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DEFINITELY TAKE THE TIME to stare up in wonder at our giant trees but don't overlook the "coast" in Redwood Coast. Humboldt County boasts several expansive beaches inviting contemplation, lengthy conversations and another chance to savor the region's endless beauty.

Safety: Before we stroll, a note about safety: The ocean here is often big and always cold. Do not make the mistake of underestimating its power. Check your weather app for any sneaker wave or large swell warnings, know if the tide is coming in or going out, and always pay attention to the ocean while you walk. Make sure your phone or other GPS device is fully charged. Wear layers! Humboldt's weather, especially right on the coast, can change every 15 minutes from clear to foggy, and back again.

Accessibility: Beach wheelchairs are available, too! Contact Friends of the Dunes Nature Center at (707) 444-1397 or [email protected] for use in Manila, or the Trinidad Coastal Land Trust at (707) 677-2501 or [email protected] for use at Moonstone Beach.

Now that you're prepared, here are three of Northern Humboldt's most easily reached, inspirational sandy strolls.

click to enlarge Manila Beach - PHOTO BY  JENNIFER SAVAGE
  • Photo by Jennifer Savage
  • Manila Beach

Manila to Mad River

Much of what makes the North Coast spectacular — steep bluffs and semi-hidden coves surrounded by forest — also limits options when seeking a place for a long beach walk. The approximate 15-mile stretch between the Humboldt Bay Harbor entrance and the mouth of the Mad River may well offer the longest opportunity to trek with your toes in the sand. Maximize the experience by starting out at the Friends of the Dunes Nature Center, easily found off State Route 255 in the unincorporated town of Manila. Park at the center, stop in for a dune species identification guide, then take the trail out to the beach. Notice how the restored dunes to the north feature far more diversity than those to the south. Expect to see beach buckwheat, yellow sand verbena and beach strawberry coloring the dunes. Keep an eye to the sky for seasonal pelicans and osprey, too. Hawks of many varieties are likely to make an appearance. The trail leads to the beach, so once there, turn north and enjoy the wide-open ocean on one side and ever-morphing dunes on the other.

Logistics: The Nature Center is a can't-miss architectural structure and has the only available restrooms for this journey. The walk from parking lot to beach is about a half mile and, once on the beach, there's no shortcut back.

Dogs: Allowed leashed on the trails and under voice control on the wave slope (where the sand is wet from the lapping waves) on Manila Beach and Ma-l'el Dunes South, but not allowed in the dunes at Ma-l'el Dunes North or Lamphere. If you bring your pup and want a walk longer than a couple miles, walk to the south instead.

Moonstone to Clam Beach

Moonstone Beach is one of Humboldt's most popular outdoor gathering spots for good reason. With an expansive beach, generally friendly surf, opportunities to boulder and rock climb, and the mellow Little River meandering through the sand, Moonstone offers plenty. That includes walking 2 miles south to Clam Beach. Traverse south along the dunes, watching for seals, sea lions and, in the springtime, gray whales making appearances offshore. Turn around and see the majesty of Camel Rock and Trinidad Head to the north as you return. (If the tide is low and still outgoing, keep walking past the waterfall north of Moonstone and scope out the tidepools around Houda Point.)

Logistics: Moonstone is just a few minutes off U.S. Highway 101 and close to both McKinleyville and Trinidad, so fueling up with breakfast or lunch nearby, or rewarding yourself with dinner, is easy and highly recommended. On a less crowded day, Moonstone offers ample parking. On busy days, you may find yourself having to walk farther than expected and down the steep, paved road to get to the sand. The only "restroom" is a porta-potty — plan accordingly.

Dogs: Allowed, must be under voice control at Moonstone. Once at Clam Beach, leash laws vary depending on time of year due to the need to protect nesting snowy plovers. From March to September, dogs are permitted on Clam Beach on leash only, except if on the wave slope and responsive to voice command. From October to February, dogs can play off-leash, as long as they stay within 30 feet of their owner and are kept under control.

click to enlarge Gold Bluffs Beach - PHOTO BY  JENNIFER SAVAGE
  • Photo by Jennifer Savage
  • Gold Bluffs Beach

Gold Bluffs Beach

Adjacent to Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park, Gold Bluffs Beach offers several miles of walking alongside rugged bluffs and imposing trees, a chance to marvel at the size of the driftwood and the occasional elk herd, and an eyes-on lesson in biodiversity. Gold Bluffs Beach bridges the forest sanctuary with the offshore Reading Rock State Marine Protected Area, the northernmost in Humboldt County. This means that in addition to elk, you may see sand crabs, western sandpipers, sanderlings and other shorebirds seeking meals at water's edge. Don't be surprised if curious seals and alert sea lions pop their heads up among the waves. Come back in the spring and you may even see the double-plumed spout of migrating gray whales.

Logistics: Allow yourself at least two hours of beach time and at least an hour on either side for the drive. From U.S. Highway 101, the journey to Gold Bluffs Beach takes about 20 minutes on Davidson Road. Also, from May 15 to Sept. 15, you'll need a Gold Bluffs Beach/Fern Canyon Parking permit, available through nps.gov/redw/planyourvisit//ferncanyonpermits.htm.

Dogs: Allowed, must be leashed.

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Jennifer Savage

Jennifer Savage

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