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Banks-Vernonia Traverse Hike

From Oregon Hikers Field Guide

The Buxton Trestle, Banks Vernonia State Trail (bobcat)
Heading north from Banks, Banks Vernonia State Trail (bobcat)
Rays on the trail, Banks Vernonia State Trail (bobcat)
Tophill Trestle, Banks Vernonia State Trail (bobcat)
Questionable stropharia (Stropharia ambigua) near Tophill, Banks Vernonia State Trail (bobcat)
Trail sign near Beaver Creek Trailhead, Banks Vernonia State Trail (bobcat)
Beaver Creek, Banks Vernonia State Trail (bobcat)
Barn at Treharne, Banks Vernonia State Trail (bobcat)
Nehalem River, north of Treharne, Banks Vernonia State Trail (bobcat)
Fluted black elfin saddle (Helvella lacunosa), Banks Vernonia State Trail (bobcat)
Outline of the Banks Vernonia State Trail showing the trailheads (bobcat) Courtesy: Google Maps
  • Start point: Banks TrailheadRoad.JPG
  • End point: Vernonia Trailhead
  • Trail log:
  • Hike Type: Traverse (car shuttle)
  • Distance: 20.7 miles one way
  • Elevation gain: 820 feet
  • High Point: 935 feet
  • Difficulty: Moderate (or Easy when done in short segments)
  • Seasons: All year
  • Family Friendly: Yes
  • Backpackable: No
  • Crowded: Yes

Contents

Hike Description

The Banks-Vernonia State Trail is open along its entire length to hikers, cyclists, and horses. Now that the whole trail has been paved, it offers less of an appeal to hikers than during the years of the trail's initial development when the entire central section was a walk along an abandoned rail bed. However, families and those out for a quick escape from the city will enjoy the interface here between the mixed and regenerating forest of the Coast Range's eastern foothills and various isolated farm communities along the way. Highlights include the two remaining big trestles at Buxton and Tophill, crossings of the West Fork Dairy Creek, Beaver Creek, and the Nehalem River, and some brilliant color in the fall.

This was Oregon's first rails-to-trails project. The railroad itself, constructed in the 1920s, was primarily a lumber line, and was last owned by Burlington Northern. After the line was taken up, the state acquired the right of way in 1974. Oregon State Parks began development of the trail in 1990. The opening of L.L. "Stub" Stewart State Park along the Banks-Vernonia Trail's central section in 2007 allows for a number of loop hikes that include the old railroad grade.

Most walkers will only want to do this trail one or two sections at a time, so the five different sections between the six trailheads are described separately below. The trail cannot really be considered a backpacking destination, but there is a hike-in campground at Brooke Creek in Stub Stewart State Park.

1. Banks to Manning

  • Start point: Banks TrailheadRoad.JPG
  • End point: Manning Trailhead
  • Distance: 7.7 miles in and out
  • Elevation gain: 35 feet
  • High Point: 240 feet
  • Difficulty: Easy
  • Family Friendly: Yes


Directions: This very flat section of the trail is probably the least interesting for hikers as it runs through rural Washington County. However, in the fall the trail becomes a colorful arbor as the deciduous trees (cottonwood, big-leaf maple, Oregon ash, red alder, and sour cherry) that line the track take on their fall hues.

Take the wide paved trail behind the restrooms at the Banks Trailhead. You’ll pass the ramshackle Performing Arts Center building, which also hosts a bike shop. Cross the sturdy bridge over the West Fork Dairy Creek on a trail lined with cottonwood, ash, and big-leaf maple. To the left run railroad tracks and Highway 47. Pass a large and stately oak tree and then cross a driveway. There’s willow-lined ditch on the right and, beyond the ditch, open farmland. Cross a gravel road (Crossman Place), and pass thickets of blackberry before you walk under noisy Highway 26.

You’ll see a picnic table on your right before the trail curves to the left to parallel Highway 26 and heads towards Manning. The path continues under a high arbor of wild cherry, Douglas-fir, red alder, big-leaf maple, and Oregon ash. You can see farmland to the right through the screen of trees. Pass over a creek and then cross Sell Road near the Manning Bible Church. Walk by an ash swale on your left and then a small sawmill on your right as you reach the Manning Trailhead.

2. Manning to Buxton

  • Start point: Manning TrailheadRoad.JPG
  • End point: Buxton Trailhead
  • Distance: 5.7 miles in and out
  • Elevation gain: 220 feet
  • High Point: 460 feet
  • Difficulty: Easy
  • Family Friendly: Yes


Directions: The highlight of this section is at its north end, where you can cross the magnificent Buxton Trestle and then loop back to view the structure from below. This section also includes the most recently completed segment of the trail, where it crosses farm fields between Pihl Road and Pongratz Road. For many years, trail users had to walk a road section before the state settled a right of way dispute here.

