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Crown Zellerbach Traverse Hike

From Oregon Hikers Field Guide

North Scappoose Creek, Crown Zellerbach Trail (bobcat)
Pilings, Chapman Landing, Crown Zellerbach Trail (bobcat)
Everlasting pea (Lathyrus latifolius), Crown Zellerbach Trail (bobcat)
Jackson Creek Wetlands, Crown Zellerbach Trail (bobcat)
Cutting in old basalt, Crown Zellerbach Trail (bobcat)
Old school house, Crown Zellerbach Trail (bobcat)
Jewel weed (Impatiens capensis), Crown Zellerbach Trail (bobcat)
Inside the Nehalem Divide Tunnel (West Portal) (bobcat)
Second footbridge, Scaponia Park (bobcat)
At Camp 8, Crown Zellerbach Trail (bobcat)
Knott Street Trailhead, Crown Zellerbach Trail (bobcat)
Cattails, Vernonia Lake (bobcat)
Outline of the general route of the Crown Zellerbach Trail showing the trailheads (bobcat) Courtesy: Google Maps
  • Start point: Chapman Landing TrailheadRoad.JPG
  • End point: Vernonia Lake Trailhead
  • Trail log:
  • Hike Type: Traverse (car shuttle)
  • Distance: 23.8 miles one way
  • Elevation gain: 1805 feet
  • High Point: 1220 feet
  • Difficulty: Moderate (or Easy when done in short segments)
  • Seasons: All year
  • Family Friendly: Yes (in short segments)
  • Backpackable: No
  • Crowded: No

Contents

Hike Description

Abundant and easily accessed lumber called entrepreneurs into these Coast Range foothills and this ongoing rails-to-trails project had its beginning in 1906 when Fred and Simcoe Chapman constructed the Portland & Southwestern Railroad in stages, logging as they went. As they moved higher into the hills, the Chapmans faced difficulties and sold out to Henry Turrish. One massive endeavor was tunneling through the Nehalem Divide, an unusual undertaking of great expense for a mere logging railroad. The 1,712-foot tunnel was completed in 1920 but not before the Nehalem Timber and Logging Company took over operations. Clarke & Wilson succeeded Nehalem Timber and then the former sold to Crown Zellerbach in 1944: Crown Zellerbach took up the tracks and used much of the alignment as a logging road, detouring up and over the divide as the trucks could not use the tunnel, which then fell into disrepair. Later, Hancock Timber became the owners and used the route to a lesser degree. Throughout the 1990s, Columbia County was in negotiations with Hancock over purchase of the road. The route eventually became public property in 2004 and a master plan for public use (hiking, biking, horse riding) was conceived.

The trail is a work in progress and a reroute of Section 5, which heads up into forested hills owned by Weyerhaeuser, is being promulgated to take the route directly to Vernonia Lake and hook up with the Banks-Vernonia State Trail. The Chapman Landing Trailhead may be developed into a park in the future. Also, eventually this may become a “themed” trail with interpretive signs about the logging industry in Columbia County.

This is all secondary and tertiary woodland interspersed with farmland and rural dwellings. The trail surface is a deteriorating asphalt from Chapman Landing to the Chapman Trailhead. After this, it is packed gravel although in some patches, fresh gravel has been used to repair the surface. The trail uses Weyerhaeuser logging roads between the Elk Creek Trailhead and Knott Street in Vernonia. All in all, this is a more rustic, hiker-friendly experience than the now entirely-paved Banks Vernonia State Trail.

There are restrooms and campgrounds at two points along the trail: Scaponia Park and Vernonia Lake.

The descriptions below take the trail from Chapman Landing to Vernonia Lake although, of course, segments can be completed from any direction.


1. Columbia River/Scappoose Section


Description: This easy, flat section of the trail is popular with locals even though access at Chapman Landing is limited. The West Lane Road Trailhead and Columbia Avenue Trailhead offer better vehicular access at this time although there are plans to develop the Chapman Landing Trailhead. The section between Chapman Landing and Scappoose is characterized by farm fields, wetlands, and views of the Tualatin Mountains. The flat section between Scappoose and the CZ Trailhead also becomes rural rather quickly but runs right next to the Scappoose-Vernonia Highway.

