From the Gales Creek Campground, just off Highway 6, this trail follows Gales Creek up past its headwaters and over the first range of hills into the headwaters of the Nehalem River. Near the summit this trail meets Bell Camp Road as it runs along the top of Round Top Mountain. If you proceed beyond Bell Camp Rd using the marked trail you will eventually cross the “Salmonberry railroad”, the Nehalem to arrive at Reeher’s Horse Camp located South of Timber.
However, this “loop” deviates from the established trail to bring you back to the Gales Creek Campground by a different route. It follows Bell Camp Road a mile or so north before turning east and descending the eastern side of Round top – all the way down to the Gales Creek. The hike up is pretty strenuous, but the descent provides “huge” vistas of Washington County that are glorious on a clear day.
Distance: about 14 miles round trip.
Trail condition: The trail from Gales Creek Campground to the summit is mostly a single-track hiking/biking trail. From 6 miles to 9 miles the ascent is quite strenuous. Bell Camp Road has occasional traffic. Though gated off, the roads coming down the eastern slope of Round Top can and often do accommodate logging trucks, etc.
Walk duration: about 6 hours
Travel time from Portland to trail head: 1 hour and 18 minutes; 60.1 miles to the bridge over Gales Creek at the entrance to the campground.
Elevation change: From Gales Creek Campground to Bell Camp Rd the elevation difference is 1,649’. The base is at 914’, while the summit is at 2363’.
Description: This is a lovely, though strenuous trail. The first half, ascending the southern side of Gales Creek is a single-track trail that gets steep as we approach the summit. The second half of the loop uses almost disconnected logging roads to bring you back down along the north side of Gales Creek. A shorter option is to simply return back along the single track – which might be a bit shorter than hiking over to the northern side of the creek before descending the mostly clear-cut face of Round Top. The vistas of western Washington County are expansive and inspiring, especially on a late summer afternoon.
Trailhead: Upon reaching the Gales Creek Campground, just off Highway 6, park in the parking spaces on your left. Do not cross the bridge, but follow the edge of the forest until you see the Trailhead clearly marked. The trail heads up Gales Creek in a westerly direction.
Trail Log: The trail begins by following the south shore of Gales Creek upstream. The route is quite windy and quickly climbs 255’ in a bit more than a half mile (.59 miles). At .8 mile you reach the first bridge crossing a stream. On your left the Storey Burn Trail climbs upwards from the intersection; however we will turn right and follow the river. At 2.2 miles into the hike we will come around a left-leaning corner, which will thrust you out on to a narrow trail passing below a substantial overhead wall of rock. The trail goes smoothly past this stony outcropping and most will never even lift their heads to stop and turn and thoroughly take in the spirit of that place.
I call this the “Memalose trail”, or “trail of spirits”. At this rock face we come face-to-face with another kinetic force, the force of nature rippling through the bedrock. Even in this day of machinery and virtualization, we are sometimes reminded of how the raw forces of nature reassert themselves again, and again. It was under this rough outcropping that Randy Hodges, the contracted trail builder was struck by a chunk of this overhang. It knocked him and his machine over and they tumbled down into the rocky creekbed. It is probable that he died almost immediately, but it took several days until he was found.
Look up at that wall when you walk by and feel the stubbornness of the rock. We may carve a path under its looming weight, but someday it will push forward again, since it is relentless.
At 2.6 miles into the hike you’ll cross another stream, and another 3.06 miles. By this time you’ve gained almost 500 ft. in elevation, but the steepest is yet to come. At 5 1/2 miles the trail starts to climb out of the broad swath of forest along the floor of the valley. It begins to gain in steepness graduating from a grade of .4% up to a grade of 7-10%.
In this area you may spot several tree trunks with charcoal colored swirls spiraling up their cone shaped remains. These are all that is left from the ancient grove that stood here before the Salmonberry fire of 1932 burned this area. These behemoths were amongst the first trees destroyed by the several decades of wildfires that ensued from 1932 through into the mid-fifties. To me they are the remnants of the ancient spirits that once towered over these slopes. Now they barely stand, half rotten and charred as mute witnesses to the devastation that fire has wrought. Like the malevolent rock face already noted, they are the spirits of a forest once mighty in height and girth, but today just a disintegrating reminder of their misfortune.
