Of the 47 established (plus 3 proposed) federal wilderness areas in Oregon, we’ve hiked in all the better known ones (Mount Hood, Three Sisters, Badger Creek, etc.) but there are some that have thus far escaped the tramp of our boots. Two of the 47 (Oregon Islands and Three Arch Rocks) are closed to public entry (and would require amphibious operations even if they were open). So we decided to plan some trips to hike (even just a little) in those that are hikeable or at least reachable. Seizing on a partial break in January’s usually soggy weather, we headed out to visit the five wilderness areas along Oregon’s coast: Drift Creek, Cummins Creek, Rock Creek, Copper-Salmon, and Grassy Knob. UPDATE: In 2019, the trail-free Devils Staircase Wilderness was added to these.
The primary human purpose (since wilderness exists just to be wilderness) for these wilderness areas is to protect watersheds and fish habitat and not for our hiking pleasure, so there was a lot more driving than hiking on this trip.
Drift Creek is the most hikeable of the five wilderness areas, with three established trails [Harris Ranch, Horse Creek North & South] that actually reach Drift Creek. After spending the night in Newport, Oregon, we drove down to the Harris Ranch Trailhead and took the Harris Ranch Trail #1347 north into the wilderness. We were fortunate to have a sunny morning for our hike. The hike started along an old road, which becomes a trail at the wilderness boundary.
The trail then descends past some impressively large trees,
to a flat area (all the moss hanging from the trees indicates just how wet it usually is down here),
with some campsites. Just beyond these sites, we arrived at Drift Creek.
After looking at the creek and collecting some trash, we retraced our steps back up to the trailhead. If we’d wanted to do more hiking, we would have had to have forded the creek.
After lunch in Waldport, Oregon, we went south for our Cummins Creek wilderness experience. This wilderness features the only old-growth Sitka Spruce forest in the Oregon wilderness system. We checked out the Cummins Creek Trail #1382, which accesses a small part of the north side of the wilderness, but were dismayed by the many “car vandalism common here” warning signs – so we went up to the more remote Cummins Ridge Trailhead.
This accesses the Cummins Ridge Trail #1366, which is an old road that bisects the wilderness and is the only one actually in the wilderness,
but one with very few views out to the ocean. The overcast day didn’t help the view but we could hear the surf crashing on the beach below.
By now, the clouds had rolled back in, daylight was fading, and we still had one more wilderness area on the day’s agenda. This didn’t leave us time to do the full 13 mile roundtrip hike through Cummins, so, after a mile or so, we doubled back to the trailhead and drove to the next wilderness.
The Rock Creek Wilderness is one of the Siuslaw National Forest’s most remote, with no developed trails or trailheads. Sullivan (Hike #117 in his Oregon Coast & Coast Range guide (Third Edition)) describes a short (0.2 mile) use trail from the campground along the creek.
Unfortunately, the campground is only open in the summer and we didn’t want to leave our valuable-laden truck (assuming there’s a black market for old, damp hiking clothes) parked unattended along Highway 101 while we walked into the campground. We did try driving east on County Road 5082, which runs along the southern boundary of the wilderness, but were dissuaded from going very far into the wilderness by thick brush (which in the Oregon Coast Range is VERY, VERY thick) and steep slopes. So back to Highway 101 for a consolation picture of the creek.
Others have had a bit more luck actually getting into this wilderness, both along the creek for 2 miles or so and getting to the wilderness’ viewless high point – but their descriptions make it all sound like tough going.
After a night in Florence, Oregon, we headed to the Copper-Salmon Wilderness by driving inland through Powers, Oregon to paved Forest Road (FR) 33 and then on up gravel FR 3353 to the Barklow Mountain Trailhead (Hike #128 in his Oregon Coast & Coast Range guide (Third Edition)). The gravel part was in good shape except where some logging operations had reduced stretches of it to a tricky sea of mud. As planned, we had the truck – we’re not sure a sedan would have made it across this goo.
We hit snow at about 2,900 feet – which added to the mud fun – just before reaching the trailhead at around 3,200 feet.
The Barklow Mountain Trail #1258 is the only trail in this wilderness and is accessible from three different trailheads from the west, north (or northeast), and the east. It appears possible to also hike into this wilderness on abandoned roads – specifically FR 350 and FR 380 off FR 5201 – but these are viewless and don’t extend down to the Elk River. From the trailhead, the hike up to the old lookout site was short, but steep,
with cheery signage,
pointing to the former fire lookout site,
with its reportedly expansive view of the Pacific Ocean. But not for us – sigh.
There used to be a lookout on Barklow Mountain but it was moved intact by helicopter in 1974 to nearby Lake of the Woods, where it is now available for rental.
With just the Grassy Knob Wilderness left, some heroic driving through Agness and Gold Beach brought us to it – the last wilderness for this adventure and another without any developed trails. Grassy Knob, while not the highest point in the wilderness, is the one trailhead accessible by car – but the last 3 miles or so of gravel road are tough! (Hike #131 in his Oregon Coast & Coast Range guide (Third Edition)).
The Grassy Knob Trail #1241 up to the old lookout site from the trailhead is very short,
and the site itself is now bare.
The 10-foot by 10-foot cab lookout that formerly graced this site was built in 1934 but destroyed in the 1960s. During World War II, it played a small role in detecting the only Japanese aerial attack against the U.S. mainland. The clouds that had enveloped us earlier in day on Barklow Mountain had started to dissipate by the time we reached the Knob, so we were granted a small (very small) view of the Pacific.
As we drove out to spend the night in Brookings, Oregon, the clouds were all but gone and the day (and the trip) ended on a bright note,
and – to meet the irony requirement for this trip – bluebird conditions had settled in for the drive home the next day.
All told, we drove about 500 miles and hiked for a total of 11 miles but it was well worth the effort to get out and touch base with these preciously rare areas.