From the pullout, find a footpath that heads up along a fence line to the crest of the dike. Descending straight ahead is a user path to the Columbia River (Multnomah Channel) shore. A road descends to Chapman Landing, an overgrown paved area originally the terminus of the Portland & Southwestern Railroad and then of the Crown Zellerbach Logging Road. This used to be a “log dump”: logs were tied in rafts to pilings here to be ready for transportation on the river. A concrete platform once supported a loading crane. Sauvie Island seems only a stone’s throw away across the channel. This is a good spot to look for cormorants, ospreys, and bald eagles. You can walk south along the dike grassy dike, but soon a gate will block your passage. Instead begin walking northwest along the paved road. This section of the trail offers the best views of the mountains and, looking back from various points on a clear day, you may be able to see Mount Saint Helens, Mount Rainier, Mount Adams, and Mount Hood.

You’ll cross the railroad bridge over Dike Road between hedges of Armenian blackberry. Get views of the nursery fields in Scappoose Bottom and the Tualatin Mountains defining the horizon. Reach the Columbia Avenue Trailhead area and cross Columbia Avenue to resume the Crown Zellerbach Logging Road. Open farm fields transition to an expanse of willow-rimmed wetlands on Jackson Creek. Yellow beggar ticks bloom brilliantly here in the summer; also look for marsh birds like bitterns, coots, and teals. Pass a large field on your left and then a duckweed covered pond. Soon you’ll be passing by a mobile home park and crossing a ditch. Under an arbor of ash, maple, and a couple of oaks, reach the yellow gate at the West Lane Road Trailhead. Continue up to and cross West Lane Road. Take the sidewalk on the left side of the Crown Zellerbach Logging Road and walk 0.4 miles, with a landscape of water-filled gravel pits on the right side, to busy Highway 30 at the north end of Scappoose.

Cross the highway and pass a sign noting that trailhead parking (meaning the CZ Trailhead) is two miles ahead. Even though there is space here, this is not an approved parking area for the trail. Pass a bench and cross South Scappoose Creek on a footbridge. Pass the entrance to the Cinnamon Tree Business Park and then take the bridge over Alder Creek. Walk along the fence line at the Cedar Tree mobile home park and enter a riverine thicket of Oregon ash, red osier dogwood, and black cottonwood. Cross a couple of driveways and make your first crossing of North Scappoose Creek: this waterway will be a companion for many miles to come. Horses graze in fields on your right as the Scappoose-Vernonia Highway buzzes with activity on your left. Cross Wickstrom Road and, after a short level stretch, reach the wide paved parking area at the CZ Trailhead.


2. North Scappoose Creek Section

  • Start point: CZ TrailheadRoad.JPG
  • End point: Chapman Trailhead
  • Distance: 9.8 miles in and out
  • Elevation gain: 485 feet
  • High Point: 625 feet
  • Difficulty: Easy
  • Family Friendly: Yes


Description: Most of the time, rural dwellings or the highway will be within sight on this section of the trail, but you’ll also get some glimpses of beautiful North Scappoose Creek as the rail grade begins its ascent into the hills.

From the parking area, walk northwest past the timber bollards and some dwellings. Cross a gravel driveway and make a gradual ascent in a leafy corridor dominated by big-leaf maple, red alder, western red-cedar, and Douglas-fir. The road makes cuttings into the hillsides and soon you’ll see North Scappoose Creek flowing to the left. Clearcuts begin to appear above you and you’ll cross a few more gravel roads in an area where locals have vehicular access to the trail. Reach a Stop sign at paved Pond Drive and cross it. Pass the Heinen Pond on private property below and then a paved driveway. The exclusive to horses/hikers/bikers trail resumes behind bollards. The trail, highway, and North Scappoose Creek run close to each other in a narrow defile displaying Coast Range basalt. You’ll pass a series of quarries which display not only basalt formations, but layers of sandstone and mudstone. Cross Walker Road as the road bed hugs the steep slope above North Scappoose Creek. Here, the trail was resurfaced after slide debris was cleared. Enter a more mature forest with taller Douglas-firs and cross the new (2013) footbridge over Alder Creek (Not the same Alder Creek as the trail crosses in Scappoose). Before the bridge was put in, a foot trail on the right led to a log crossing of the creek and then up the stream a little way before returning to the road bed.

