Hiking from Diamond to Bishop's Beach
Who hikes or bikes the beach in the winter? I do, and you should, too! The winter is when all the beach action is, with big waves driven by strong winds blowing gorgeous sheets of salt water spraying off their tops, lots of mudslides and other slope failures, powerful long-shore currents and awesome rock-collecting.
Plus, there are all sorts of storm-related flotsam and jetsam scattered all over the beach to explore and enjoy. In early winter, the Diamond Gulch Trailhead is still readily accessible, and this upcoming weekend, Dec. 9 to 10, the tides are well-timed for safe beach hiking/biking.
High tides of 17 to 18 feet occur between 7 and 8 a.m., so a 10 a.m. start — soon-after-sunrise with a falling tide — is just perfect. This timing provides you with six hours of daylight and safe beach hiking to complete a 6.5-mile hike or bike from Diamond Beach to Bishop's Beach. This is a bit of a hike for young children, but a great family outing for slightly older kids who will enjoy the wild, rocky, eroding high-bluff coastline with many landslide and slump features, as well as exposures of coal and peat layers on the soaring cliffs on the wave-swept platforms.
And the wilder the weather, the better! Just dress for it. Bring your goggles, wear your rain hat and your Xstratufs, and then just enjoy.
Note: Even in early winter, the Diamond Gulch trail can be a bit icy and snowy, so bring your cleats just in case.
If you have two vehicles, park one at Bishop's Beach and then drive about three miles west on the Sterling Highway, passing by the top of Baycrest Hill on the west side of Homer, to the Diamond Ridge turnoff. Turn left (south) onto the dirt road.
If the park gate is open, drive 0.9 miles to the trailhead. In deep winter, you have to hike in the 0.9 miles to the trailhead, with snowshoes being the footwear of choice. If you are alone, and/or don't have a second vehicle, park your vehicle at Bishop's Beach and - for a few bucks - have a taxi take you to the Diamond Gulch Trailhead.
Begin your beach adventure with the half-mile drop down to the beach from the Diamond Gulch Trailhead, which loses 600 feet of elevation. (A more detailed description of the trail is available in the June 18, 2017, edition of the Homer Tribune.)
At the bottom of Diamond Gulch Trail, turn east at Diamond Beach, where you cross the Diamond Creek stream channel. If there has been a lot of recent rain, the creek may be flowing high and fast. However, it's typically safe to cross down on the beach, where the single stream divides into multiple slower, shallower channels.
After crossing Diamond Creek, continue east along the beach toward the first of four headlands you'll encounter on your beach adventure. In between the headlands, the embayment beaches tend to be broader and covered with finer sand. Near the first headland, at about mile 1.1, there is a house and some cabins up off the beach in a small dune area. Please respect the private property.
About 1.8 miles, you arrive at cliffs that soar to more than 800 feet. If you look carefully, you can see several million years worth of alternating sedimentary layers of sandstone, shale, volcanic ash, peat and coal that were deposited in an ancient river and swamp system long before these rocks were uplifted and the ocean waves began to erode them into these high cliffs.
You reach the second headland about Mile 2.7. Plan to hang out here for a while to have a snack, and enjoy the sweeping view from east to west; from the Southern Kenai Mountains across lower Kachemak Bay and southern Cook Inlet, all the way to the volcanoes of the Alaska Peninsula on the western and southwestern horizon. It's quite a panorama.
At about 2.8 miles, again look up at the soaring cliffs, but look carefully and you'll notice that the layers are folded and deformed by recent landslides. Look for the "drunken forest" with trees pointing up in different directions, evidence of them growing on active landslides.
At the third headland, a little more than 4.3 miles into the hike, again look up on the high cliffs at the back of the beach to view distinct coal beds. These are distinguished by their dark color and the fact that they stand out in relief from the surrounding sandstones and siltstones.
The fourth and final headland is at mile 5.3, where you find one of the best tide-pooling locations on the Kenai Peninsula. Because this area is only about one mile from the entrance to Bishop's Beach, you may want to plan to return here for optimal tide-pooling conditions at very low tides of minus-three to minus-six feet.