Trail offers choice

By Gabriel Chatman May 17, 2013 10:07 pm

At the base of the left fork of the trail from House Rock Viewpoint to the south end of Whaleshead Beach, hikers are greeted by a rocky coastline. The Pilot/Gabriel Chatman
At the base of the left fork of the trail from House Rock Viewpoint to the south end of Whaleshead Beach, hikers are greeted by a rocky coastline. The Pilot/Gabriel Chatman
Last time I covered Lone Ranch Beach to House Rock Viewpoint (Pilot, Saturday, March 30). 

This time we pick back up at House Rock Viewpoint, heading north to Whaleshead. This is a longer trek with several exceptional views, so packing a picnic lunch is a fun option. 

I love this trail because it is one of the few coastal trails that features a fork in the path, with each option being distinctly different. Also, it’s mostly downhill from House Rock to Whaleshead, which is a bonus for my present fitness level.

In the north corner of the House Rock Viewpoint parking lot there is a post marked Coastal Trail. Follow it and you will immediately enter into a dense grove of trees. A tight corridor carved through the grove marks the beginning of your trek. Very dark. Very still. The only sounds will be the ocean in the distance and the rare solitary bird call. 

A few hundred yards up the trail a large stand of trees opens before you. The canopy looms 30-40 feet overhead, full of life. Below, the limbs are skeletal. Dead or dying. If you observe carefully, decomposition is occurring all over the forest floor.

Be on the lookout for salal brush, huckleberry and salmonberry bushes and ferns everywhere. Along the way, you will cross three footbridges with handrails, each with its own unique creek or tributary running beneath.

After approximately 30 minutes, you will arrive at the clearly labeled fork. The post on the left should read “beach to whales,” but some clever, beer-minded hiker rubbed off the second ‘h’ so it reads “beach tow ales.” It leads to Whaleshead Beach. The post on the right marks the trail to Whaleshead Viewpoint.

Right Fork

Thirty minutes of relatively flat hiking remains before the trail terminates at Whaleshead Viewpoint. Along the way the highway is always within eyeshot, which is somewhat of a distraction from the natural element. Also, the trail pops out on the highway twice along the way, requiring you to walk 50 yards of highway each, which can be dangerous for those hiking with children. 

On the plus side of this path, if you listen closely, you will hear waterfalls not initially visible from the trail. With some investigation, you’ll find them — the ultimate compensation for hiking alongside traffic.

You will come to a second fork, which is actually a short loop. Follow the path left and, before it loops back to the main trail you will come to a sheer rock face with water cascading over rocks below. Both powerful and exhilarating, at less than 10 feet away, you can feel the mist.

The second falls are visible from the main trail, though far below. There are three distinct drops, each with a pool underneath catching water, ringed with boulders. You may find yourself in a trance and lose track of time. Majestic, to say the least.

Once you arrive at Whaleshead Viewpoint, turn around and head south. If you are attempting to hike multiple sections of the Coastal Trail at once, be aware that you will have to hike half a mile alongside the highway to the next trail segment at Whaleshead Beach.

Left Fork

You’ll be at the south end of Whaleshead Beach within 10 minutes. However, the trail is very steep and not easily traversable; one section has several steps and a rope to assist in descent. Below is a grassy hillside which can be marshy, depending on the time of year. Either way, the view is amazing.

It would be wise to check the tide books before you hike. At high tide, you may get wet. 

Along the beach there are three points of interest, two of which are the upward views of the waterfalls I mentioned earlier. I can’t say which perspective is more captivating, so you will have to try both and judge for yourself. The other is a small cave (10-12 feet tall, 15 feet deep) with a sea-facing entrance and a rearward skylight.

As the beach finally curves toward the parking lot you will notice a post on your right, signifying a short trail leading from the beach to the parking lot. At the lot, another post signifies a trail leading to the next trailhead up the hill. 

The beach route offers uninterrupted nature, and is the only way to avoid walking on the highway; although the beach access trail is more rugged. 

Whichever path you choose, allow yourself approximately one hour for northward travel, about 1.5 hours for the trip back south (as it is mostly uphill).

Don’t forget your water, snack and a jacket.