Part 1 of this hiking series focused on Falcon Cove in Oswald West State Park.
There are several starting points you can use to get to Devil’s Cauldron Overlook, a viewpoint at the south end of Oswald West State Park.
If you’re simply out for a short jaunt, start at the highway pulloff across from the North Neah-Kah-Nie Mountain Trailhead, which is south of the four main parking lots in the state park. This walk is only 0.1 miles west through the Elk Flats meadow.
You could also start at the Necarney Creek Trailhead for an approximately 3.3-mile round trip hike. But the Necarney Creek Trail starts in the southernmost parking lot, which is closed to parking until Dec. 31; you can walk to the trailhead from a different parking lot, but you’ll need to cross U.S. Highway 101.
I started from the main – and popular – Short Sand Beach Trailhead, which is about 2 miles one way or roughly a 4-mile round trip. Starting here requires a little navigation between connecting trails, but it’s convenient and fun.
Starting at the main parking lot, head down the Short Sand Beach Trail, then follow the Old Growth Forest Trail to the left. Eventually, the path will come to a T at Necarney Creek Trail; turn right and follow it, enjoying glimpses of the creek as you walk. When you come to the swinging suspension bridge, follow it over Necarney Creek. Continue, and you’ll see a sign for South Short Sand Beach access and for Elk Flats Trail. Follow Elk Flats Trail to the left – there’s nothing flat about it – and make your way steadily up, following a few switchbacks up a moderately steep ridge. Through the trees you can see Short Sand Beach below; the sounds of the crashing waves and even the voices of beach goers float up to you.
The trail levels and descends, then rises slowly. At one point, it passes beneath a tree, the roots forming a natural tunnel. Soon the path curves further left and runs parallel to the highway, which is audible for much of the rest of the hike. Though some huge trees line the path, you never get completely overtaken by nature’s wonder since the sound of civilization is ever present. This was most noticeable to me at one point on the trail: A magnificent, broad Western redcedar hugged the path; its long, curved limbs stretched out, hanging low. And still the cars zoomed by – out of view but not out of earshot.
The trail descends through a small dark copse of red alders with a very “Snow White” dark forest feel to it. The trees stop abruptly, and you pass into pasture – the Elk Flats – filled with wildflowers. Dandelion, golden rod and Queen Anne’s lace bordered the path, along with some salal. Above is the highway and overlook spot for parking, as well as the North Neah-Kah-Nie Mountain Trail; I spotted some hikers slowly working their way up the side of the mountain.
The trail finally turns full west, and you leave the highway behind and make your way out to the Devil’s Cauldron Overlook: a shaded clearing at the top of a cliff, complete with a bench to sit on and take in the view. The ocean feeds into a small cove between two sheer cliffs, trembling and surging against the rocks like boiling witch’s brew.
Within minutes of my arrival, seagulls perching on the rocks below squawked up a storm when a lone, dark bird of prey glided by on an air current, circled the cove, and continued north, its shadow trailing behind on the white cliff.
I walked a little further up the path, peered down and spotted two sea kayakers braving the rough ocean waves. They paddled steadily north, passing the entrance to Devil’s Cauldron and skirting between an offshore rock and one of the cliffs.
Compared to my earlier hike this month to Falcon Cove at the north end of the park, the trail to Devil’s Cauldron was almost deserted. On Falcon Cove Trail, I passed several families and other hikers, once simultaneously converging on a trail junction with two other groups. On the trail to Devil’s Cauldron, I ran into one trail runner at the viewpoint; on my return hike I passed two female hikers and later a father, his young daughter and two dogs. It was pleasant to not constantly be dodging other hikers.
After working your way back from the overlook, head to your car – or take a trail down to Short Sand Beach. When I did, I found a good spot on some driftwood to regroup after my hike, soaking in some sun and watching the plentiful surfers ride the waves. The beach was full of families and friends, dogs playing fetch, and kids building sandcastles.