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Little South Fork Kilchis River Hike

From Oregon Hikers Field Guide

Looking up a mossy defile, Little South Fork Kilchis River (bobcat)
View over the Little South Fork Kilchis River (bobcat)
Turkeytails, Little South Fork Kilchis River (bobcat)
Waterfall above the Little South Fork Kilchis River (bobcat)
The route along the Little South Fork Kilchis River showing both trailheads (not a GPS track) (bobcat) Courtesy: Caltopo


Hike Description

The Tillamook State Forest is riddled with abandoned logging roads that lead deep up steep-sided valleys and into unknown territory for hikers. One such foray takes you up the remote and beautiful Little South Fork Kilchis River into a lush landscape of sword fern slopes, alder gullies, and splashing waterfalls. These upper reaches of the Little South Fork spawn both coho and steelhead, and there are elk here year-round. Winter into spring is the best time to visit: that way you can ensure solitude and avoid ATVers who sometimes also infiltrate the woods here.

The road into this area becomes steadily more potholed and narrow, so if you’re worried about clearance, you can park at the Sam Downs Creek Trailhead and add about 1.2 miles round-trip to the hike by walking up the road from there.

Walk up the road that continues along the Little South Fork. Sword fern cloaks the slope to your left under a canopy of Sitka spruce and Douglas-fir. Large stumps are the mortal remains of the huge old-growth conifers that once called this secluded valley home. On your right, the Little South Fork Kilchis River flows under overhanging alders, maples, and cedars. Pass a creek that trickles down a smooth rock face giving you an idea of what lies below the soil layer here. Just past a large unmolested Sitka spruce, you can find a mossy trail that leads back through the salmonberries to the river’s edge. Back on the main track, you’ll cross a substantial creek and come to a fork. A line of boulders blocks vehicle access to the abandoned road on the right. Following this track down, you’ll reach the river again and a flat spot suitable for camping.

From the junction, going left will take you uphill, where you soon cross a low berm. Only ATVs have been past the berm, and the passage narrows considerably. You’ll gain elevation and switchback (A path leading left from the switchback can be explored at another time). The old road bed levels before it passes a spot where ATVs like to highride the slope. Traversing along, you get views across the canyon when the leaves are off the trees to waterfalls splashing down its southern slopes. Elk droppings are common along the path here, and obvious elk trails descend from the slopes above. Make your way across a boggy area to a washout where a bridge has collapsed. Past this obstacle, you’ll cross two small creeks. The road bed drops, and you’ll wind through a mossy log jam to reach a wider creek.

Find a way to hop the creek (Go to the left a little and find a rotten log that juts into the stream), and then scramble up along a tributary to get closer to a waterfall that tumbles down the slope. An old spur leads left up the creek, but keep right on a gently descending track, passing across a boggy expanse and crossing another creek before coming out above the Little South Fork once more. You’ll pass over one more creek before arriving at a junction. Take the right fork here and descend, making a switchback to your right. Peel off the track to your left to find a steep path down to the river’s edge. You can make your way upstream a short distance to a picturesque boulder defile where a tributary creek joins the Little South Fork. This is a great spot to have a snack and enjoy the solitude of the place.

Return to the junction, and take the left fork to continue on the upper road bed, which drops to a big washout with a waterfall tumbling above. Work your way around this crater, and cross a couple more eroded gullies before arriving at the large creek whose confluence with the Little South Fork you’ve just visited. Rotten mossy logs and some straggling cables are all that remain of the bridge that once spanned this stream. This is a good turnaround spot. If you wish to continue, you’ll have to ford the creek. There’s a potential camping area on the other side, and after this the track descends to the Little South Fork before disappearing.


  • Maps: Hike Finder
  • Oregon Department of Forestry: Tillamook State Forest Map & Guide (Route not shown)

Fees, Regulations, etc.

  • none

Trip Reports

Related Discussions / Q&A

Guidebooks that cover this hike

  • 50 Hikes in the Tillamook State Forest by the Tillamook State Forest Committee, Columbia Group Sierra Club

More Links


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.