Hikers, runners and cross country skiers often complain that private golf courses take great land they could be using and then ban them from using it. Lucky for them (this hiker included), Bandon Dunes is no ordinary golf course.
With its stunning views, respected caddie program, restaurants and lounges, and challenging courses and elements, Bandon Dunes has become known as one of the world’s top places to play golf. The gorse-lined rolling terrain with the view of the ocean reminds players of the sport’s traditional Scottish roots, inspiring its motto “Golf As It Was Meant To Be.”
Golfers are not the only ones welcome at Bandon Dunes. A system of trails that wind between and through the various courses are open to the public as well as golfers and may be used without paying a dime, not even for parking. The several miles of trails offer varying terrain and surfaces including sand dunes, forest, grass, and pavement, and visual treats such as ocean views, a labyrinth, and, of course, golfers.
The hiking experience begins as you turn onto Randolph Rd. towards the golf course from Highway 101. The road winds slowly through some of the coast’s best and most ubiquitous native plants: shore pines, wild rhododendrons that bloom pink in the spring, huckleberries, salal, and sword ferns. It’s no trouble following the 20 mph speed limit as there is much to see, but keep a lookout for wildlife and golfers; there are places along the way you must stop for golfers crossing the road.
Parking is best at the Lodge where you’ll want to begin your hike. It’s a good spot to use the restroom, fill up your water bottle, and ask for a trail map at the front desk. Note the color-coded trails on the map; they correspond with colored trail markers on all the trails. Note also the distances and difficulty levels in the description of each.
The two Ridge Loops, 1 mile each, are a great way to get warmed up and gives you nice views of the Bandon Dunes from the south loop and the Pacific Dunes course, Punchbowl putting course, and the Practice Center from the north loop. At times on the Ridge Loops and other trails, you will be walking on parts of the golf course, but don’t worry. If you see a group of golfers, just wait and let them finish before moving on. The Ridge Loops trails are a mix of wood chips, sand, pavement, and dirt.
From the parking lot, face away from the Lodge, and find the wood chip path that goes up a relatively steep hill. You’ll be quickly rewarded with views of the Lodge, several holes at Bandon Dunes, and, on a clear day, the Pacific Ocean and part of the Bandon Preserve course. From the Overlook, walk along the top of the dunes to the north, cutting through beach grass and gorse.
The trail takes you north until you reach Madrone Lake, where you will head south back toward the lodge. This far north, the trail is rarely used, and the wildlife is more abundant. Look closely; you may see footprints left by foxes, raccoons, skunks, porcupines, beavers, and squirrels. At the Practice Center, you will have an opportunity to use the restroom, refill your water bottle, or even rest with some complimentary coffee or tea. Continue south back to the lodge.
To add another ¾ mile and experience some unique features of the trails, turn left on the Woodland Trail, about halfway back to the lodge from the northernmost point of the Ridge Loops. A trail marker with a green paint stripe will show you the intersection. The Woodland Trail is a lovely walk through the woods on a dirt trail made soft by years of duff slowly composting into the soil. On this trail you will encounter another short and well-marked path to the Labyrinth, a maze intended for walking meditation. It is a replica of one at the Chartres Cathedral in France and a memorial to Howard McKee, a friend of Mike Keiser and one of Bandon Dunes’ founders. It is a worthwhile detour. The Woodland Trail brings you back to the many paved Creekside Paths that wind around the main campus of the resort. Head back to the Lodge.
If you have hiked both Ridge Loops and the Woodland Trail, you have probably logged just under 3 miles. You can call it a day here, or if you have only whetted your appetite, make your way to the Beach Trial and the Dune Trail for up to 4 more miles and more physical challenge.
I recommend tackling the 1-mile Beach Trail first. From the Lodge, come around the back side of the Inn, and follow the sign to “Bandon Trails.” You will see a kiosk there with a staff person, and if you look like I did (a slightly lost hiker wearing a backpack, camera around my neck, map in my hand), you will simply be waved on to the direction it’s obvious you are heading. Follow the sign directing you to the left, and the trail immediately turns to sand, a sure sign you’re on your way to the sandy beach. If you start feeling a little lost at an intersection, just look for the trail markers with the yellow stripe to show you the way. Crossing the dunes, you will be walking on soft, loose sand for about the first half until it turns into gravel and then wood chips. You will skirt the Bandon Preserve course and get up close and personal with one or two of the holes. Pass through the gate, and make your way down to the beach. The wind here can be intense. Note the long stretch of beach to the north and south; this long fetch is the reason for the strong winds.
Head back on the Beach Trail about ½ mile until you reach the intersection with the Dune Trail, marked with an orange trail marker. You’ll head south along the dunes where the trail is the soft sand you would expect on a dune. The dunes aren’t all sand, though, and in fact, you might be surprised by the amount of vegetation. Wild strawberries, shore pines, grasses, and the non-native gorse and scotchbroom grow right out of the sand, and if you visit in late spring, the dunes are splashed with the color of blossoms. Along here if you turn and looking at the ocean, you will see golfers right at the edge of the dune. To the east, you will see rolling hills in varying states of clear cut. Pass a viewpoint and take a rest while enjoying some of the views, then continue south where you will cross the road and head almost abruptly downhill off of the dunes.
The trail changes here, and you’ll find yourself suddenly in a completely different ecosystem and environment. You head into the forest, trading the sound of the ocean for the smell of warm pine needles and the sandy trail for a firmer forest trail. You will cross a bridge over a swampy area and head into tall fir trees where this hiker experienced an owl swooping across the trail. Here is where you will forget that you are on the property of a world-class golf course and you will be tricked into thinking you’re deep in a forest.
Continue north, and if you are in need of a water refill, you will find a short path that goes off to the left to a water fountain where the water squirts high enough to make it into your bottle. Eventually the trail changes again, and you’re back on a little sand, and Oregon grape and kinnikinnick join the native plant scene. Keep following the orange trail markers, and you’ll end up back at the main campus of the resort.
Hikers completing all of these routes will have walked approximately 7 miles! That is definitely deserving of a drink or a meal at the Lodge or McKees Pub, although this hiker found that a stop at the Face Rock Creamery for an ice cream cone was an ample reward.
These trails are great for hiking any day, and anytime of the year, but wait for a sunny day if at all possible to take advantage of the views. Of course, in Bandon, many days that start out with fog or low clouds end up sunny, so you may only need to wait around a few hours.
Although it’s rarely warmer than the mid-60s in Bandon, on a sunny day, bring sunglasses, a hat, sunblock and lip balm as hiking anywhere in the sun can cause dryness and sunburn. As with any hike, be sure to have a water bottle, and, on this one in particular, a camera is a must to capture the beauty of the flora, ocean and landscape, the ruggedness of the terrain, and the grace of the golfers.