At 8 1/4 miles the trail makes its final turn and doubles back up along a ridge, leaving the tiny streambed that carries Gales Creek behind us. The path is really steep in this portion reaching an upwards pitch of more than 17%; you’re only consolation is that the end is neigh – any way you figure it! But indeed, the ridge soon brings us to the first of two dirt roads. At nine miles we reach the first road, and if you choose to continue a bit further you will find Bell Camp Road just beyond it. This is a good place for a rest. Drink some water, have some nourishment and take some time to recover from the final climb out of the Gales Creek ravine.
At this point you have three choices:
- Continue onwards past Bell Camp Road and 3.4 miles down the other side of the mountain until you cross the Salmonberry Railroad, and later reach the bridge over the Nehalem, just south of Reeher’s Horse Camp. This might be a perfect place to park a “second car”.
- Turn around and return back down the way you came in. That’s officially only 6.8 miles, but according to my GPS device it was almost 9 miles back to the parking lot at Gales Creek Campground. Maybe I took too much time letting Zoe swim in Gales Creek, or the spirits held me
- Turn right and follow the road, at which you recently arrived to the east (right). It quickly runs into Bell Camp Road. You will soon approach a three-way intersection. Facing you are two roads; chose the right hand turn. This road circles around the summit of “Round Top” and delivers us to a road that leads back down to the Gales Creek Campground.
Trail Log continued using option 3:
This part of our trail log starts at the three-way intersection where Bell Camp Road, heading east along the ridge top splits into two distinct roads. The road on the left is called Round Top Road and it leads all the way down to parallel the Upper Nehalem River. The right hand option leads to an unnamed road (Roger’s Road?) that turns right and circles the end of the steep Gales Creek ravine that you just ascended. Straight ahead is the peak of Round Top itself. There is a road that circles the north side of this peak, but we will look for the slightly lower road on the right that heads around the southern flank of the peak. This old logging road is pretty flat. In some of its curves, the beavers have been busy constructing their ponds, which are a welcome diversion for any dog that might be accompanying you!
If one were to stash a bicycle to facilitate the downhill portion of this extended trail, I leave it somewhere in this area – since this portion of the ridge is accessible by cars coming up from Timber by way of the Round Top Road.
Heading along the southern side of Round Top you will pass several less used logging roads that partially climb the slope – ignore these and stay on the lower option that continues around the peak. After about 1.5 miles the road begins to become less used and it ends in a screen of alders, boulders and berms intended to prevent vehicular traffic from proceeding. But we are on foot (or astride our bikes) and no berm or alder will hold us back, right? So get up close to the vegetative blockage and you will see that animals or other bushwhackers have carved a small path passing through the screen. Beyond that the road resumes although it is much less used on the far side of the barrier. Do not be discouraged, the road (now labeled “Rogers Road” on the maps) does continue as you can readily see if you look ahead along the slope of Round Top. At this point Roger’s Road passes alongside a series of clear cuts that provide a clear view of the upper Willamette Valley. Conversely this slope is also easily visible from US 26 as you are travelling west – it’s the big round hill just south of the Sunset Highway that’s been heavily logged on the valley-facing side.
Follow this road downhill for about 4 miles. Along the way several tracks will lead off to the left, but stay on the main logging road that roughly follows the edge of the slope, where it drops off towards Gales Creek that is meandering its way along the bottom of the slope to your right. Around the 4 miles onwards you will come to a metal gate that marks the back end of the Gales Creek Campground. Proceed onwards and the road bends to the left, following the river for about ¾ of a mile until it reaches the bridge over Gales Creek. Your car should be parked on the far side of this bridge. Congrats, you’ve now completed a 14-mile circuit of the Gales Creek headwaters!