Emerald Experience

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Reading Rock State Marine Conservation Area

Wild ocean on one side, old-growth forest on the other

-Jennifer Savage-

Adventure Columnist 

Image courtesy of Ocean Conservancy

California has no shortage of amazing coastal places to visit. One quick way to narrow your options is to check out any of the state’s marine protected areas – the same characteristics that make these sites worth protecting also make them stand out as fantastic locations to explore. Much like our state and national parks safeguard wildlife and habitats on land, marine protected areas (MPAs) conserve marine ecosystems and the sea life that depend on them. California is the only state in the nation – thanks to the Marine Life Protection Act – that has an entire network of MPAs along its coastline.

Diverse habitats mean a variety of marine life and, often, exponential beauty.

Some MPAs are perfect for diving, kayaking, even surfing. On the North Coast, however, the ocean tends toward cold and rough, so better to enjoy most of our marine protected areas from shore, especially in the winter months. One easily accessed and stunning beach expands parallel to the Reading Rock State Marine Conservation Area and adjacent to Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park.

Planning your trip

Before you go, check the tide, either online or via one of the tidebooks readily available in any of Humboldt’s outdoor stores. For the sake of safety, you want to be sure you’re strolling the beach at a low tide (And, as any local will tell you, never turn your back on the ocean!). Winter temperatures average around 52 degrees during the day, so dress accordingly – layers are recommended, along with waterproof shoes and jacket. Bring snacks and plenty of water.

How to get there

Take U.S. Hwy. 101 to the town of Orick, then head west on Hufford Road, adjacent to Redwood Creek. Stay left at the forks and follow the twists and turns 1.9 miles, past the horses, until you reach the end, where you can park and immediately admire the crashing waves and impressive sea stacks. Off in the distance, slightly to the north, stands the MPA’s namesake, Reading Rock (The rock, a favored fishing ground and of great historical import to the Yurok tribe, is just outside the marine protected area, one of several compromises between fishermen, tribal representatives, conservation groups and state agencies made during the marine protected area’s design phase).

From the parking lot, you can wander the beach north for nearly four miles – stay well away from the ocean! – spotting several different types of shore birds who utilize this part of the coast as a key wintering area. Watch for the distinctive spouting of migrating gray whales, and don’t be surprised if inquisitive seals or sea lions pop up near shore.

More about MPAs

Marveling at the beauty and inhaling the crisp salty air is easy. These are things you can see and taste. Looking at the ocean, tumultuous and enigmatic, and understanding what’s happening beyond what we can see is more challenging. Know that according to global studies, marine protected areas like the one encompassing the state waters off Orick contribute to healthier and stronger ocean ecosystems. This helps ensure bountiful fisheries and offsets threats such as pollution and climate change. Find out more at californiampas.org.

After your trek

Dining options in Orick are few and sporadic, so we have to recommend going one of two established routes. Your southerly choice is to head about 20 miles south on 101 to Larrupin Café, (707) 677-0230, 1658 Patricks Point Drive, Trinidad. Open seven nights a week for dinner, Larrupin is beloved by locals and world travelers alike. If you’re northbound, travel about 26 miles to The Historic Requa Inn, (707) 482-1425, 451 Requa Road, Klamath. During this off-season, the Requa offers light dining in the form of delicious paninis and fresh salads every evening from 5 to 7 p.m., with a choice selection of beer and wine. Do stay the night if you can – few places are as relaxing.

Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park

Broaden your conservation exploration by including Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park in your itinerary. The park is home to awe-inducing old growth coastal redwoods, along with western hemlock, Douglas firs, Sitka spruce and red alder, with options for hiking and mountain biking ranging from easy to challenging. Wildlife includes the plentiful Roosevelt elk, the occasional black bear, lots of deer, spotted owls, marbled murrelets, and even mountain lions and bobcats. Both the Visitor Center and the Nature Store are open all year round. Call (707) 488-2039 for more information.

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