From the Manning Trailhead, cross Pihl Road and a bridge over the West Fork Dairy Creek. Here the railroad corridor cuts across farmland: this was the last portion of the trail to be developed as the state had to negotiate with local landowners to validate public access. Cross gravel Pongratz Road and enter a lush tunnel of Douglas-fir and big-leaf maple. Here, the trail begins to rise gradually. You’ll walk through some plantation forest, but the woodland soon becomes more mature secondary growth. At intervals, there are picnic tables and benches. Buxton Creek runs below the steep slope on your left. Suddenly emerge at the curving Buxton Trestle, which bridges the wide gully carved by Mendenhall Creek. The trestle has been resurfaced for hiker/biker use, but a detour trail, which you can loop back on, drops down to the right.

Cross the trestle, depart the trail to your right and descend past an alder-shaded pond to the Buxton Trailhead. Here, there are both covered and open picnic areas, restrooms, interpretive signs, and a horse staging area. To see the trestle in profile, walk around to the far end of the parking lot. At a gravel road, drop down steeply to your right and cross Mendenhall Creek on a bridge. You’ll reach a grassy expanse that offers a side-on view of this magnificent structure. Then, hike up and rejoin the Banks Vernonia State Trail.


3. Buxton to Tophill

  • Start point: Buxton TrailheadRoad.JPG
  • End point: Tophill Trailhead
  • Distance: 10.6 miles in and out
  • Elevation gain: 475 feet
  • High Point: 935 feet
  • Difficulty: Moderate
  • Family Friendly: No


Directions: Arguably the most interesting section of the trail, this part runs through mature coniferous forest and mostly lies within L.L. "Stub" Stewart State Park. The many trails in Stub Stewart that reach and cross the Banks Vernonia Trail allow for a variety of loop hikes here. This section can also be accessed from trailheads within Stub Stewart State Park.

NOTICE: During January 2018, the section of the Banks-Vernonia Trail that runs through Stub Stewart State Park will be closed on weekdays. During that time, the park will be carrying out a comprehensive thinning project designed to restore natural density to the conifer canopy. Read this official announcement for updates before you use this section of trail in January 2018.

From the Buxton Trailhead, take the trail across Bacona Road and enter an alley of red alder before reaching mature secondary forest of Douglas-fir above a carpet of sword fern and salal, with cedar, big-leaf maple, grand fir, and vine maple also in the mix. A large signboard displaying a map and brochure dispenser announces your entry into L.L. “Stub” Stewart State Park. Williams Creek flows down the slope to your left. Pass the Hampton Turn, a detour on private land (Hampton Resources, Inc.) built to avoid a slide. In this section of the state park, you will often see rooty foot trails leading off to the left that parallel the paved trail. In some cases, these foot trails actually follow the true railroad alignment. Pass over the deep gully of Logging Creek and cut along the clay-like face of the slope. Pass a railroad crossing sign on the right and a foot trail that leads up and over a rise to rejoin the main trail. Then come to a small opening and the Banks Vernonia Trail-South Caddywhomper Way Junction. The latter trail heads up to a hilltop viewpoint. To the left, leading past a crossing sign, is the Williams Creek Horseshoe Trail, which drops into the valley to the west.

From this junction, a foot path to the west of the paved trail runs as far as the deep ravine of Williams Creek. Past the ravine, from the Banks Vernonia-Felling’s Wedge Trail Junction, you can make a short detour down to Williams Creek itself. Next, pass the Banks Vernonia-Hares Canyon Trail Junction, with the Williams Creek Horseshoe Trail also breaking off here to your left. The trail runs easily under a Douglas-fir canopy, crosses Brooke Creek, and reaches the Banks Vernonia-Hollie’s Point of View Trail Junction. It’s about a quarter of a mile from this junction to the park entrance road.

Cross the entrance road and rise gradually in a lush forest of Douglas-fir, western red-cedar, and big-leaf maple. Pass the junction with the Springboard Horseshoe Trail: this little loop is a shady diversion above the ravine carved by the West Fork Dairy Creek. Next is the Banks Vernonia-Bark Spud Trail Junction and the connection with the upper end of the Springboard Horseshoe Trail. The paved trail dips into an alder bottom and then passes a large Douglas-fir at the Banks Vernonia Trail-Matchcutter’s Lane Junction. Matchcutter’s Lane is a rougher trail that leads up a more recently logged slope.

Next, on your right, see a beaver pond with a picnic table and amphitheater benches. Pass the Banks Vernonia-Boomscooter Trail Junction and then a service road on the right. Exit Stub Stewart State Park and cross Highway 47. Just before the bridge, you pass over the West Fork Dairy Creek for the last time. The trail then crosses gravel Nowakowski Road and rises gently in an alley of alders. There a short steeper drop and then the path works around a slope with three low retaining walls. Pass through a cutting and then leave the railroad grade, which heads toward the Tophill Trestle on the right (The trestle itself is off limits to the public), to make three sweeping switchbacks down to the Tophill Trailhead.


4. Tophill to Beaver Creek


Directions: Heading north from Tophill, once you have reached the summit of the initial rise, you will be undertaking a gradual downhill walk and entering Columbia County. In this section, the trail generally follows the valley of Beaver Creek.

