Some Sand of Your Own
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Outside magazine, July 1995
Some Sand of Your Own
Wild, people-free beaches where all you get is sun, water, and dunes with a view
No matter how high the mercury gets, sometimes acres of terry cloth and over-oiled humanity just won’t do. On the other hand, you don’t want to rappel down a cliff, hike 20 miles, and swim a shark-infested channel to spend a quiet day at the shore. True wilderness beaches in the Lower 48 states are becoming as scarce as spotted-owl droppings, but there are pockets of accessible
The Beach: A six-mile strip of the 33-mile coastal park that looks like an ocean beach with massive dunes, swaying grasses, and occasional six- to eight-foot waves.
The Action: Wander west from the parking lot to find a secluded spot in the dunes. A few miles farther west, cyclists will want to get the lead out on the Pierce Stocking Scenic Drive, a spectacular 7.4-mile loop through the forested highlands above Lake Michigan. Another big draw is the Dune Climb, a 130-foot waddle up the granulated slope of the
Know That: If you plan to hike the dunes, bring sneakers or at least sandals; the dune grasses are razor sharp.
Getting There: From Detroit, about five hours away, take I-75 north to Michigan 72 in Grayling. Head west to Empire and pick up a camping permit and maps at the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore visitor center. From there, head north to the Maritime Museum, where you’ll find parking for Sleeping Bear Point Beach. For information call
LOST COAST BEACH
The Beach: A lengthy strand of slate-black sand that begins at the tiny community of Shelter Cove and continues north into the BLM lands of the King Range National Conservation Area.
The Action: From Shelter Cove, hikers can wander up the Lost Coast Trail for 25 uninterrupted miles past offshore rocks inhabited by sea lions and seals, or head inland on mountainous terrain. If you hike north along the beach for five miles, you can hook up with the Buck Creek Trail, which runs 2.5 steep miles to the 3,290-foot summit of Saddle
Know That: Tides can strand unwary hikers in coves, and the occasional huge “sleeper” wave can wash the unsuspecting out to sea. Be sure to carry and consult tide tables, available at stores in Shelter Cove.
Getting There: From San Francisco, about five hours away, drive north on U.S. 101, take the Garberville/Redway exit, and head west on Briceland Road 26 miles to Shelter Cove. For information, call the BLM office in Arcata at 707-825-2300.
The Beach: A palm-fringed, crescent-shaped slice of the tropics, midway down the windward side of Santa Catalina Island, just 22 miles off the coast of southern California. Oak-covered mountains rising to 2,000 feet form a stunning backdrop.
The Action: If you choose to ignore the occasional vans that run out to the beach from the town of Two Harbors, getting there is half the fun. You can hike from Two Harbors along the seven-mile Banning House Road Trail, an inland roller-coaster course, or better yet follow the calf-bruising 17-mile trail from the town of Avalon, which ascends spiny
Know That: Keep an eye out for flora and fauna found nowhere else on earth (a list is available from the Santa Catalina Conservancy, 310-510-0954), such as the Catalina ironwood tree, as well as the approximately 200 bison that roam the island.
Getting There: One of the main ferry operators is Catalina Express Commuter (310-519-1212), whose boats make the 90-minute crossing from San Pedro and Long Beach on the mainland to Two Harbors and Avalon all year long. Round-trip fare is $21-$35; it’s $3-$5 extra to bring a bike or surfboard. Camping is $7.50 per night; for reservations call the
The Beach: A harbor shoreline bounded by rocky outcroppings on a tiny Atlantic outpost a half-mile wide and less than two miles long.
The Action: Monhegan Island is not hard-wired to the mainland–all electricity comes from gasoline-powered generators, and after nightfall part of the island gives way to kerosene lamps. Camping isn’t allowed, and the topography is too rugged for biking. Most of the island, however, is a privately run preserve, with 18 numbered trails edging the
Know That: Wait for high tide to take a swim, since the sand tends to warm the water a bit. Swimmers should beware the strong undertow.
Getting There: The Laura B and the Elizabeth Ann passenger ferries run year-round from Port Clyde to Monhegan Island. Round-trip fare is $24 for adults; reservations are essential. Call 207-372-8848.
OZETTE TRIANGLE OLYMPIC NATIONAL PARK
The Beach: A wide, three-mile stretch of cobble-strewn sand, edged by steep headlands on the Olympic Peninsula’s wild western shore, with views of sea stacks marching into the blue.
The Action: The beach at Ozette (actually two adjacent beaches, Cape Alava and Sand Point) is one leg of the 9.3-mile loop known as the Ozette Triangle. Starting from the campground at Lake Ozette, take either the north fork to Cape Alava or the south fork to Sand Point; both are boardwalked for nearly their entire three-mile lengths and pass
Know That: The Ozette loop trail goes around two headlands marked with the warning “caution” on topo maps. While they’re generally passable at low tide during summer, you should consult tide charts and keep an eye on the weather.
Getting There: From Seattle, about five hours away, take the Edmonds/Kingston Ferry and hook up with U.S. 101 via Washington 104. Continue northwest for 43 miles to Washington 112 and then go 46 miles to the turnoff to Ozette, a mile west of the town of Sekiu. From there, it’s about 21 miles to the Ozette ranger station. You can pick up park maps
The Beach: A three-and-a-half-mile oceanfront stretch of barrier island surrounded by salt marsh, 60-foot dunes growing sea oats, and forests of oak, loblolly pine, and red cedar.
The Action: You won’t find solitude at Bear Island’s designated swimming area (smack in the island’s midsection), where three lifeguards are on duty from Memorial Day to Labor Day. But walk a few minutes in either direction and you’re sure to locate a deserted plot for sunbathing, bodysurfing, or surfcasting for bluefish, mullet, and drum. On days
Know That: Bear Island is closed to camping during the full-moon phases of June, July, and August to minimize disturbance to nesting loggerhead turtles.
Getting There: From the town of Jacksonville, take North Carolina 24 about 20 miles to Swansboro, turn onto North Carolina 1511, and proceed three miles or so to park headquarters and the ferry landing. The ferry makes the 2.5-mile trip to Bear Island several times a day from April through October ($2 for adults).
MATAGORDA ISLAND BEACH
The Beach: Some 38 miles of Gulf-side dense-pack on a low-lying barrier island seven miles off the Texas coast north of Corpus Christi.
The Action: Formerly used by the Air Force for bombing runs, the uninhabited island is now partially a refuge for whooping cranes and some 300 other species of migratory birds. Motorized vehicles are prohibited, which means that you’ll have 80 miles of beaches, roads, and mowed pathways practically to yourself for two-wheel and two-leg exploring.
Know That: While there’s a primitive campground on a two-mile stretch of the Gulf-side beach, there are no phones, concessions, electricity, or drinking water on the island, so you’ll need to pack everything in.
Getting There: Ferry service from Port O’Connor, about three hours southeast of Houston, operates four days a week, making one round-trip on Thursday and Friday and three on Saturday and Sunday. Round-trip fare for the one-hour crossing is $10 for adults. For reservations and park information, call headquarters at 512-983-2215.
Parke Puterbaugh is currently at work on a guidebook to California’s beaches, to be published next spring by Foghorn Press.