees. The grove nestled the Jones Beach campsite, while the trail to Jones Beach led downhill to the left from the grove. At this junction, I spotted a large herd of Roosevelt elk, numbering well over 30 elk. The elk were resting in the grassy and brushy slopes leading down to the beach; as some of them were quite close to the trail, I had to wait a while until the elk migrated away from the trail to actually take the detour to Jones Beach.

Elk herd near Jones Beach
The trail to Jones Beach was short, leading downhill through grassy slopes before dropping steeply into a rocky gully and then following that gully out to the coast.

Jones Beach was generally pretty rocky but also had some stretches of the beautiful black sand that is so distinctive to the beaches of the Lost Coast. An impressive line of cliffs rose directly behind the beach and continued northwards to become the great rocky bluffs of Chemise Mountain.

Jones Beach
Returning to the eucalyptus grove, I took a left on the Lost Coast Trail and continued north towards Whale Gulch. The trail became somewhat less scenic and pleasant past this point, leaving the coastal terrace that it had followed for the first mile. The heavily vegetated trail veered away from the coast and stayed high above a creek gully, with the ridge opposite the creek separating the trail from views of the ocean. Here, the Lost Coast Trail passed through a mix of forest, brush, and some swampy stretches. 

The Lost Coast
At just under two miles, the Lost Coast Trail reemerged onto an open slope with sweeping ocean views. Chemise Mountain's steep cliffs rose directly to the north and below I could see the black sands of Whale Gulch Beach, with Whale Gulch Creek flowing into the Pacific.

Whale Gulch Creek and Chemise Mountain
While the view of Whale Gulch Beach from the Lost Coast Trail was already beautiful, the trail did not provide direct access to the beach, which was nearly 200 feet downhill from the trail. Instead, the only way down was via a faint social trail down the steep grassy slope. The path was not well established, but it was reasonably easy to discern a cross-country route down towards the beach regardless. The social path ended leading to a break in the coastal cliffs directly above the mouth of Whale Gulch Creek; the view of the creek emerging from a wild canyon to meet the ocean on a black sand beach was very striking. From this break in the cliffs, a very steep path dropped down to the beach itself.

Whale Gulch Beach
Whale Gulch Beach was one of the highlights of this hike: here, the waves of the Pacific crashed onto a smooth playa of brilliant black sand. I had this spectacular black sand beach all to myself; this stretch of the coast truly felt lost and overlooked.

The black sands of Whale Gulch Beach
Returning uphill to the Lost Coast Trail, I continued heading northward. The trail left the immediate coastline and began ascending as it traced a mountainside high above Whale Gulch. This high vantage point provided views down Whale Gulch to the Pacific and across the gulch to Chemise Mountain's extremely steep slopes.

Chemise Mountain and Whale Gulch
The trail reached a high point and then began to descend into Whale Gulch itself, hugging a steep mountainside as it gradually dropped into the fern-choked canyon. Whale Gulch was almost indescribably lush and a satisfying conclusion to the hike. As I descended into the canyon, I looked below the trail and saw the gulch's near-vertical walls coated with ferns- this was a sight as verdant as any on the Northern California coast and a match for the Fern Canyons of Mendocino and Redwood National Park. At a little under 2.5 miles from the trailhead, the Lost Coast Trail reached the bottom of Whale Gulch and crossed Whale Gulch Creek, a lovely and lush stopping point.

Fern-choked Whale Gulch
The Lost Coast Trail continued past Whale Gulch, climbing over Chemise Mountain en route to Shelter Cove and the more frequented northern-reaches of the trail. I chose to turn around at this point, as the most spectacular coastal stretches of the trail in Sinkyone Wilderness State Park ended at Whale Gulch Beach.

I did not see a single other human being on this hike- indeed, I didn't even see another car until I got back to Whitethorn (visiting on a January weekday might the primary cause of this, though). This is one of the most underrated and spectacular coastal hikes in the state of California and a perfect way to experience a small stretch of the Lost Coast on an easy day hike. Don't miss it.