I love walking in the woods where nobody ever goes.
Oregon is full of dramatically beautiful places to go hiking from the Columbia Gorge to the remote Steens, but this web site is not about those picture perfect hikes. The shelves of Northwest book stores are brimming with outdoor books that will guide you into Forest Park, up the Cascade Trail, around Ollalie Lake and down onto Oregon’s pristine beaches. This book is not about those dramatic trails, nor is it about the 25 best hikes to do with kids, dogs or your mother-in-law. This is a web site about exploring the other side of Oregon’s forests. It’s about experiencing the vast reaches of remote forest lands that extend all along Oregon’s rugged coastal mountains.
This web site is dedicated to the search for a more subtle kind of wilderness beauty. It’s about walking where hardly anyone else ever goes. Frankly it’s not even about completing the routes I’ve compiled. It’s more about being in a special place where nature lives out in the open, where time moves in seasonal rhythms, where perfection cries out from the smallest white star flower to the piercing whistle of a bugling elk. These are hikes into the the remote reaches of Oregon’s Coastal Forests that are all but deserted, except for the loggers and the occaisional hunters. What one may miss in terms of pristine “old growth” woods, is made up by the vast expanse of virtually empty forests where the solitary hiker may chance upon another soul once or twice a year – and then typically only as they pass you in their pick-up truck on some lonely mountain-top road.
This website catalogues nearly ten years exploring Oregon’s northern coastal mountains from the Tualatin Range (aka Portland’s West Hills) along the Nehalem Valley and through the Salmonberry Wilderness to the Pacific Coast. Originally I just sought to survey two overland walking routes to the coast first proposed by the Pacific Greenway Project in the 1990’s. But as I immersed myself deeper into exploring the dense forests of the north coast, I realized that a vast bounty of natural and historical materials about these remote areas was steadily receding into irretrievable obscurity. And so this web site is also a repository for the results of my efforts to recover and preserve the details of this region’s human settlement, the recent development of the logging industry and the building of roads and railroads into the labyrinthian wilderness.
The main concentration of these trails and the related background stories focus on the region extending Northwest from Portland along the spine of the Tualatin Range from Forest Park to Dixie Mountian and beyond to Vernonia. Turning westwards it follows the meandering course of the Nehalem River from Cochran to Vinemaple and then out to Nehalem Bay. A northern route skirts Saddle Mountain and leads down to Seaside and Astoria.
Despite their proximity, the Northwest coastal mountains are often overlooked as Portlanders rush through the coastal passes on their hurried way to the beach. These rugged forests with their mild climate and moist coastline nurtured by mountains that provide abundant meltwater, are among the world’s densest environments supporting more living tissue by weight than any other forest in the world.
Unlike the publically owned forests in the Cascades, Oregon’s coastal mountains are privately held and are among the most productive timber producing tracts in the country. The private ownership and regular logging activity affecting access roads is another reason that the coastal forests are less often used, despite explicit rules allowing recreational access to many areas. These forests are not “arboreal museums” spared forever from the externalities of fire and timber harvesting. This is a neck of the woods where you will find loggers, hunters, mushrooms gatherers, fishermen, foresters and small towns all coexisting together. They are prime examples of Oregon’s most famous renewable resource: timber. This web site is neither an apologist for current timber harvesting practices, nor a paean for silencing the chainsaw. But it is a site devoted to helping nature lovers to see how working forests’ regeneration contains a quiet beauty that is no less beautiful than the field of tulips is for the Dutchman.
There’s more to the forests that pretty meadows and lonely peaks. Oregon’s coastal forests have continued to evolve since we first started logging these slopes in the late 1800’s, and the struggle to find that acceptable balance continues leaving deep ruts across the face of this wild terrain, and across the lives of all those that depend on these lonely forest for their survival – whether four-footed or two-legged.