Cross Highway 47 from the trailhead, getting a glimpse of the 100-foot high Tophill Trestle to your right. This trestle, also known as the Horseshoe Trestle, suffered fire damage in 1986. The trail crosses Beaver Creek in an alder bottomland and then makes two sharp switchbacks up on a slope of Scots broom and young Douglas-fir. On your right, the railroad bed leads off to approach the trestle. Signs warn you not to scramble up the mudstone slopes; fossil hunters have come here to find seashells from the Oligocene Epoch (34 – 23 million years ago) when the Willamette Valley was an arm of the sea.

From here to Vernonia, the trail is mostly on a very gradual downslope and will meet up with Beaver Creek and follow it a lot of the way. Make a short loop around a sunken section of the grade in woods of Douglas-fir, western red-cedar, red alder, and big-leaf maple. Grand fir and western hemlock are also present. Head along a steep-sided gully with hillside clearcuts to the right and Highway 47 appearing down to the left. Cross the Columbia County line, then a gravel driveway, and then paved McDonald Road. See a house with a small apple orchard on your left here. Hike a straight stretch of trail that runs along looping Beaver Creek before you pass a blue-gated logging road and then a vault toilet before the bridge leading to the Beaver Creek Trailhead. There are a couple of picnic tables at the sign here and a good view of the creek can be had from the bridge.

5. Beaver Creek to Vernonia


Directions: Making multiple crossings of Beaver Creek, the trail in this section puts you in close contact with farm country and also runs right next to Highway 47 in places. One highlight is the crossing of the wide Nehalem River.

Cross the bridge over Beaver Creek, and walk under some larger Douglas-firs and then along a maple alley. Pass through a mossy grove of cedars before passing over Beaver Creek again on a footbridge. With Beaver Creek flowing to the right, you are now very close to Highway 47. Cross three driveways in a corridor of hawthorn, crabapple, willow, red osier dogwood, Douglas-fir and Oregon ash. Hike over a farm road and then Arctic Way. The trail runs right alongside the highway in this section and recrosses Beaver Creek on a bridge with the old railroad trestle to your right. Cross another driveway and then Adams Road. The path leaves the railroad grade in the small rural community of Treharne and jinks around property lines. It’s a bucolic scene, with cows, goats, sheep and horses in small fields and a couple of weathered barns.

Head over Beaver Creek for the last time before the trail and Highway 47 curve around a hillside and cross the alder-lined Nehalem River on a wide bridge. Cross three more private driveways and pass an overgrown playing field on the right. To the left, across the highway, is a storage rental business. Cross Lone Pine Road and head along under Douglas-firs. The track curves to the right as you enter Vernonia, passing a couple of picnic tables at an old trailhead parking area. With the Nehalem flowing to the right, reach the Vernonia Trailhead, where Jefferson Avenue enters Anderson Park.

You can keep going on the railroad grade to Vernonia Lake (See the Vernonia Lake Loop Hike).


Maps

Fees, Regulations, etc.

  • Open 7:00 a.m. to 7:00 p.m.
  • No overnight camping except at Stub Stewart State Park
  • Share trail with bikers, horses, and runners
  • Keep to the trail and public roads except in Stub Stewart State Park
  • Keep off the Tophill Trestle

Trip Reports

Related Discussions / Q&A

Guidebooks that cover this hike

  • Rail-Trails: Washington & Oregon by the Rails-to-Trails Conservancy
  • Best Rail Trails: Pacific Northwest by Natalie Bartley
  • Hiking from Portland to the Coast by James D. Thayer (Buxton to Vernon)
  • Take a Walk: Portland by Brian Barker
  • 100 Hikes/Travel Guide: Oregon Coast & Coast Range by William L. Sullivan
  • 75 Hikes in Oregon’s Coast Range and Siskiyous by Rhonda & George Ostertag
  • Oregon Hiking by Sean Patrick Hill
  • Best Outdoor Adventures Near Portland, Oregon by Adam Sawyer
  • Off-street Paved Bike Paths in Oregon by Rick Bronson
  • Pacific Northwest Hiking by Scott Leonard & Megan McMorris
  • Mountain Biking Oregon: Northwest and Central Oregon by Lizann Dunegan
  • Kissing the Trail by John Zilly
  • Trail Running: Oregon by Lizann Dunegan
  • Best Hikes With Dogs: Oregon by Ellen Morris Bishop
  • Canine Oregon by Lizann Dunegan
  • Hiking Oregon’s Geology by Ellen Morris Bishop
  • Oregon State Parks: A Complete Recreation Guide by Jan Bannan

More Links


Contributors

Oregon Hikers Field Guide is built as a collaborative effort by its user community. While we make every effort to fact-check, information found here should be considered anecdotal. You should cross-check against other references before planning a hike. Trail routing and conditions are subject to change. Please contact us if you notice errors on this page.

Hiking is a potentially risky activity, and the entire risk for users of this field guide is assumed by the user, and in no event shall Trailkeepers of Oregon be liable for any injury or damages suffered as a result of relying on content in this field guide. All content posted on the field guide becomes the property of Trailkeepers of Oregon, and may not be used without permission.