Out Our Back Door By Tom Baake
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Cut Creek Trails Offer Serenity and Challenges      
By Tom Baake
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A hiker traverses a raised walkway in the Cut Creek trail system in Bullards Beach State Park near  Bandon.

One of the most interesting and scenic aspects of the Cut Creek trail system in Bullards Beach State Park north of Bandon can also be its most vexing. Sandy trails thread through a mix of open, brushy dunes and dense stands of shorepines and undergrowth, frequently encountering wetlands and vast flooded areas that sparkle beautifully blue on a sunny day.

Those same pretty bodies of water, however, often engulf the trails, making it tricky or just plain soggy to get around on foot. But then again, the trails were developed for equestrians who simply need to urge their steeds onward through the flooded areas. The fact that the water comes up to the horses’ bellies in some places also illustrates why hikers can’t just plow through the water wearing boots or other waterproof footgear. That water is deep in places! And at the bottom is a not very appealing layer of mud.

Most flooded places have rough work-arounds for hikers, but the high water and thick brush can sometimes be impassable.

The good news is the staff and crews at Bullards Beach State Park installed a series of raised wooden walkways for hikers to get over the largest wetland area. Not only do the three walkways make it easier for people in the main campground to access the beach, but it’s also now possible to do the most ambitious loop in the system and stay relatively dry-footed.

There are still a few flooded places that necessitate negotiating some of the aforementioned workarounds, although most of the puddles dry out as summer progresses. That drying out, of course, also makes the sandy footing even slower-going, even if you’re fortunate enough to have a horse doing most of the work.

The trail system is actually a series of loops, which can be fashioned into hikes long or short. A logical option is to do one leg of the loop along the beach. Since it’s preferable to have the wind at your back when walking on the beach, and the summer wind comes from the north, I usually take the more-sheltered inland route (Cut Creek trail) northward, then connect with one of the three sidetrails to the beach for a return southward along the beach.

Even on beach segments of this trail system, there are few visitors, so you’ll likely have not just scenery but serenity as well.

Getting There - From Bandon, head north on US 101, crossing the bridge over the Coquille River about 1 mile north of town. A bit beyond the bridge, turn west into Bullards Beach State Park. Admission and day-use are free.

Follow the access road as it heads west past the campground and several picnic areas, and in about 1 mile turn north into the horse campground. Don’t park in the campground unless you’re camping (I received a warning ticket on a previous visit.) Instead, park in grassy areas alongside the road in the day-use area before the campground, then continue on foot 0.18 mile to the north end of the campground and the Cut Creek trailhead.

It’s sandy and churned-up right from the get-go. In a few hundred feet is a “Y” intersection, with the way to the left providing the first of several accesses to the beach. To the right is the main Cut Creek trail, marked with one of the trail system’s distinctive “horseshoe brand” signposts.

The route meanders through shorepine, huckleberry, salal, waxmyrtle and Scotch broom, and at about 0.6 mile comes to a four-way intersection, with a sign indicating the way west to the beach, 0.5 mile, and the way north to Cut Creek North Loop Trails. To the east is the Three Mares Loop, with the raised walkways. That way also intersects a trail to the main campground.

If you go north, there will be beach accesses at about 0.8 and 1.5 miles, from which you can fashion a return along the beach as suggested. Or go east to the Three Mares Loop and do the more ambitious trek which ends up at the northern terminus of the Cut Creek trail (and nearby beach), with a potential return on either the beach or Cut Creek trail for a total of about 6 miles.

There are obviously enough options for several days of exploration, or repeated visits if you have the time. You can even bring your pony!

(Shopper columnist Tom Baake is author of regional guidebooks.) 
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