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Coastal Range Hiking Oregon Trip report

North Fork Nehalem River – 02/20/2021

Like much of the U.S. we’ve had some ugly weather so far in February so when we saw the potential for a “not too wet” window of time we decided to head out for this month’s hike. On our schedule for February was the North Fork Nehalem River in the Coastal Range. This hike came from the Oregon Hikers Field Guide, my favorite online source for ideas. This particular hike utilizes roads instead of trails which was actually a good thing after an unusually destructive ice and snow storm had come through just a week before our hike. We hopped that the combination of the roads and some clearcuts along those roads would mean we wouldn’t have to deal with much if any debris from the storm. As we drove west on Highway 26 from Portland we were amazed at how much damage there was to trees in the Coastal Range. Between the damage we saw and a couple of heavy rain showers we were wondering what we might be getting ourselves into as we turned south onto Highway 53. The rain let up as we wound our way down past more damaged trees to the Nehalem Fish Hatchery. We had planned to stop at the hatchery first for a quick stop to see Umbrella Falls but signs at the hatchery indicated it was closed to visitors due to COVID-19 (the ODFW website for the hatchery didn’t mention the closure). With access to the 1/8 mile path to the falls blocked we had to skip Umbrella Falls for now and we drove the short distance north on Highway 53 to Cole Mountain Road (just north of the bridge over the North Fork Nehalem River) where we turned west (right) and kept right at a fork to reach the North Fork Nehalem Trailhead.
Trailhead on North Fork Road

We parked at a pullout before a gate marking the start of private land owned by McCracken Woodlands LLC and set off on foot.
Informational sign from McMracken Woodlands LLC

After crossing over a small stream we started getting views of the North Fork Nehalem River on our right.
Stream along North Fork Road

North Fork Nehalem River

North Fork Nehalem River

We were soon passing one of several clearcuts.
Clearcut above North Fork Road

While we are always on the lookout for wildlife we rarely spot anything when we’re specifically looking for something. Today was no exception and after scanning the hillside and coming up empty we started walking again. I turned around to see what the view was like behind us and caught movement 2/3rds of the way up the hill. It was a pair of deer that were well aware of us and making their way in the other direction.
Deer in the clearcut

Deer moving away from us through the clearcut

A mile into the hike we crossed the river on a bridge.
North Fork Road crossing the North Fork Nehalem River

North Fork Nehalem River

North Fork Nehalem River

Just under a half a mile from the bridge we came to North Fork Falls where some steps led down to a fish ladder.
North Fork Falls

North Fork Falls

Fish ladder at North Fork Falls

North Fork Nehalem River

After checking out the falls and fish ladder we continued on North Fork Road passing twin seasonal waterfalls, a quarry, and a pond before crossing over Gods Valley Creek near the two and three quarter mile mark of the hike.
North Fork Road

Twin seasonal waterfalls along North Fork Road

Pond along North Fork Road

Gods Valley CreekGods Valley Creek

Just beyond Gods Valley Creek we spotted some old moss covered picnic tables. We’d be interested in the history here as there was also at least one former campsite with an old fire ring in the area as well. Our guess is that before the logging this was some sort of recreation area but we haven’t been able to find any information online about it.
Old picnic tables

FrogFrog near the old picnic tables.

After crossing the creek the road left the North Fork Nehalem as the river bent northward sticking to a straight line to another crossing of the River just before the 3.5 mile mark.
North Fork Road

North Fork Road crossing the North Fork Nehalem River

North Fork Nehalem River

A gate at the far end of this bridge marked the boundary of the private land and the start of the Clatsop State Forest. We followed North Fork Road through the forest another two miles to Fall Creek (just on the far side of another large quarry).
Skunk cabbageNot much in the way of flowers yet but there was a bit of skunk cabbage in bloom.

Skunk cabbage

North Fork RoadSome low hanging trees, presumably from the storm. The roads had been cleared but occasional damage along the side of the road was evident.

North Fork Nehalem River

Snail shell

Old stump amid younger treesThere were no recent clearcuts in the Clatsop State Forest section but there was evidence of past logging.