Pass more homes in the community of Spitzenburg and cross the Scappoose-Vernonia Highway at its junction with Cater Road. You’ll get good views here of North Scappoose Creek, looking lush and pristine, flowing below. Pass a couple of driveways and then cross a bridge, a converted railroad trestle, over the creek. A memorial bench here overlooks a quiet pool. Now you’re back near the highway as you cross Hale Road. The grade levels as you cross North Scappoose Creek again and take note of a couple of colorful rural dwellings across the road. Soon reach the wide, open gravel parking area at the Chapman Trailhead.


3. Nehalem Divide Section


Description: From the Chapman Trailhead, the road bed is all gravel and soon takes you away from the highway in secondary Coast Range woodland. The grade steepens to almost 10 percent where the logging road departs from the rail bed (which crossed the Nehalem Divide in a now-abandoned tunnel) and rises to the high point of the traverse. In this section, as of 2016, there are a few green plastic half-mile markers. The distance above does not include the half-mile diversion to the Nehalem Divide Railroad Tunnel: East Portal.

Description: Head west from the parking area with open fields on your left and the Scappoose-Vernonia Highway on your right. Cross Chapman Grange Road and then Chapman Road before crossing a road bridge over Cedar Creek. Pass a power substation and then the homes of Raingarden Lane. Cross another driveway and pass through a corridor of maple and then a small open area. Rise under a leafy arbor above a farm and dip into a gully. The road bed ascends more steeply and then the trail dips into an opening of Scots broom and young alder where Mollenhour Creek courses through a culvert. The wide track now uses an embankment over a deep gully, rises, and then heads along another embankment. You may see elk droppings and bear and coyote scat on the trail in this area. Now the route uses cuttings in the hillside, these revealing colorful sandstone bands.

Between two cuttings, and 30 yards before a green CZ Trail marker, look down on the left for a red paint dot on a tree. This marks the user trail down to the Nehalem Divide Railroad Tunnel: East Portal. Follow the trail down, swishing through sword ferns, to reach a high embankment over North Scappoose Creek. You’ll see a beaver dam below to your left. Follow the embankment, which is caving in in places, to the opposite slope and head up a boggy gully through a salmonberry thicket to the east portal of the Portland & Southwestern Railroad Tunnel. The tunnel was in operation for less than 25 years and the timber buttresses and linings are collapsing. Entering the tunnel, you will see the glimmer of light at the West Portal, on the other side of the Divide. The tunnel is full of debris and breakdown: Do NOT attempt to traverse it without a hard hat and a powerful headlamp with a backup. Sections may crumble at any time.

Back on the CZ Trail, pass a new 13-mile post on the left side of the road bed. There’s another gully and embankment, just below the source of North Scappoose Creek, before you reach a junction in the road bed. Going left will take you up to the junction of the Scappoose-Vernonia Highway and Pisgah Lookout Road and the Nehalem Divide Trailhead. Keep right under the highway to continue on the trail.


4. East Fork Nehalem River Section


Description: The trail loops down to complete the horseshoe on the logging track above the headwaters of the East Fork Nehalem River. A highlight of this section, only ¾ miles from the Nehalem Divide Trailhead, is a side trail down to the Nehalem Divide Railroad Tunnel: West Portal. You’ll get views of the East Fork as you descend to the valley floor, and pass the open meadow that used to host Camp 8.

Walk downhill past the bollards for the CZ Trail and go left under the road bridge. Pass a signboard and resume the road horseshoe that loops around the headwaters of the East Fork Nehalem. Alder and salmonberry grow trailside, while Douglas-fir and sword fern cloak the slopes. One of the headwater creeks of the East Fork Nehalem runs down a steep valley to your left. About ¾ mile down the trail, look for an unmarked path that leads through the salmonberry on your left. This trail drops down the slope to the East Fork Nehalem River where it is just a creek. It crosses and recrosses the creek to reach the West Portal of the Nehalem Divide Railroad Tunnel. Two small waterfalls cascade at either side of the canyon. Entering the tunnel, you will see the glimmer of light at the East Portal, on the other side of the Divide. The tunnel is full of debris and breakdown: Do NOT attempt to traverse it without a hard hat and a powerful headlamp with a backup. Sections may crumble at any time.

