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Trinidad State Beach

Mill Creek, Elk Head Trails
From Mill Creek Access to beach is 0.5 mile round trip; to Trinidad Head is 2.5 miles
round trip with 300-foot elevation gain; to Elk Head is 2.5 miles round trip

Two heads are better than one. That’s one way of looking at Trinidad State Beach and the two dramatic heads—Elk and Trinidad—-that overlook a picturesque cove, harbor and island.

Trinidad Head, a commanding, 362-foot high promontory, is the commanding backdrop of the town of Trinidad, a picturesque harbor and a historic lighthouse. Sitka spruce-spiked Elk Head, located just north of Trinidad, is more of a secret, its scenic trails used mainly by locals.

Located in the waters between the heads is tree-topped Pewetoll Island, the domain of thousands of black oyster-catchers. Farther offshore are Flatiron Rock and other surf-battered rocks that serve as resting places for seals and sea lions.

The park’s 159 acres spread over a marine terrace cloaked in beach pine and Sitka spruce. And consider the lilies of the field: the Columbia lily and endangered western lily grow atop the steep bluffs.

Trinidad’s beaches and bluffs offer hikers a wild and isolated experience despite their location so close to town. Actually, there’s not much town to get away from: Trinidad, with a population of 350, is one of California’s smallest incorporated cities.

You can begin your exploration of Trinidad Head at the main state beach access, the Elk Head Access or from Edwards Street at the edge of town.

Directions to trailhead: From Highway 101, take the Trinidad exit and drive 0.25 mile west through town to Stagecoach Road. Turn right (north) and pull into the main Trinidad State Beach parking area on the left.

Elk Head access is located another 0.75 mile up Stagecoach Road.

The hike: From the picnic area, Mill Creek Trail descends amongst sword ferns and Sitka spruce. After 0.25 mile, the path splits. A short walk left leads to a sandy beach at the mouth of Mill Creek. Saunter along the surf south 0.5 mile to the base of Trinidad Head.

At the end of the ruggedly beautiful beach you’ll encounter an ugly repository of junk. Be not discouraged and join a signed spur trail that soon leads to a paved road. Go right 100 yards to the beginning of the footpath and start your counter-clockwise tour of Trinidad Head.

Numerous benches en route invite hikers to sit and contemplate the inspiring seascape. The path ascends south then west to a cross atop Trinidad Head. Descend on the gravel road to a paved one and bear left. Enjoy views of Trinidad Harbor as the road leads north then west. Close the loop and retrace your steps back to the beach via the connector trail.

Walk up the paved road away from the harbor and into town. You can’t miss the Humboldt State University Marine Lab. Join signed Marine Lab Trail for the short walk across the bluffs back to the trailhead.

The right fork is an equestrian trail that extends to Elk Head. Follow the path across the Mill Creek footbridge, continuing north over the wooded headlands to the west end of the Elk Head parking area.

Join Elk Head Trail at the north end of the parking lot and walk northwest, then west across the grassy promontory of Elk Head. Soon a path and steps branching left off the main trail beckon you to descend to College Cove Beach.

Elk Head Trail continues west and serves up magnificent vistas of Trinidad Head and Pewetole Island. About a half mile from the trailhead, near the tip of Elk Head, a short side trail leads to Meguil Point (superb tidepools are exposed at very low tide).

The path bends east, looping through stands of cypress, shore pine and Sitka spruce before returning to the trailhead.

© 2012 The Trailmaster, Inc.
From John McKinney’s
Day Hiker’s Guide to California’s State Parks
Trail descriptions and maps have been reproduced with the permission of the author.  To learn more about The Trailmaster and other related publications please visit their website at