Fall CreekFall Creek

After crossing Fall Creek the road (which is shown on maps as Hill Road here) turned away from the river and followed Fall Creek. We took a short detour to the right toward the river where a gated suspension bridge led to another fish ladder.
North Fork Nehalem River

Path to a closed suspension bridge over the North Fork Nehalem RiverNot sure why I neglected to get a picture of the bridge from the locked gate but this is the only one I took of the bridge.

Upper North Fork FallsThe hike description in the Oregon Hikers Field Guide mentions walking along the bank to get a view of Upper North Fork Falls from the rocks below but that wasn’t going to be an option with the river level today.

After checking out the bridge we returned to the the road and continued uphill along Fall Creek to visit three more waterfalls.
Hill Road along Fall Creek

We came to the first fall after .3 miles, a side stream flowing into Fall Creek. The lack of leaves made it a little easier to see the falls than it would be later in the year.
Waterfall spilling into Fall Creek

I was able to make my way down to Fall Creek below the falls for a closer look. (I did however get slapped in the face a couple of times by the vegetation.)
Waterfall spilling into Fall Creek

Another quarter mile brought us to the final two falls. A stepped fall on Fall Creek and another side stream flowing into Fall Creek.
Falls on Fall Creek

Waterfalls on Fall Creek

Waterfall spilling into Fall Creek

Waterfall spilling into Fall Creek

We were pleasantly surprised at how nice these last three waterfalls were, especially the two on the side streams. We were also thankful that we hadn’t had any real precipitation to deal with. We headed back the way we’d come looking for anything we’d missed on our fist pass.
Thick moss on a treeWe both thought that this thick moss looked like some sort of hairstyle.

Mushrooms

Rough skinned newtRough-skinned newt

A brief mist passed over but that was it and we enjoyed some bright blue sky as we finished up our outing.
North Fork Road

The hike came in at a little under twelve and a half miles with just over 500′ of elevation gain. We passed three anglers on the road on the way back and saw two more (their fishing line anyway) down on river. This was a great winter hike and a thoroughly enjoyable outing despite being entirely on roads. It just goes to show that it’s the not the surface but the surroundings that make a good hike. Happy Trails!

Flickr: North Fork Nehalem River

Categories
Coastal Range Hiking Oregon Trip report

Mary’s Peak, Beazell Memorial Forest & Ft. Hoskins County Park

Every once in a while it can be fun to change things up a bit. For our latest day of hiking we did just that. Instead of one longer hike we decided to knock a few shorter hikes off our to-do list. We had a graduation open-house that we wanted to stop in at that afternoon in Dallas, OR so we headed down to the central coast range for a trail triple header.

We started at Mary’s Peak, the highest peak in the Oregon coast range. We had visited the peak in 2009 when we were just starting to get into hiking. That day we had taken a 2.5 mile route from Conner’s Camp to the 4097′ summit. It was the most challenging hike we’d done up to that point and we felt every bit of the 1530′ climb. Our plan was to redo that hike (at least on the way up) to see how we would fare now that we’ve been hiking for several years.

There are several ways to get to the summit varying in length from just over a mile to almost 11 miles round trip. The East Ridge trail would be our route up from Conner’s Camp. The trail sets off from the parking area in a forest of old-growth Douglas Fir which tower overhead. The forest is very open despite the giant trees due to the lack of lower branches which allows for an abundance of green undergrowth. Vine maple, salal, fern, and many other plants contribute to a lush green understory. Low clouds were hanging in the tree tops while many white woodland flowers dotted the forest floor.

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The trail climbs steadily for 1.1 miles to a junction where the East Ridge Tie trail continues on to the North ridge trail making a loop possible. We would be retuning from that direction but in order to recreate our 2009 climb we turned left to continue up the East Ridge trail. The trail steepens after the junction and it was this section that seemed to go on forever the first time we hiked it. It proved to be a stiff climb but we quickly reached a second junction, this time with the North Ridge trail. Forking to the left we continued up a short distance to the lower meadow and blue(ish) skies. 🙂

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The trail wraps around a hillside through the meadow, which was yet to really start blooming, before reaching a gravel service road in a saddle. The clouds were lapping up over the hillside from the north creating what can only be described as a “fog rainbow”.

