The loop connecting Cook's Ridge and Gwynn Creek takes hikers through a dark, dramatic old-growth forest. Massive Sitka spruce and western hemlock trees dominate the woods along Cook's Ridge, while a younger and more diverse forest of various evergreen trees and shrubs line Gwynn Creek. Along the way, the Discovery Loop trail offers interpretive signs that unfold the story of forest succession. The end of the loop provides incredible views of the ocean and the opportunity to scan the sea for whales from the broad, wrap-around deck at the visitor's center.
From the visitor's center, head for the Cook's Ridge Trail. In a half a mile, you'll arrive at the Discovery Loop and have to decide whether to take a left or right. If you're looking for a short hike, complete the full loop and return back to the visitor's center. If you're taking on the longer loop to Gwynn Creek, continue straight when you reach the other side of the Discovery Loop.
The Cook's Ridge Trail climbs at a moderate grade for the next 1.5 miles through surprisingly dry forest. Huge trees with octopus-like roots line each side of the trail. The old-growth trees block out most of the sunlight, preventing smaller trees, shrubs and flowers from growing.
At the junction with Gwynn Creek Trail, turn right and descend along a wetter, muddier trail toward the creek. If you are looking for a longer walk or are camping overnight, consider extending the loop by continuing straight to Cummins Creek Trail.
As you walk, notice how the forest changes. The trees are smaller and more diverse, the ground is lush with green vegetation, and the occasional side creek cuts across the trail. Continue along the trail, where you will eventually catch a glimpse of Gwynn Creek on your left. As you reach the last turn onto the Oregon Coast Trail, you'll begin to hear loud waves pounding into the shore. Take a short detour left to stand on the bridge across Gwynn Creek, then turn around and walk straight all the way to the visitor's center. This level trail parallels Highway 101 and offers views of the ocean on a clear day.
Be sure to stop inside the visitor's center to explore the museum before getting back in your car.