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Coastal Range Hiking Oregon Trip report

Killin Wetlands & Elk & Kings Mountain Loop

The weather finally cooperated enough for us to get back to our originally planned 2022 hikes. For this outing we were heading back to one of our earliest hikes, Elk & Kings Mountains (post) to see how much we remembered from that first visit. When we made the conscious choice to take up hiking in 2010 the loop over Elk and Kings Mountains was our eighth hike. One of only a handful of hikes rated “Very Difficult” in all five of Sullivan’s “100 Hikes” guidebooks, and the only one in the Oregon Coast book, this had been quite the challenge for us. We were curious how nearly 12 years of additional hikes, and age, might change our experience this time around. We were also hiking the trail at a better time of the year having tackled it in the heat of mid-August the first time around. Our hope was that the earlier visit would provide a different experience with wildflowers and with the streams and creeks along the route.

Before we started the difficult loop though we stopped at Killin Wetlands Nature Park just outside of Banks, OR for a short warmup hike on the 0.7 mile loop. An unintended result of having altered the plan for our two previous outings was that this stop would mark our third straight outing visiting an Oregon Metro managed park. (Orenco Woods)(Chehalem Ridge)
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We set off on a clockwise loop on the Peat Swamp Trail then stayed left at its junction with the Waterfowl Way Trail.
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IMG_9959Peat Swamp Trail.

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Our 6am start time paid off as we were not only the only ones at the park but we spotted a deer (too quick for a photo), two otters, several families of Canada geese, and a gadwall and a mallard.
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IMG_9963One of the two otters that were swimming in the wetlands.

IMG_9974Mallard

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IMG_9972The gadwall amid a family of Canada geese. When we got home and looked closer at the picture we realized that one of the round shapes we took for a clump of mud was actually an animal. We can’t make out the tail to know for sure whether it was a beaver or a nutria but we’d like to think it was another beaver.

IMG_9973The beaver? turned a bit in this photo but we still couldn’t make out the tail. It does appear relatively large when compared to the adult goose though.

Waterfowl Way made a 180 turn and headed uphill through some small trees to return to the Peat Swamp Trail.
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We stayed left again and completed the short but eventful loop.
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From Killin Wetlands we headed west on Highway 6 to Elk Creek Campground and the Elk Mountain Trailhead.
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We set off on the Wilson River Trail which began a 0.2 mile climb to a junction with the Elk Mountain Trail.
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IMG_9998Fairy bells and bleeding heart.

IMG_0003Elk Creek below the trail.

IMG_0005Junction with the Elk Mountain Trail

While it had been sunny at the wetlands we had dropped under some clouds as we descended to the Wilson River Valley and found ourselves hiking steeply up into fog.
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IMG_0014Paintbrush

IMG_0015Parsley

IMG_0016Blue-eyed Mary

IMG_0022Viewpoint along the Elk Mountain Trail.

IMG_0029The blue sky is up there.

IMG_0033Snow queen

IMG_0035The trail was as steep and rough as we’d remembered.

We did climb out of the cloud to find that blue sky again.
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IMG_0043White service berry blossoms and a huckleberry plant.

The trail made a series of ups and downs along a ridge crossing four saddles before climbing to the 2788′ summit of Elk Mountain.
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IMG_0062Violet

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IMG_0076Red-flowering currant

IMG_0083Trillium

IMG_0087Anemone

IMG_0092Monkeyflower

IMG_0100One of the saddles.

20220521_084754Chocolate lily

IMG_0116Elk Mountain summit.

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We spent a little time resting at the summit where we found a lone blooming beargrass with more to come.
IMG_0134Kings Mountain from Elk Mountain.

IMG_0123Wilson River

IMG_0124Pacific Ocean

IMG_0129The blooming beargrass below some red-flowering currant.

IMG_0131Beargrass

While the 1.5 mile climb to this summit had been hard the next mile of trail beyond the summit took it up a notch. The trail dropped nearly straight down the rocky west face of Elk Mountain requiring us to use our hands as we climbed down the damp rocks.
IMG_0136Looking down the trail.

IMG_0137Heather on her way down.

After navigating the rocky descent the trail passed along some cliffs then climbed atop a narrow rocky ridge which it followed to an old roadbed where the hiking became temporarily much easier.
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IMG_0153On the ridge.

IMG_0156Dropping down to a saddle along the ridge.

Near the start of the road bed we spotted a hermit warbler eating something off of some huckleberry bushes.
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This was the first time we’d seen one of these pretty little birds, at least that we are aware of. Who knows how many we’ve seen fly by and not been able to identify them.

IMG_0163Mercifully on the old roadbed.

We followed the old roadbed for about a mile as it climbed to a junction at a saddle.
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IMG_0170A clump of trillium.

IMG_0171Little moth.

IMG_0180Getting closer to Kings Mountain.

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IMG_0187Paintbrush

IMG_0189Coming up to the junction.

We turned left onto the Kings Mountain Trail which according to the pointer was 1.3 miles away.
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The trail continued to follow an old road bed for a little over half a mile before dropping steeply to a ridge and switchbacking around an outcrop and finally crossing over a saddle.
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IMG_0198Phlox, paintbrush, and chickweed.

IMG_0203Still on the old road.

