By Michael H. Kew
Not all hiking trails host views of a mysterious rock-island lighthouse. Or mossy World War II bunkers. Or a north-facing vista that drove explorer William Clark to famously write: “I behold the grandest and most pleasing prospect which my eyes ever surveyed.”
Where to Start
Seaside and Cannon Beach are lucky to have the Tillamook Head Trail sandwiched between them, offering easy access to a wealth of natural and historical insights among the cool, misty confines of deep rainforest, the cold Pacific and barking sea lions below. From either of the two trailheads, both part of the Oregon Coast Trail, spectacular scenery is just steps away. You’ll walk through a natural fortress of green — thick forests of big dripping Sitka spruce and hemlock above beds of salal and sword fern. The trail itself is mostly a soft mat of mud and decayed plant matter — easy on your feet, but wear sturdy shoes and consider a walking stick.
Perhaps the trail’s most compelling sight is the Tillamook Rock Lighthouse, listed on the U.S. National Register of Historic Places and known commonly as “Terrible Tilly.” Sitting just over a mile offshore, the lighthouse (which took nearly two years to build) operated from 1881 to 1957; its keepers endured miserable weather. From 1980 to 1999, the lighthouse served as a private columbarium. Today it stands desolate and alone — no doubt harboring some spooky secrets.
Often slammed by heavy rain and huge winter waves, the lighthouse has withstood a barrage of rocks, water and occasional sea life thrown against it, 150 feet above sea level. That the lighthouse still stands is testament to the ingenuity and determination of those who originally sought to build such a structure along the oft-fogbound Tillamook Head.
Ways to Go
For a nice 8-mile trek, you can open yourself to the elements with a fun out-and-back along the headland from the Tillamook Head Trailhead to the lighthouse overlook, just past the 4-mile mark. You can also leave a car at Indian Beach in Ecola State Park, shuttle north to the Tillamook Head Trailhead in Seaside. Cab companies can also pick you and chauffeur you back to your starting point.
The fastest option for a great out-and-back view of Terrible Tilly starts from the paved car park at Indian Beach Trailhead ($5 parking fee). From here, you hike north on a gravel road for 1.5 miles to Hikers Camp, where there are three shelters (each with four wooden bunks; first-come/first-served). You then will then pass a World War II bunker before being rewarded with wide views (clouds/fog pending) of the iconic light. Don’t forget your camera!
Photo courtesy of Veronica Russell / Seaside Visitors Bureau