Categories: CampingGuides & hacks

How I Conquered the California Coast & the Samuel H. Boardman Scenic Corridor Alone

Brookings, Oregon left me in awe thanks to its rocky cliffs, turquoise tides and redwood-ridden shores. Its main attraction is the Samuel H. Boardman Scenic Corridor, a long row on the 101 Highway of hidden coves and beaches tucked away. Within these beaches are narrow, secluded hikes, whose paths lead to viewpoints of waves, forest and wind. As a petite, 23-year-old woman of 5’0, the idea of doing a road trip by myself initially seemed like a daunting task. I’d grown up hearing warnings to constantly be alert and careful of my surroundings. How was I going to drive over 40 hours by myself up the coast?

Natural Bridges in Brookings, Oregon

At the time, however, I had also just finished one of the hardest emotional years of my life—my first year out of college and into the real world. I was tired, relieved and ready to seek an escape, and I’d been forever obsessed with the lush, secluded grandeur of Oregon’s Southern Coast. This time, I was ready to take off, and I didn’t care whether I was going alone or not. With a couple of months of research and several campsites booked later, I was ready to conquer Northern California and the Oregon Coast.

Being on my first solo road trip prompted a lot of questions — What was I going to do without cellular service? Who was I going to talk to during those seven-hour drives in between destinations? As a millennial, I’ve grown up in an era where information has always been at the tip of my fingers, a friend has always been just a text message away, and Google Maps is always at the ready with alternative routes. Without an answer to these questions, I still dragged my beat up 1997 Honda Accord and trekked from Los Angeles to the land of nature and beer: Bend, Oregon. Along the way, I made stops in Mendocino, Fort Bragg and Brookings. Despite my initial nerves, the moment my foot touched the gas pedal, I felt ready to take off and escape—from the crowded streets of Los Angeles, from my responsibilities, and from the obligations of social media and technology. As I trudged up the hill of LA’s Interstate 5 Grapevine, I felt ready to tackle this feat—alone.

Glass Beach in Fort Bragg, California

The state parks of Oregon are a lot less crowded than national parks, whose mass numbers of visitors practically make nature a theme park for adults. At national parks, you have to book online within the first few hours of reservation windows opening, and often time have to drive circles and circles around walk-up sites before finding a spot. The state parks of the Oregon Coast, however, are a breeze to handle. These inexpensive sites are also usually abundant with amenities like showers, firewood and even electricity, as I found out at my campground of Harris State Beach in Brookings.

Harris State Beach in Brookings, Oregon

Unlike California’s crowded yet beautiful Pacific Coast Highway, the Southern Oregon Coast is an untouched masterpiece of massive, redwood trees dangling along the 101 Freeway. The scenic drive gives visitors multiple opportunities to get lost on hikes that eventually pave way to grandiose landscapes of ocean and forest. While initially foggy in the mornings, the sun burns through and helps the clean, turquoise waters glitter while seaweed scatters amongst the waves. The Northern Coast is also characteristically marked by graphite formations of boulders and cliffs, much of which also has tide pools. The first coastal town you enter when crossing from California into Oregon is a sleepy, 6,300-resident town named Brookings in Curry County. Upon entering, I found most of the town’s amusements and social gatherings on one singular highway road. While the town has the essentials, i.e. a grocery store, fast food, restaurants, etc, its main attractions are clearly the gorgeous beaches that line the highway. I quickly passed through the entirety of the town within a matter of minutes, gradually making my way to the first of Brookings’ three major parks: Harris State Beach.

A clean and pristine campground, the Harris Beach Campground is an immaculate space that’s perfect for all kinds of campers, both RVs and tent sites alike. I didn’t realize until setting up my own tent how family-friendly the spot is too. A playground marks the center of the site, as well as access to clean shower facilities and electrical outlets. The campsite also had a firewood station, barbecue grills and community bluegrass performances on weekend evenings. You can say that Harris Campground was the easiest way to “rough it” on my road trip.

Across the street from the campground, a quick half-mile path led me to Harris Beach itself, two gorgeous coves of boulders and tide pools. Harris Beach is no less foggy than the rest of the Oregon Coast. While this fog covers much of the Pacific Ocean, the immediate surrounding areas offer enough visibility to climb well-paved paths around several boulders that stretch up. I easily found my first trail within minutes of reaching the bottom of the hill that doubled as an entrance to a viewpoint. Oregon blackberries also grow dense in the bushes here, and made for speckles of sparkle amongst the bright yellow-flowered bushes that guided the path up a boulder’s viewpoint. At the top, I found total solace, a quiet spot to think about the thousands of miles I had just traveled, and how amazed I was that I had been hundreds of miles away from this secluded gem, in Mendocino, just less than ten hours ago. I looked down to see tide pools and several families scattered across the sandy shores, bundled in hoodies and toting sandals—an ironic yet classic symbol of Pacific Ocean beachwear. I then excitedly made my way to the bottom shores. Waddling by myself through those tide pools, watching the shores hit the crevice of this boulder’s nature-carved cave, I didn’t actually feel alone. I felt a part of something much bigger than me.

