Weekend Backpacker: Portland

Oswald West State Park
  |  Gorp.com
Northern Oregon's wilderness coast

Basaltic cliffs, carved and battered by the sea, drop 700 feet to the surf below. Deep-throated crow and raven find their home on wind-twisted spruce. Far below, seagull and pelican scour the surf for dinner. Cape Falcon is nature in the rough.

The Oregon Coast Trail runs some 360 miles from California to Washington. Linking together a string of causeways, the trail runs along broad beaches, forest paths, and even U.S. 101. But some of the best hiking is found in the north, on the stretch between Arch Cape and Neakhanie Mountain.

Recommended Trip

Arch Cape to Neakhanie Mountain, via Cape Falcon

Day 1: From Arch Cape trailhead the Oregon Coast Trail switchbacks up through dense forest. Crossing a low pass, the trail drops down again, linking up with an old, forgotten road. Follow this road south. At 1.5 miles you'll cross U.S. 101 and continue south, paralleling the road for a stretch before winding up on an unnamed hillside. This treeless stretch is the result of wind, weather, and salvage logging. It stands as a testimony to the ocean's influence here.

Round the ridge and begin a long steady descent to the coast. At 4.5 miles you'll touch down on Cape Falcon, getting the first of several great views from the rugged bluff.

From here the trail winds along the coast like a snake, dipping in and out of rugged coastal stands, hugging close to high cliff falls. Watch your feet on wet rocks and the ocean for whale spouts.

At 5.7 miles a spur trail juts off to the southwestern tip of the cape. This is a fine diversion and a good spot for lunch.

The trail then heads east above the north shore of Smuggler's Cove and Short Sand Beach. At 7.6 miles, jog left on a new trail that climbs up alongside Short Sand Creek. Soon thereafter, turn right and into the Oswald West Campground. Set up camp here, then head down to Short Sand Beach and watch the surfers hang ten.

Day 2: From the campground head back down to the Oregon Coast Trail and turn left. Heading south, cross Necarney Creek before switchbacking up a steep slope. In the 1.3 miles between here and U.S. 101, you'll pass two spur trails, each offering high views of the sea.

Cross at U.S. 101, beginning the climb to the summit of Neakhanie Mountain. The first half mile, switchback through thick coastal forest before committing to a long steady incline. At 2.0 miles you'll reach the summit, taking in a well-deserved view.

In the home stretch now, head south and east for 0.6 mile to the ridgetop trail junction. Continue on the Oregon Coast Trail. This drops you 0.9 mile down to the trailhead and your waiting shuttle car.

Permit Information

No permits currently required. Camping in Oswald West State Park is $14 per night in peak season. Campground is closed November to March.

Recommended Map

Good topographical maps are currently not available. Best bets are excellent, hand-drawn maps in 100 Hikes/Travel Guide Oregon Coast & Coast Range (Navillus Press) by William L. Sullivan. Book also covers this trip in reverse direction in Hikes #13 and #14.

Recommended Guide

120 Hikes on the Oregon Coast by Bonnie Henderson (Mountaineers). Excellent narrative. Covers this trip in Hikes #12 and #13.

Getting There

Two cars are needed for the one-way, 15-mile trek. From Portland take U.S. 26 to U.S. 101. Head south on 101. Thirteen miles past Canon Beach turn left at a hiker sign. Drive a half mile up the road to the Oregon Coast Trail trailhead. Park here. In second vehicle return to U.S. 101 and head north. Four miles after passing Os West, go through a tunnel, then turn right on Arch Cape Mill Road. Follow this for close to a half mile to Third Street. Turn left. Watch for trailhead on your right.

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Published: 29 Apr 2002 | Last Updated: 15 Sep 2010
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication

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