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The gravel road winds up to the summit around the south side of Mary’s Peak, but a more direct (and steeper) trail leads up to the upper meadow from the far side of the road. Since that was the way we had gone before we crossed the road and headed up again (and again wondered why). When we emerged from the narrow swath of trees that divides the two meadows we found that the upper meadow was also yet to bloom. Clumps of lupine had yet to even begin to bud and only a few scattered flowers dotted the slope.

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The sky was blue though and we had the peak to ourselves so we climbed through the meadow to a picnic table at the summit. We were above the clouds but it appeared that Mary’s Peak was the only peak which had managed to rise above them. Even the 10,000′ Cascade peaks to the east were hidden. To the west the Pacific Ocean blended in so well with the layer of clouds and blue sky that it was difficult to make out where one ended an another began.

The view west:
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After setting our stuff down at the table we began exploring the summit. To the west where the road came up from below we began to find flowers. Purple larkspur and yellow biscuit root covered the ground.
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We started to head down the road following the flowers and as we rounded a bend we were greeted with a color explosion. We’d found the flowers. They were all on the south side of the peak. Phlox, larkspur, paint, and various yellow wildflowers covered the slopes on this side.
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After taking a few pictures (okay lots) we went back to the table to gather our packs and headed back down the road. As we made our way down we found some blooming lupine and penstemon as well.
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To get back to the car we took the 1 mile section of the North Ridge trail from the upper junction to the East Ridge Tie trail and turned right on it for 1.2 miles back to the first junction and finally back to Conner’s Camp.

From there we drove back to U.S. Highway 20 and headed west to the Kings Valley Highway Junction. Turning right we continued 4.8 miles on Highway 223 to the Beazell Memorial Forest. The forest consists of 586 acres gifted to Benton County by the former owner, Fred Beazell, as a memorial to his late wife Dolores. Our plan here was to hike a 3.2 mile loop using the South Ridge trail.

The trail begins at a footbridge behind a restored barn which was being readied for a wedding reception on this day. After crossing Plunkett Creek on the bridge the trail joins an old road for half a mile. The forest is dense and scenic in a narrow valley. At the .5 mile mark the trail splits off to the right and recrosses the creek twice before rejoining the road at a junction in another half a mile.

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Here the South Ridge trail leads to the right up the side of the valley. A sign was posted warning of a logging operation and trail closure from October 2013 through April 2014. Being that it was June we continued on. The trial switchbacked up 350′ through increasingly open forest with wild iris and some flowers we had not seen before.
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At the top of the hill a short spur trail leads to a small meadow with a nice view across the valley.
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After leaving the meadow the trail drops down over the west side of the hill where signs of the logging operations could be seen. After joining a logging road for a bit the trail again split off to the right, passing an old cistern before returning us to the barn and our car.
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We had one more hike planned for the day so we hopped back into the car and continued another mile and a half north on Hwy 223 to Hoskins Rd. Following signs to the left for Fort Hoskins County Park we drove another 1.8 miles to the park entrance on the right. The park is at the site of an 1856 outpost.
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We started our hike here by taking the half mile interpretive loop past the old fort site and historic buildings. This path looped around a lovely meadow where daisies and foxglove bloomed and a few apple trees remained from an old orchard.
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While we were inspecting the Commander’s House a Bald Eagle flew past and began circling overhead.
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The path then passed the foundation of the Hoskins School before climbing back to the parking area where a longer loop began on the far side of the road.
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The longer 1.3 mile loop climbed over 300′ through a hillside meadow filled with wildflowers.
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The day turned out better than I had expected. We managed to get 12.3 miles of hiking in while visiting some interesting places and still made it to the graduation party on time. Happy Trails!

flickr photos: https://www.flickr.com/photos/9319235@N02/sets/72157644555553479/
facebook: Mary’s Peak https://www.facebook.com/deryl.yunck/media_set?set=a.10204131646278585.1073741879.1448521051&type=1
Beazell Memorial Forest https://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.10204132717145356.1073741880.1448521051&type=3
Ft. Hoskins County Park https://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.10204132785187057.1073741881.1448521051&type=3