Pistol River State Park doesn't serve up its treasures to the impatient. When I first visited, access to the beach from the south area was blocked by an intertidal lake, so I explored the north area and enjoyed it immensely. That first experience led me to assume that the area south of the parking area was nothing special. When several weeks later I finally opened my mind and explored the stabilized dunes to the south I was pleasantly surprised. I felt as if I had passed into another world in the midst of mountainous, veldtlike dunes. In addition, I found a way to the beach, and it wasn't really as tough a hike as I had imagined. It isn't entirely on a trail, however.
Just fifty meters south of the parking area a "deer path" begins to appear in the beach grass. Wear shorts here, though, and you'll end up with little red welts all over your legs. That grass is sharp! In about a kilometer (half mile) this natural trail meets one marked at intervals with spruce posts painted with horseshoes painted on the white tips. This was indeed intended as a horse trail, as severe erosion at certain points attests. I have yet to meet up with horses along this trail, but have found track of deer, cats, and dogs in the soft trail bed. This trail eventually comes out on the beach, depending on where you want to slide down the dunes.
The further south on the beach one goes, the more narrow and steep the beach becomes. Caution is therefore advised. Waves can come up very quickly. One time last winter the waves almost got me. Be especialy cautious when walking near the edge of sand ledges. There are no restrooms, picnic tables, nor any improvements other than the compulsory notice board.
Hike: North Pistol River Dunes
This is a "make your own trail" which can be done in less than an hour in and back. Park in an unmarked pullout immediately north of the bridge and hike towards the miniature dunes following the line between the estuary to the left and jumbled masses of flotsam and brush to the right. Cross the dunes to the beach, then explore to your feet's desire. Alternately, park further north at the established wayside adjacent to some stately monoliths, and make your way south along the beach.
Hike: Horse Loop
The complete loop will take a good 3 hours to enjoy fully, and requires water-resistant boots. From the marked parking area just south of the Pistol River there is no clear evidence of a trail, but if you hike south through the brush for about 50 meters you should quickly locate it. Alternately, you drop from the parking lot onto the narrow shore of the tidal lagoon, then look closely on the left for the trail. Eventually this path intercepts the loop trail in the middle of a broad, sandy basin. Take a good look around so as not to miss this juncture on the way back, then follow the white tipped cedar posts toward the beach. When when the trail splits into two hairs, keep right. The path eventually takes a gentle s-curve onto the ocean beach. Be careful here--the waves are real sneakers. The loop trail re-enters the dunes at the point where a small stream crosses the beach. I suggest you cross the creek before returning and explore all the way to the impressive monoliths at the end of the beach. After re-entering the dunes, the quality of the trail varies greatly. At one point it seems more like a creek than a trail. Then it enters a biologically interesting area where trees are taking root in the dunes.
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