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North and McKenzie Heads Hike

From Oregon Hikers Field Guide

Lighthouse, North Head (bobcat)
Long Beach from Bell's View, North Head (bobcat)
Multi-limbed spruce, North Head Trail (bobcat)
Swamp near McKenzie Head (bobcat)
Emplacement at Battery 247, McKenzie Head (bobcat)
Trails to North head and McKenzie Head (not a GPS track) (bobcat)
  • Start point: Beards Hollow TrailheadRoad.JPG
  • End point: McKenzie Head
  • Trail log:
  • Hike Type: In and out
  • Distance: 6.6 miles
  • Elevation gain: 1175 feet
  • High Point: 310 feet
  • Difficulty: Moderate
  • Seasons: All year
  • Family Friendly: Yes
  • Backpackable: No
  • Crowded: No

Contents

Hike Description

This coastal hike doesn't take you to a 21st century beach although it does visit an early 19th century one: Lewis & Clark camped at a beach between North Head and McKenzie Head on November 18th, 1805, their first overnight at the Pacific Ocean. The site is now one mile inland because of sedimentation caused by the jetties at the mouth of the Columbia River. In addition to this historic site, the hike takes you to two headlands offering expansive views, one with a lighthouse and the other offering World War II gun emplacements to explore. Connecting them are trails through lush, old growth Sitka spruce forest and a swampy bottomland. The area is now part of the Lewis and Clark National and State Historical Parks system (Cape Disappointment State Park, formerly Fort Canby State Park).

Note that the Westwind Trail from the Beards Hollow Trailhead has been abandoned and is no longer maintained. You can still hike the trail, but there is no signage. If you don't want to hike this old growth section, which is marbled murrelet habitat, you can begin the hike at the North Head Lighthouse.

Take the Westwind Trail up the slope from the Beards Hollow Trailhead. Steps lead up into a forest formed of Sitka spruce, western hemlock, salal, sword fern, deer fern, and red huckleberry. The rooty, muddy trail winds up, switchbacking twice, and then drops. A spur right leads to a viewpoint of the ocean through the trees. There are many trees here that have grown up on stumps that have rotted away, leaving some interesting root buttresses. Note also many multi-limbed spruce and even hemlocks. The trail drops and then rises again. At a T-junction (abandoned section to right), go left and drop in secondary forest to a paved trail.

Here, go right past a water tower and down past a concrete military lookout to the overlook platform at Bell’s View. On a clear day, the views are stunning north along the Long Beach Peninsula to the Olympic Mountains. Head back along the paved trail and down to a road. Go right past a restroom and then split off to the right around the fenced lighthouse keepers’ homes (These can be rented overnight). Past the compound, take the narrow Lighthouse Keeper’s Trail along the grassy north side of the headland to the North Head Lighthouse, built in 1898 because ships coming from the north could not see the Cape Disappointment Lighthouse and too frequently ran aground. Lighthouse tours are available on the weekend for $2.50 (May to September); also, this is a great whale watching site in season. Loop back on the south side of the head, passing interpretive signs to reach the restroom and picnic tables.

The North Head Trail leads off from here, winding through spruce, alder, hemlock, sword fern, and salal and reaching the steep bluff above a campground. Switchback down on a muddy, rooty track to a new footbridge in a skunk-cabbage swamp. Steps lead down to a creek and then up again. The trail makes a traverse on a short boardwalk, using a rerouted section slightly below the old trail tread. Descend to a boardwalk and then head up, drop to a gully, rise, and then drop again. Leathery polypody, a thick-leaved fern, adorns the spruce in abundance. The trail undulates some more to reach a sign informing about Lewis & Clark’s November 18th, 1805 camp. The path descends from this place on widely-spaced steps to a swamp patterned with water lilies. Frogs may set up a chorus as you pass by. The trail winds through a flat area of bulrushes and alders. Pass the sign for Lewis & Clark’s oceanside campsite. Reach the campground road and walk 40 yards to the left.

Take the old road track leading up McKenzie Head. Pass interpretive signs and a couple of monuments to Lewis & Clark. The gravel road bed heads up through a salmonberry and elderberry thicket. McKenzie Lake sparkles below and there’s a view to Tillamook Head and the Cape Disappointment Lighthouse. Wind up under alders and spruce to the turntable for the World War II guns (Battery 247) that were here. There a view of the North Jetty. Look for a pilot boat waiting to escort freighters over the Columbia Bar. When you've taken in the views and explored the World War II emplacements, walk back to Beards Hollow the way you came.


Maps

Fees, Regulations, etc.

  • Dogs on leash.
  • $10 day use fee or Discover Pass

Trip Reports

Related Discussions / Q&A

Guidebooks that cover this hike

  • 100 Hikes/Travel Guide: Oregon Coast and the Coast Range by William L. Sullivan
  • Day Hiking: Olympic Peninsula by Craig Romano
  • Best Hikes With Kids: Western Washington & the Cascades by Joan Burton
  • Washington State Parks: A Complete Recreation Guide by Marge & Ted Mueller
  • Washington Hiking by Scott Leonard
  • Pacific Northwest Hiking by Scott Leonard & Megan McMorris

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.