After a quick one nighter at the campground, that which included working from my laptop with some homemade sweet potato soup and a toasty campfire, I quickly made my way to the biggest attraction of Brookings in the morning, the Samuel H. Boardman Scenic Corridor.

Natural Bridges Viewpoint in Brookings, Oregon

At first, I didn’t realize how spread out the park was. The corridor is not one singular viewpoint or beach like Harris, but rather several sights that are spread out over 12 miles along the 101 Highway. Thus, you could understand my extreme confusion as I looked for several iconic spots I had found in my research. Thanks to a guidebook from the Harris Beach campsite, I slowly realized I had way more ahead of me to scope out before my next seven-hour drive to Bend.

There are seven stops on this 12-mile stretch of terrain. If you want to truly commit to the state park and hike the entirety of every site, you could probably spend a good three days doing so. However, all the sites offer quick, breathtaking scenic views that you could spend half an hour at. Hikes will range from a quick ¼ mile to 18 miles if you commit to the full hike on each spot. For lack of time (I had from 8am – 2pm to conquer the area), I visited three spots—Whaleshead Beach, Natural Bridges and Arch Rock. While Whaleshead Beach and Arch Rock serve as fantastic singular viewpoints of more rugged, coastal boulders and foggy shores, Natural Bridges serves as more of a hike that leads to a view.

Natural Bridges Viewpoint in Brookings, Oregon

At the Natural Bridges, nobody was around me. Aside from travelers trying their hand at the well-paved route, I found myself inching down steep, soft hills of Earth, leading to the natural bridges of the corridor. Crawling down the hill, I could feel my knees cracking, the pressure straining them to not slip and slide with the mounds of dirt beneath my feet. Blankets of pine trees enveloped the trail but ended up being my stilts of support sliding downward. After about half of mile of this jagged crawl, I saw the first fallen tree trunk, which practically pointed to the final stretch of the natural bridges viewpoint. As I reached the finish line, I was greeted by waves of emerald pools and crisp rock formations of secret coves only now revealing themselves to me. Sitting on a narrow but comfortable stretch of rock, I sat cross-legged in front of the view, closed my eyes and breathed in the cool, salty air around me. Opening my eyes, I couldn’t believe what I was taking in. The views you get at national parks may be breathtaking, but nothing compared to that which you can experience in solitude. Sitting here by myself in total silence was pure bliss. Despite it being August, one of the busiest times of the year for outdoor exploring, I was alone in this little cove of grand treasures. As the sun cracked through the clouds, the entire view of the cliffs, ocean and trees seemed to sway back and forth, as if it were following the rays peeping through. I wanted to stay for hours, nap and write and think about the 1,000 something miles I had already driven leading up to this. Instead, I blissed in the short, quiet moments of still, sway and took in the intensity of this serene situation.

As a precaution, it’s important to note that the trailheads can be a bit difficult to find. Taking the wrong route can lead you on trails that simply run parallel with the highway and back to the parking lot. While my favorite and most popular viewpoint, Natural Bridges was easily the most breathtaking spot, it also involved two paths. One path was well-paved but limited in viewpoints. The second trail I found was small and had some of the toughest downhill incline. Proceed with precaution to do this route! However, it led to the most forward-facing, serene and quiet part of the site.

As I concluded my “private tour” of the corridor, I quickly made my way further up the coast and back into the winding roads of Oregon to head onward to Bend. While I initially had my doubts about traveling as a solo female, the Oregon Coast proved me completely wrong. With plenty of gas stops and friendly faces along the way, I was able to envelop myself more in the serenity and beauty of the hidden gems (literally, as in every almost every single secluded, romantic viewpoint required a hike to get there) scattered along the scenic corridor. From camping alone to driving for hours to wandering through forests by myself, I’ve grown such a stronger sense of independence, as well as an appreciation for the freedom you get as a solo traveler. I take everything in so much more, and I truly submerge myself in a culture rather than observe it as an outsider. This first trip through Mendocino, Brookings and Bend was only the catalyst for my more recent adventures through Japan by myself, and I also plan on doing national parks road trip alone eventually. So thank you to the Oregon Coast for being my first step to solo traveling and for quenching my thirst for the outdoors.

Love, an urban dweller with a thirst for nature. Find a map of my route here!

Katrina Yentch is a freelance writer with a thirst for coffee, travel and the outdoors. You can follow her treks through nature and beyond on Hipcamp and Instagram.

Hipcamp is an online marketplace where you can list, discover, and book campsites and accommodations on private and public land. Hipcamp is your go-to guide to getting outside. If you’re a landowner, Hipcamp creates new revenue streams for your business, which can help conserve your land and keep it wild. #FindYourselfOutside #LeaveItBetter

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