Back on the logging road, continue heading downhill to cross and recross the East Fork Nehalem under big-leaf maple, red alder, and Douglas-fir. Note a clearcut above as the gradient becomes more shallow. The East Fork winds through a cold alder bottom below and then the Scappoose-Vernonia Highway appears. Pass through an open yellow gate and cross a wide bridge over Hawkins Creek to reach a gravel track at the Hawkins Road Trailhead. A spectacular 100-foot high, mile-long railroad trestle used to dominate this area, but it was dismantled in the 1970s. If you wish to visit Scaponia County Park, which has restrooms, picnic tables, and a campground on the East Fork Nehalem, cross the highway here and look for the Scaponia Park sign. A short trail leads down the slope to a horse hitch, vault toilet, and the Scaponia Park Trailhead, dominated by a couple of tall grand firs. You can explore this small county park via a short network of trails that reach the opposite bank of the East Fork Nehalem river via three footbridges.

Resume the CZ Trail behind some bollards. A natural gas pipeline runs below the road here. A log house across the highway exemplifies the rural setting. Rise gently and then drop to get more glimpses of the East Fork under its canopy of alders and maples. Cross Kenusky Creek and pass by a field of Scots broom and then keep left where the trail joins a logging road. The vast meadow on your right was once the site of Camp 8, a logging town most active from the late 1920s through the 1930s. The camp sits at the junction with another logging railroad that headed up into the hills to the east. Passing Camp 8, you’ll see a large signboard, where you turn left and cross the East Fork Nehalem on the old road bridge that served the town. The trail rises under cottonwoods and alders to reach the Scappoose-Vernonia Highway. Right across is the Elk Creek Trailhead at the entrance to Weyerhaeuser property on the Pebble Creek Mainline.


5. Pebble Creek Mainline Section


Description: The trail follows a Weyerhaeuser logging road, the Pebble Creek Mainline, up to a high point in plantation forest, and then takes another logging road down to the end of Knott Street. Walk out to the Scappoose-Vernonia Highway and turn south to reach Vernonia Lake. Hikers/bikers do not need a permit to follow the Crown Zellerbach Trail on Weyerhaeuser land as long as they stick to the designated route, which is marked by white posts.

Note that this section of the trail will be changed from the Pebble Creek Mainline-Knott Street Logging Road Junction. Future plans call for the trail route to stay on the Pebble Creek Mainline and descend to Coon Creek Road. There are plans to build a bridge over the Nehalem River to connect to Vernonia Lake near its walk-in campground.

Walk past the white gate and cross Elk Creek on a road bridge. Keep left at a road junction and wind up a slope of Douglas-fir. At a bend in the road, look down on a large barn with a corrugated iron roof in the East Fork Nehalem valley. The road keeps up: there are green CZ Trail posts every so often. The road levels at a junction, where you keep right on the Pebble Creek Mainline. As you descend gradually in plantation forest of various ages, pass one logging road leading off to the right and then take the next road right at the Pebble Creek Mainline-Knott Street Logging Road Junction, leaving the Pebble Creek Mainline at a powerline corridor to begin your descent to Vernonia.

This narrower logging road is followed by the powerline for a while and is also marked with orange, white and blue posts denoting a natural gas pipeline. Descend among Douglas-fir/grand fir plantations, getting some glimpses of the Coast Range to the west. The road drops more steeply and passes under the power lines twice, becoming a narrower path overrun by Scots broom before it reaches the Knott Street Trailhead at the east end of Knott Street. Go right past the locked gate to reach the street. Unless you have a good reason to end up at Vernonia Lake, 1.2 miles away and a street walk, this would be your turnaround point.

To reach Vernonia Lake, pass some rural dwellings on the right, cross Knickerson Creek, and reach a church in a more populated zone at Highway 47. Go left, and cross eight streets. After Cherry Street, the highway bears right at Mist Drive. Cross the Nehalem River and pass Riverside Drive to reach the Vernonia Lake Trailhead. From here, you can begin the Vernonia Lake Loop Hike and connect with the Banks-Vernonia Traverse Hike.


Maps

Fees, Regulations, etc.

  • Respect private property and stay on the trail route when on Weyerhaeuser forest land (The area around the Nehalem Divide and the railroad tunnel portals is public (BLM) land).

Trip Reports

Related Discussions / Q&A

Guidebooks that cover this hike

  • Hiking from Portland to the Coast by James D. Thayer (from Scappoose to Vernon)
  • Take a Walk: Portland by Brian Barker (North Scappoose Creek section)

More Links

Note that some of the descriptions below do not include recent reroutes of the trail.


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.