Notes from the Field: Explore Oregon’s Tillamook Forest and Wilson River Trails
Oregon’s Tillamook and Clatsop State Forests are 45 minutes outside of Portland’s backdoor and one of the state’s best keep secrets. But these forests also have a fraught history with logging, fires and more logging. They are now 50 to 70 years into the recovery process and offer prime habitat for vibrant communities of fish and wildlife, as well as an immense array of recreational opportunities.
The Wilson and Kilchis rivers host regionally important runs of Chinook, chum, coho and steelhead. Both forests provide camping, biking, fishing, hunting and hiking grounds for thousands of Oregonians, and they also provide over 400,000 people with clean drinking water.
As summer approaches, thoughts wander to outdoor oasis of cold clean water and old giants reaching for the sky. Take a trip down Highway 6 with me, along the Tillamook’s Wilson River, and I’ll point out some of my favorite spots along the way.
Milepost 35: Gales Creek. Just past milepost 35 (a 45 minute drive from Portland) is beautiful Gales Creek. This tributary of the Tualatin River offers a great spot for the family to camp, play in the creek, catch a glimpse of fall-run Chinook and coho and explore the nearby Douglas fir forest.
Milepost 28: Elk Mountain/Kings Mountain. Near milepost 28 is Elk Creek Trailhead and Campground. Options here are abundant: splash around in the Wilson River, find a cool spot and set up the hammock, or start the long haul up the Kings-Elk Mountain traverse. The Kings Mountain Trailhead (just 3 miles down the road) is an iconic coast range hike and from the summit (3,226 feet) one can see the Pacific Ocean and Mount Hood. Spectacular! Or if you want an easier go of it hop on the mountain bike and head down the awesome Wilson River Trail.
Milepost 23: Jones Creek. Three miles down the highway at milepost 23 the whole family can take a break from the heat and find the Jones Creek Campground. This very accessible spot features just about anything you’d want on a hot summer day, including deep swimming holes, warm basking rocks, and sandy beaches. If want to go later in the year, you might get lucky and catch a glimpse of spawning Chinook in late October.
Milepost 20: Footbridge Trailhead. The Footbridge Trailhead at milepost 20 is the beginning of some great spots for fishing. Though the water will be low during summer months, a patient angler can pursue cutthroat trout or hatchery summer steelhead, though catch-and-release fishing can stress out native fish in low water so be aware of both seasonal fishing regulations and water conditions.
The North Coast State Forest Coalition, founded by Wild Salmon Center in 2010, is a diverse group of over 100 businesses, governing bodies and nonprofits working to leverage public support to increase forest and streamside protection along the North Coast. These popular and biologically important areas deserve real protection. That’s why we’re asking state and federal leaders to protect 33,000 acres of land around the Wilson and Kilchis Rivers and another 8,000 acres around Kings Mountain. It’s no easy task ensuring a future for these forests but this is where you can help.
And if you are fortunate enough to live in the Pacific Northwest, take some time to explore one of our state’s treasures and find your own peace and relaxation among the trees and trails.