The trail to Third Beach provides plenty of suspense for hikers. It’s a 1.3 mile trek through high trees, sometimes shrouded in fog, giving the forest here a spooky aura. But popping out onto the coast at the log-choked mouth of a creek and seeing the grand Pacific Ocean provides the perfect payoff.
Start off from the parking area just off Highway 101, and head down the wide graveled trail. Hikers can proceed two or three abreast at the outset, and enjoy the sounds of a rushing creek as well as the sights of magnificent, huge hemlocks towering above you. Closer to eye level, look for shelf fungi and other fascinating organisms – lichen, moss, insects – many small universes abound in this green landscape.
Eventually, the trail starts to narrow and descend, after a mile of forest walking. The wide, flat grade vanishes and is replaced by a steep, muddy, only slightly switchbacked chute. Use caution descending after rainy periods. Luckily this section is quite short, and before you know it, you’ll be level with the beach. From here, it requires a climb to get up and over the driftwood pile that accumulates here thanks to high tides but it’s easily navigable and soon you will be on the beach!
Once on the shore, it’s time to decide which way to go. To the north lies a short beach wander, and Second Beach around a headland. South, it’s the South Coast Wilderness Trail, a long coastal and overland route that requires knowledge of the tides, the overland route, and a permit. At low tide, day hikers can beachcomb to their hearts content before heading back to the parking area.