Winter on the Coast is always surprising — it’s not uncommon to see a mix of rain, sun, mist and even a bright burst of warmth and sunshine in the same week, or even day. All that makes for a thrilling experience when you’re out on a trail, breathing in the woodsy scents of old-growth forest through sun-dappled light. Hiking on the Coast during the winter also means you don’t necessarily need to fight crowds for parking, and you get to experience the trails — wildlife and all — with far fewer users than you’ll find during peak season. Here are a few spectacular hikes to explore this season on the North Coast, starting from easiest to most difficult.
Family-friendly jaunt to the beach: Short Sand Beach and Necarney Creek trails
Oswald West State Park’s network of short trails are ideal for families with small children or others looking for more of a short nature walk through the woods than a strenuous hike. The half-mile trail to Short Sand Beach starts at the main parking lot and leads under Highway 101 through a canopy of cedars and hemlock, as well as lots of sword fern and mossy logs. You’ll see signs for various trail spurs — all lead to the beach, so take your pick. Kids especially love the bouncy wooden bridge along the Necarney Creek Trail. The beach is usually teeming with surfers, happy dogs and picnickers. Lots of driftwood and a lovely creek make for great sand play.
Scenic views and switchbacks: Cape Falcon Trail
Intermediate hikers may enjoy the 4.6-mile out-and-back that starts at another parking lot for Oswald West State Park (the northernmost pull-out, on the ocean side). This hike winds through spruce trees, taking you higher in elevation until all you’ll soon hear is the pounding surf, the birds in the trees and the cascade of the tiny waterfall you’ll be able to see from the upper viewpoint. The rest of the trail takes you over a creek, through switchbacks and meadows filled with coastal salal berries, wrapping with stunning viewpoints to the south of Neahkahnie Mountain and the town of Manzanita before you return the same way you came.
A muddy romp for whale watchers: Cape Lookout Trail
If you don’t mind getting muddy, this 5-mile moderately difficult round-trip in Cape Loookout State Park is breathtaking any time of year. Wear boots and bring a change of clothes and towels for the car. Some parts of the trails have steep drop-offs, so keep pets on leash at all times and keep a close eye on children. Older children and photography buffs will have a field day: The panoramic ocean views make for excellent whale watching, so bring binoculars, lots of trail snacks for stopping at the viewpoints, and an intrepid sense of adventure.
Serious hikers and adventurers only: Tillamook Head Trail
With 1,350 feet of elevation gain over 6.3 miles this trail (one way) takes a bit of stamina, so come ready to work. The views will be well worth it, as you traverse through lush rainforest on your way up the headland to the observation point. Here, you’ll find perhaps the best view on the Coast of the infamous Tillamook Rock Lighthouse, built in 1881 and visible atop a small island — don’t forget your binoculars. The hike starts at the Elmer Feldenheimer State Natural Area parking lot on the south side of Seaside and turns back at Indian Beach, where an additional 1.5 miles of trail leading south to Ecola Point is temporarily closed due to repairs until early 2019. Check posted trail information before you set out.
If you go:
- Be prepared for the weather. Whenever you head out for outdoor adventuring on the Coast, it helps to be prepared with layers, including a raincoat, rain pants and wool or other non-cotton clothing that dries quickly. Weather-resistant boots or trail shoes will keep your feet warm and dry, whether you’re on the beach or the trail.
- Bring your essentials.It’s also wise to bring a paper map (downloadable here) as well as plenty of extra water, and let someone know where you’ll be.
- Be safe and respect all users.When you’re out and about, make sure to abide by all trail signs, check for seasonal closures and road conditions in wintry weather, and pick up after your furry friends on the trail so all users can enjoy it for generations to come. When you’re nearby the beach, make sure to avoid areas that are closed due to western snowy plover nesting season, March 15-Sept. 15. Look for bright yellow signs nearby Oregon’s beaches and more info about how to protect this threatened species here.
By Jen Anderson
Photo of Oswald West State Park by Woods Wheatcroft