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Hike to Thunder Rock Cove can crackle or calm

Samuel Boardman was Oregon's first parks superintendent, and he built a career on the vision of securing the future of public places.

A road engineer by trade, he went on to negotiate with private landowners to donate or sell their property below market value for the greater good.

The culmination of his career came with the Samuel Boardman State Scenic Corridor. The park runs 12 miles along the Southern Oregon Coast between Brookings and Gold Beach and is one of the most contiguous undeveloped slices of the Oregon Coast.

It almost has too many beaches and coves from which to choose. Many of them you can drive right up to, and others take a longer hike. The corridor is connected by the Oregon Coast Trail, with multiple detours and feeders, and countless route options.

One hike that stands out is the 3/4-mile trail to Thunder Rock Cove, and nearby Secret Beach. From Brookings, head north on Highway 101. At the north end of the Samuel Boardman State Corridor is Thunder Rock Cove. If you reach Arch Rock viewpoint, you've gone too far north. If you're coming from the north and you reach Natural Bridges viewpoint, you've gone too far south.

The Thunder Rock Cove viewpoint is a little more tucked away than some of the others. From the parking area, the trail winds north to a junction within a few minutes. Head right. The trail reaches another junction. Head right again, down into a dewey draw lined with spruce, hemlock and fir.

You'll reach the precipice of a bluff where you can peer over into Thunder Rock Cove, or if you're not excited about heights, just continue on into a soggy ravine.

At almost 3/4 of a mile, you'll come across a bridge crossing a narrow gorge that can be quite impressive when the creeks are swollen. It swells and boils at a steep pace through the tight canyon of Miner Creek. Continue on to where the creek forms a waterfall that lands right on the beach.

Read the tide tables, and don't get caught unprepared in the cove. But when the conditions are right, walk out around a bend to a nice beach. On hot summer days, it feels like paradise here, and with the calm surf, it's a great place to jump into the Pacific. And a great place to just listen.

The waves come in at just the right moment and such an angle that their crash reverberates and ricochets off the rocks like in a stadium, producing a mighty crack that really does resemble thunder. The outcrops that pepper Thunder Rock Cove break the waves, and sometimes the surf is downright calm. Other times it charges violently onto the shore, tosses around drift wood and consumes the entire beach.

As the waterfall roars and the waves crack along this undeveloped cove, it's easy to see why Samuel Boardman made it his life's work to conserve places like Thunder Rock Cove in perpetuity.

The hike back has some steep pitches up, but is pretty moderate. When it's raining, expect some mud. Roundtrip, the hike is about 1.5 miles, but you can extend it by going farther out on the Oregon Coast Trail, or take a loop that connects the two junctions.

To download a Samuel Boardman State Corridor Map, see http://bit.ly/1Rwgs7o

Freelance writer Gabriel Howe is executive director and field coordinator for the Siskiyou Mountain Club. Contact him at howegabe@gmail.com.

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A swollen Miner Creek is visible from a bridge crossing.
Old growth lines the trail to Thunder Rock Cove.