The Hammond Trail is a popular hiking/biking/equestrian trail that winds past open fields, woods, and residential areas for more than five miles, from the Mad River Bridge in Arcata north to Clam Beach County Park in McKinleyville. You'll enjoy panoramic views of the ocean, cross an accessible bridge over the Mad River, pass a park with a playground,...
The Hammond Trail is a popular hiking/biking/equestrian trail that winds past open fields, woods, and residential areas for more than five miles, from the Mad River Bridge in Arcata north to Clam Beach County Park in McKinleyville. You'll enjoy panoramic views of the ocean, cross an accessible bridge over the Mad River, pass a park with a playground, and share the trail with lots of cyclists and people walking dogs.
The Hammond Trail is a segment of the 1,200-mile California Coastal Trail, which when completed will run the length of the state, from Oregon to Mexico. Although the Hammond Trail is continuous, at times it requires travel on sidewalks, on roads (very light traffic), and across streets. Most of this trail has been built on the route of a now-defunct rail line. Between 1931 and 1956, the Hammond Railroad hauled logs and timber to the Samoa Mill near Eureka. Excellent signage throughout indicates the trail route; interpretive panels at various trailheads show distances and locations of restrooms and parking.
Trailhead: There are trailheads at Clam Beach, Mad River Bridge, Hiller Park, and the foot of Murray Road.
Length: Over 4 total miles
Typical Width: 4 ft. & aboveTrails at Hiller Park are less than three feet wide in places.A slight cross-slope on the first several miles may bother some manual wheelchair riders. Two sections—one at Clam Beach, the other by the Mad River Bridge—are quite steep.
Terrain: HardMostly paved, except for about a half-mile near Clam Beach where it is firm-packed dirt and gravel.
There are several steep sections along this trail, but I managed the entire route in a motorized wheelchair, starting from its north end at Clam Beach. For the gentlest route, I suggest the 1.5-mile stretch from the Murray Road trailhead to School Road. This segment has some lovely ocean views—you'll hear the ocean, as well—and is mostly level.
Clam Beach to Hiller Park (3.9 miles one way)
The first two and a half miles of this part of the trail parallel Highway 101; light traffic noise mingles with birdsong and crashing waves, and in places your attention is drawn to ocean views across an expanse of dunes. A gray day in early May was brightened along this stretch by yellow lupine, mustard, and a large yellow bush that looked similar to scotch broom. Within 50 feet you cross an accessible bridge over Strawberry Creek, which travels here through a coastal riparian landscape of bushes and grasses before emptying into the ocean. Watch for black phoebe, Swainson's thrush, and Wilson's warbler. After climbing two gentle hills, you come to a resting place with a bench and get your first glimpse of the ocean, beyond a wetland dune hollow, or swale.
About one mile out, and after climbing one of the steepest sections of the entire trail, the surface becomes hard-packed dirt with some large-size gravel for about a half-mile. A more expansive view of the ocean here is slightly obscured by a chain-link fence. As you continue climbing this long stretch, you come to an overlook. From here you have views along the rocky shore from Clam Beach to Trinidad Head, with scattered sea stacks offshore. You continue past a parking lot (not accessible from the trail) to a small eucalyptus grove, then travel in the road a short distance and through a wooded riparian area. After about a half-mile you come to a nicely landscaped residential area. An interpretive spur trail along this route is too narrow and steep for wheelchairs. Follow the sidewalk west along Murray Road to the parking lot, where the trail begins again. The next section, from Murray Road to Hiller Park (.9 miles), travels behind a residential area and has some of the trail's best ocean views; you're close to the ocean and the view is expansive. After crossing Knox Cove Avenue, the trail travels below an embankment that is lush with ferns and equisetum for about a half-mile to Hiller Park.
Hiller Park to School Road (.6 miles)
Hiller Park has the only restrooms along the trail, a ball field, a lovely meadow with picnic tables, a playground, and trails that wind through the park and out to the ocean. I arrived early in the day, so I ventured onto the dirt trail that begins immediately past the playground. Within 50 feet the path narrowed to three feet, but a meadow lush with wild radish, mustard, and grasses swaying in the wind beckoned me farther. At a fork I stayed left and had to carefully travel down the raised center of the path; at times, some of my wheels were off the ground. After passing through a stand of Sitka spruce and salmonberry, I arrived at a lovely viewing platform atop bluffs overlooking the Mad River estuary and the ocean beyond. The other trails may offer limited access in dry weather.
The Hammond Trail continues along the eastern border of Hiller Park, crosses Hiller Road, then travels for .6 miles to School Road. Houses along one side of the trail are somewhat obscured by bushes, while trees on the other side block any views of the ocean. Fleabane carpeted the ground on my visit. After you cross School Road, you travel in the street on Fischer Avenue for a few hundred yards.
School Road to Mad River Bridge (.8 miles)
As you approach this bucolic section along Fischer Avenue, farmlands stretch before you, the Mad River Bridge can be seen in the distance, and the extremely steep downhill to the bridge makes you question whether to continue or turn around. A sign states that you are entering a tsunami hazard zone, but I found it more worrisome to watch the cyclists laboriously trudge uphill toward me, pushing their bikes. I was up for the challenge, and even with a headwind I flew down the long hill, but slowed at the steep approach to the bridge. On the return I easily climbed back up the hill but was grateful for my new motors. People have been crossing the Mad River at this location, some 95 miles southeast of its origin in the Coast Range, since 1905; in 1941 the old wooden bridge was replaced with one of steel. Along the riverbanks you may spot mink, river otter, gray fox, and opossum. Migrating steelhead, king and coho salmon, and rainbow trout are also found here. Shortly after the bridge, the trail ends in a parking lot.
The facilities listed below meet all of our access criteria unless otherwise noted.
Mad River Bridge trailhead has the newest, most accessible parking. Hiller Park has designated parking on firm dirt and gravel in front of the playground, but it's not striped. Across the park road, in front of the ball field, is accessible parking on asphalt. Clam Beach day-use parking, opposite the trailhead, is on hard-packed dirt and has ruts and no striping. It may be very muddy in wet weather. Murray Road has designated parking but there's no access aisle. Street parking only at School Road trailhead.
At the west end of the Murray Road parking lot (the table top here is extremely high) and by the playground at Hiller Park (these are on concrete pads but to reach them you travel on firm grass).
Reviewed by Bonnie Lewkowicz, April 28, 2011