Saturday, November 1, 2014

The Yachats 804 Trail: A Surfside Hike for Everyone

Ancient feet walked these bluffs, followed by horses and cars on an early highway. I have pushed a wheelchair on this path, walking over shell middens alongside the stormy Pacific . It may not be a wilderness experience, but anyone can come here and look into the hearts of the waves at any time of the year. It is one of our favorite places.

A great advantage of this trail is that it is conveniently divided into three sections, so it's easy at any point to ditch the hike idea and head for the car. Readers who are familiar with Oregon's coastal weather will appreciate this feature; anything can happen at any time!

The northern section leads from the Smelt Sands parking area along low cliffs and beside a quiet neighborhood of motels and residences. While it is less than a mile one way, it ends at a long, sandy beach, so it is easily combined with a beach walk. This whole segment is close to the ocean and one could spend hours here with a camera, waiting for the perfect shot of the perfect wave (hint: it will arrive while you are changing your camera batteries).

View from the parking lot
with Cape Perpetua in the distance.

The middle section also starts at Smelt Sands. Heading south along bluffs and through neighborhoods, it is not as scenic, but it provides a link between the segments, ending at a State Parks parking lot. Believe it or not, this parking area is not to be missed. We have enjoyed many a rained-out picnic in our car, watching waves run up the pretty little Yachats River.

The southern section follows the highway for a while, then heads into another cliffside neighborhood. You will be walking on a road all the way, but the views and wave watching are worth it; look for a modest spouting horn near one of the pullouts. This is another favorite retreat when we end up confined to our car.

Of course, if a storm comes in and hiking becomes miserable, there is always the town of Yachats. Small shops and restaurants offer shelter and warmth. Don't be embarrassed if you look like a drowned rat; they see this all of the time. After all, they live here.

Walking the 804 Trail
Smelt Sands Recreation Site is on the north end of Yachats. Watch for the sign (blink and you'll miss it) and turn west on Lemwick Lane, a modest gravel street. Follow it to a parking area with restrooms and several signs warning of the dangers you may encounter here. In a nutshell: the ocean is big. Very big. It's not watching for you, so you have to keep watch on it.

Park and turn right onto the pathway to walk the northern section of the trail. This part of the path is wide and made of sandy dirt topped with fine gravel. It makes a nice walking surface, but expect puddles and some erosion in places. There are benches in particularly scenic spots. This section is accessible for wheelchairs up to a point; then, the path deteriorates a little and becomes more difficult. I have made it all the way to the beach access, but I can't recommend it for the average wheelchair user. I am more stubborn than most, and my passenger was of a particularly plucky nature. The beach access itself can be extremely slippery at any time of the year; please use caution.

The middle section is to the left from the Smelt Sands parking lot, although it may not appear to be. Yes, the motel lawn is part of the trail. Follow the top of the bluffs to pick up the trail again. At one point, the path squeezes between two split-rail fences, which always makes me feel like a fattened calf heading to the slaughter. Continue to a residential street, then more path. Eventually the path follows a paved road to the state park, where there are picnic tables and restrooms. This section of the trail is a little odd, passing as it does through a series of neighborhoods and sometimes leaving the ocean altogether. It is probably the least suited for wheelchair travel, and in fact it can be omitted completely by driving to the State Park.

To find the park, drive into Yachats and turn west on W 2nd street. Follow 2nd through a charming, beachy neighborhood until you reach the parking lot. Groups of disgruntled seagulls loiter here during inclement weather, cracking mussels and complaining. Don't leave your picnic unattended.

From here, it is a pleasant walk above the river toward the highway. Walk the highway shoulder over the bridge, then turn onto Yachats Ocean Road to walk the south section. To avoid walking on the highway, drive over and park anywhere alongside the road. This whole section is paved but runs along the bluffs the whole way, making it perfect for visitors who have difficulty walking.

While You Are In the Area
There is a short, steep path accessing a lovely little beach from Yachats Ocean Road. The Yachats River, known for its steelhead fishing, empties into the ocean here (check current regulations). The small, scenic river can be paddled, but tends to be a maze of snags.

Most of the campgrounds in the area are seasonal, but Tillicum Beach Campground, a few miles north of town, offers year-round camping. Amenities are simple, but the views and immediate beach access more than make up for the lack of showers. The best part of going in the off-season is that beautiful oceanside sites are actually available! There are pull-in, pull-through, and tent sites, some of which are surprisingly sheltered from beach winds.

Cape Perpetua, with its miles of trails, is just to the south. This area will be covered separately in a future post. Be aware that downed trees and slick trails are common during late fall through early spring and prepare accordingly if you wish to explore the Cape.

Photos in this posting by Sally Gosen Case

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