Cardio on the coast

The 27-mile trail through Samuel H. Boardman State Park steals the breath in more ways than one
Secret BeachCourtesy of Nancy McClain

Triple-digit temperatures are baking the Rogue Valley, but here in the coastal rainforest, the air is just nudging 70. We're switchbacking up a trail out of Jurassic Park, the ferns up to our chests beneath a canopy of 300-year-old Sitka spruce that deaden sound and turn afternoon into evening.

We're trying to make time in an attempt to cover a dozen miles before dinner, but stands of tiger lilies, Oregon iris, cat's ear and other forest gems demand to have their photos taken, slowing our progress.

Just as our eyes adjust to the twilight beneath the old-growth and our breathing shortens from the climb, the trail dips toward the ocean, turns a corner and — bam! — Mother Nature punches us in the eye with a view that elicits involuntary utterances.




Out come the cameras in more feeble attempts to capture the majesty of surf pounding through natural stone archways as brown pelicans float above sea stacks encrusted with mussel middens.

Forget about making time on the coastal trail through Samuel H. Boardman State Park, a 27-mile stretch of oohs and ahhs tucked along U.S. Highway 101 between Brookings and Gold Beach.

When we're not giddy over the views from sheer cliffs, we're drunk on waterfalls cascading onto hidden beaches or seduced by carpets of wildflowers on sun-bathed promontories.

We'd started the hike with a view of Arch Rock, just one of the thousand commonplace abnormalities that litter the Southern Oregon coast, with plans to eat lunch on China Beach roughly six serpentine miles away. But who knew we'd stumble across Secret Beach, where two waterfalls drop onto the sand as 100 or more pelicans fish in a secluded cove?

Rushing seems sacrilegious. But with eye candy around every corner, the urge to push on is relentless. We've never seen the Natural Bridges a couple miles ahead ... or Thunder Rock Cove ... or Spruce Island, so we're constantly torn between savoring the visible and chasing the next big thrill.

The Samuel Boardman trail starts two miles north of Brookings, just past Harris Beach State Park and ends just south of Pistol River State Park. The trail runs parallel to Highway 101, rising, dipping and twisting along the coastline. With scenic turnouts and parking areas every few miles along the scenic corridor, you have your choice of places to start a hike.

At 27 miles in length, the trail is too long for most people to bite off in one day. But if you invest a couple of weekends, it's a relatively easy trail to accomplish in a series of day hikes.

Which is not to say the trail doesn't provide a workout.

The path rises and falls along its entire length, sometimes snaking up to viewpoints such as Cape Ferello, at other times descending to sea level as it crosses places such as Whaleshead Beach and China Beach. While there's nothing as demanding as a Cascade Mountains peak, there's rarely any flat ground, either, so you'll get a good cardiovascular tune-up from the walk — not to mention almost constant hyperventilation from breath-stealing beauty.

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