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#ExploreHumboldt: Hammond Trail and the North Coast

Hammond Trail and Scenic Drive offer numerous natural areas to visit

Hello and welcome to the #ExploreHumboldt column, the HSU student source for the most stunningly scenic natural areas close by. For this week’s column, I’m doing something a little different.

Instead of giving you one condensed area to check out, I’ll be going over some of my favorite spots along the stretch of coastline just north of here. This article barely scratches the surface of what’s out there, so as always use this as a guide for your own adventures.

The Hammond Trail starts at the Mad River Bridge in the Arcata bottoms. | Photo by Jett Williams

It all starts with the Hammond Trail. This 5.5-mile, mostly paved line follows the coast up from the Arcata bottoms to Clam Beach, just north of McKinleyville. To get there, take Janes Road to Upper Bay Road, and turn right onto Mad River Road. Follow this until you come to the trailhead.

Hammond Trail starts at an old footbridge spanning the Mad River, decorated with typical Humboldt graffiti and a series of padlocks attached to the rusty chain-link fence. The trail was voted “Best Place to Walk, Jog or Bike” in a Times-Standard poll, and alternates between roads and paved pedestrian trail as you make your way through McKinleyville.

The Mad River bridge has several padlocks, ranging from rusty and old to fresh, dangling from its chain links. | Photo by Jett Williams

After meandering along for roughly 5 miles, you will make your way to Clam Beach County Park. This spot offers sandy beach access, paid camping spots and scenic picnic tables with BBQ pits. A solid destination for a weekend excursion, or a nice rest spot during a run or bike ride, but the best locations are still further north.

Unfortunately, this is as far as the Hammond Trail goes. To get to the real goods along the aptly-named Scenic Drive, you can take your vehicle of choice onto the freeway at the end of Clam Beach Drive, then take the first exit for Westhaven Drive. Turn left, then right to continue north on Scenic.

The Hammond Trail has an optional section for hikers only that traces the local watershed, and provides a quieter hiking option. | Photo by Jett Williams

If you’re on foot or don’t feel like biking on 101, it’s probably better to park in Clam Beach, walk the trail, then come back and drive to Scenic. There are plenty of places to park once you reach the road. Alternatively, you could park in Trinidad and ride a bike down the road from there.

It should be noted that taking a bike on the freeway carries a whole host of extra risks, and should not be done frivolously. Wear bright colors and use a daytime taillight to ensure that you’re seen by motorists, never take longer on the freeway than you absolutely have to and don’t forget your helmet!

Multiple footbridges like this one can be found along the Hammond Trail. | Photo by Jett Williams

Scenic Drive is aptly named, and first-timers will find it difficult to keep their eyes on the road as they’re treated to vista after vista of rugged northern coastline. But sections of the road turn unexpectedly to gravel and it becomes single-lane in a few areas, so it’s best to keep your wits about you.

Around every corner are turnouts and parking lots for the many beaches and access points along the road. One of my personal favorites is Baker Beach. This secluded beach is dotted with monstrous coastal boulders, scalable at low tide but inaccessible when the waves roll in. Baker Beach is also clothing-optional, but you won’t get kicked out if you prefer to keep it in your pants.

Baker Beach provides scenic seclusion. During low tide, one can climb the rocks in the center frame. | Photo by Jett Williams

Near this beach are two of my favorite spots, a hidden swing that looks to the southern coast, and a treehouse platform with two chairs that looks to the north with mind-blowing views of Trinidad Head. Not all spots are for everyone, so I’ll leave the details of the exact location up to you to find. If you get out to the beach, finding these locations is fairly straightforward as long as you look around.

After Baker Beach, it’s a short jaunt along Scenic Drive to get to Trinidad. While you’re there, check out The Lighthouse Grill. I recommend the Mashed Potato Cone (a Lighthouse Grill staple) and the Jalapeño Jelly Burger (an acquired taste).

The access trail to Baker Beach is clearly not handicapped-accessible. | Photo by Jett Williams

The best thing about this stretch of coastline is its different options. You can park in Trinidad and bike south along Scenic, park at Clam Beach and jog or walk south or leave from Arcata and ride the whole thing.

Whatever you decide, the point is to do something. Make these days count, as soon we’ll be trapped under an oppressive sheet of rain. Find some time, and don’t forget to #ExploreHumboldt.

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