IMG_0206At the ridge end above the saddle, the trail dropped down to the left then through the saddle.

IMG_0208Below the outcrop headed to the saddle.

Probably the most memorable part of our first hike here was needing to use a rope that had been affixed to a stump to descend a steep chute. While we both remembered that we had forgotten at what point we’d encountered the rope and after the steep drop off of Elk Mountain we convinced ourselves that the rope had been there. As we passed over the saddle we realized our mistake as the stump and rope were here and the 12 years had not been kind to the trail here.
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IMG_0210Heather getting ready to start down.

Kings Mountain TrailThe chute in 2010.

The rope was quite a bit longer this time, out of necessity, but we made it down and continued on. From here the trail passed below some sheer cliffs which had been a very nerve wracking experience in 2010. Apparently somewhere during the 549 outings that we’d done between visits I’d gotten much more comfortable with narrow trails with steep drop offs because this time there were no nerves but there were a couple of spots that required the use of hands to get up.
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IMG_0216The trail is down there somewhere.

20220521_110629Trillium

20220521_110646Bleeding heart

IMG_0225Fringed kitten-tails

20220521_114513Glacier lily

The trail then climbed to a high point along the ridge which Heather initially mistook for the summit of Kings Mountain. She was less than thrilled when I pointed out the actual summit a short distance, and one saddle, away.
IMG_0229Coming up to the high point.

IMG_0230Kings Mountain

IMG_0231View SE from the high point.

We dropped down to the saddle then made the final climb to Kings Mountain. We had seen a small number of other hikers up to this point but found several others here having come up from the Kings Mountain Trailhead.
IMG_0237Dropping to the last saddle.

IMG_0238Summit register at Kings Mountain.

IMG_0239Pacific Ocean in the distance.

IMG_0241View north.

IMG_0245Other hikers at the summit.

IMG_0244Valerian

IMG_0248Saxifrage, possibly Saddle Mountain saxifrage.

IMG_0250Phlox, paintbrush, parsley, blue-eyed Mary, and chickweed.

From Kings Mountain the Kings Mountain Trail dropped steeply downhill for 2.5 miles to a 4-way junction with the Wilson River Trail. While the trail is steep and rough in a couple of spots it’s nowhere near as gnarly as the Elk Mountain Trail. We had remembered the descent as having given us trouble but in those days we hadn’t used hiking poles. Armed with proper poles this time the descent went much smoother.
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IMG_0255One of the rougher sections.

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IMG_0272Wood sorrel

IMG_0279Woodland buttercup and candy flower.

IMG_0281The 4-way junction.

We turned left on the Wilson River Trail to make the 3.5 mile hike back to the Elk Mountain Trailhead. While the hike had been challenging we’d been doing pretty well but we’d forgotten to bring any electrolytes with us and while we had plenty of water we both started feeling a bit off. We paused at Dog Creek which is right near the junction for a bit of a break before continuing on the final stretch.
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IMG_0285Dog Creek

The Wilson River Trail passed a wetland fed by several small streams before making a long gradual climb up to the junction with the Elk Mountain Trail.
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The wetlands

IMG_0295One of the smaller streams.

IMG_0302Monkey flower

IMG_0305Lily that will bloom in a few weeks.

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IMG_0309Fringecup

IMG_0314Coming up on a footbridge across Big Creek.

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IMG_0319Big Creek

IMG_0322Pacific waterleaf

IMG_0325Steadily climbing.

IMG_0327A pea or vetch.

IMG_0329Unnamed stream crossing.

IMG_0332Miterwort

IMG_0338Rosy Birdsfoot Trefoil

IMG_0344The third type of monkey flower we saw on the day.

IMG_0349The junction is on the saddle ahead.

From the junction we dropped down to the trailhead where we thankfully had some meat sticks waiting that provided some much need salt and protein.
IMG_0352Cars to the left through the trees, we made it.

So what did we learn revisiting this challenging hike after 12 years? One is that we are more comfortable with sketchy trails and exposure after having experienced both many times since then. Secondly our bodies are 12 years older and they reminded us of that toward the end of the hike. Finally we were reminded that as much as we have learned about hiking such as the advantage that trekking poles can provide we are still prone to making mistakes and underestimating what we might need such as the electrolytes. It will likely be quite a while before you find us on a hike without some handy.

Aside from both stops being loops our two hikes for the day couldn’t have been much different from one another. The 0.7 mile loop at Killin Wetlands was short with a well graded trail that gained a total of 60′ of elevation while the Elk and Kings Mountain Loop and been over 11 miles (It’s just under 11 if you don’t wander around with over 4000′ of elevation gain. The gains were often steep, as were the losses, requiring the use of hands at times and included steep exposed drop offs. It was obvious from the number of other trail users that we encountered that most people stick to the out and back up to Kings Mountain but if you’re an experience hiker looking for a challenge or an early season training hike this is a great option. Happy Trails!

Our track for the Elk & Kings Mountain Loop

Flickr: Killin Wetlands and Elk & Kings Mountain

3 replies on “Killin Wetlands & Elk & Kings Mountain Loop”

First time I did King was 2009. Various Elk-King traverses (some in snow) followed. Glad to see that it’s still a grunt – and that you two had no problems hiking it recently (despite your “age”). 😁

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