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Cascade Head Old Growth Hike

From Oregon Hikers Field Guide

Spruce buttress, Cascade Head Trail (bobcat)
Methuselah's beard (Dolichousnea longissima), Cascade Head Trail (bobcat)
Boardwalk, Calkins Springs, Cascade Head Trail (bobcat)
Leathery polypody (Polypodium scouleri), Cascade Head Trail (bobcat)
Hemlock woods, abandoned Cascade Head Trail (bobcat)
The inland route across Cascade Head, showing the abandoned section in yellow (not a GPS track) (bobcat) Courtesy: USFS


Hike Description

The Oregon Coast Trail cobbles together beach hikes, trails over headlands, and highway shoulder walks to afford continuous passage from Clatsop Spit to the California border. Some sections, especially the road walks, are far less prepossessing than others. The Cascade Head section of the trail (Trail #1310) once offered six forested miles up and over the headland. This has now been cut to the southern 3.7 miles from FR 1861 to Three Rocks Road. A few years ago, several small landslides and a serious windstorm that brought down a number of large trees on one slope forced the Forest Service to abandon the northern 2 ½ miles of the trail. The trail is still there and can be followed by experienced adventurers, though, so this description will detail that section as well. In 2019-20, Trailkeepers of Oregon will be working on resurrecting this trail so that it will again be navigable by the general public.

Much of Cascade Head is part of the Siuslaw National Forest (The other, more popular, Cascade Head Trail, runs up the grassy ocean side of the headland on Nature Conservancy land – see the Cascade Head Hike). The headland was scorched by the great Nestucca Fire of the 1840s, but pockets of old growth forest from before that time remain. The Cascade Head Experimental Forest was established in 1934 to study the forest environment here. Later, the Neskowin Crest Research Natural Area (1941) and the Cascade Head Scenic Research Area (1974) were designated. Together these protected sections have become a United Nations Biosphere Reserve, one of only three such reserves in the Pacific Northwest, which protects breeding areas of four endangered species (spotted owl, marbled murrelet, coho salmon, Oregon silverspot butterfly). Researchers here have found some of the highest conifer growth rates for any temperate forest on the planet and a vast diversity of mosses and lichens.

Note that all areas of the national forest’s research areas west of Highway 101 are closed between January 1st and July 15th to ensure the best success for nesting birds. However, you are still permitted to hike Trail #1310 as far as FR 1861 during that time as long as you don’t go off trail. This means you also need to avoid the abandoned section north of the road from 1/1 to 7/15.

From the parking area, hike up the slope to immediately enter an old-growth forest of Sitka spruce, Douglas-fir, western hemlock and red alder. Cross a small creek, and switchback among salmonberry, elderberry, sword fern, and deer fern. Make a winding traverse in an understory of salmonberry thickets. The trail dips above a salmonberry bottom and passes a large Douglas-fir. Cross a couple of small creeks, and then pass over a footbridge at a third creek. Hike up through the salmonberry and alder, and bear right where the trail meets an old road bed. Continue to tunnel through the salmonberry/ elderberry jungle before switchbacking off the road bed and gradually rising to cross another old logging road.

Reach a third road bed, where the trail drops a little in now what is predominantly secondary Douglas-fir forest. Pass a grove of hemlocks before entering spruce woods again. The trail is very level for stretches before it leaves the road bed. The narrower tread undulates through a carpet of moss and woods violets, and then drops to cross an alder/salmonberry/elderberry saddle. Ascend the slope past an old trail post, and soon enter old-growth Sitka spruce forest. Cross a small creek to pass an impressive Douglas-fir on the right. A stepped boardwalk takes you across a salmonberry/skunk-cabbage swamp in an area of springs. There’s a massive spruce next to the trail at the far end of this boardwalk. Next, pass by a large hemlock and some more big spruce trees before dropping to cross the footbridge over Calkins Creek.

Continuing the traverse, pass above a mossy spruce-shaded seep, leaving the old growth and making a generally level traverse to reach the Cascade Head North Trailhead at FR 1861. From January 1st through July 15th, this road is closed west of the trail to all foot traffic (It is also gated at Highway 101). Oregon Coast Trail hikers need to use the road to hike east out to the highway. Day hikers can turn around here as this is the end of the maintained section of the trail.

Statistics for the round trip, including the abandoned section of the trail (July 16th to December 31st only):

  • Distance: 12.2 miles
  • Elevation gain: 2530 feet
  • High point: 1340 feet
  • Difficulty: Difficult

The abandoned section of the trail can only be attempted between July 16th and December 31st due to the seasonal closure. Note that Trailkeepers of Oregon will be working on this section in 2019-20, and the difficult sections will be improved considerably. The north section of the route begins up the slope to the right (east) off the road. The now mossy and overgrown tread traverses along a steep hillside in a secondary forest of spruce and hemlock. Sword fern dominates the slope, and deer fern crowds the trail, but the mossy path is quite distinct in this area. The trail bends around the nose of a ridge and makes a long gently descending traverse down. Scramble over a small landslide, and hike into a salmonberry thicket. Cross a little footbridge, and swish through the deer ferns into a pocket of old growth Sitka spruce and hemlock. Soon, the trail reenters secondary forest with some large, springboard-notched stumps. Cross a soft slope of seeps before stepping over a small creek. Enter a dense younger woodland where you'll traverse a couple more small slides.

Now you’ll begin the more difficult and final section of this trail in an area where a windstorm toppled a number of large trees a few years ago. The windfall was logged out in 2019, so you should have little difficulty winding around obstacles. The path now makes its only switchback and, continuing the descent, you’ll pass through another windfall area, also logged out, above a salmonberry thicket.

Eventually come to the bottom of the slope at an abandoned road bed, and bear right to follow this track. Fall Creek flows to your left as the trail burrows through an extensive salmonberry thicket that has been cut back. Pass a trail post and come out at the old trailhead parking area and a berm preventing access from Highway 101.

You may not want to return the way you came, so there are a couple of options. You can make this a hike and bike by stashing a bike here so you can cycle back the four miles to the Cascade Head South Trailhead. You could also walk back along the road although that would be a fairly unpleasant experience. Hitchhiking is not really an option: Vehicles are going at 55-60 mph and there isn’t any space for them to pull over although one possibility could be to walk up the highway to the FR 1861 turnoff and station yourself below it so they can pull out there.


Fees, Regulations, etc.

  • Seasonal area closure from January 1st to July 15th: stay on the trail.
  • No hiking of the abandoned section north of FR 1861 from January 1st to July 15th.

Trip Reports

Related Discussions / Q&A

Guidebooks that cover this hike

  • 100 Hikes/Travel Guide: Oregon Coast & Coast Range by William L. Sullivan
  • Day Hiking: Oregon Coast by Bonnie Henderson
  • 120 Hikes on the Oregon Coast by Bonnie Henderson
  • Siuslaw Forest Hikes: A Guide to Oregon’s Central Coast Range by Irene & Dick Lilja
  • A Walking Guide to Oregon’s Ancient Forests by Wendell Wood
  • Oregon Coast Trail: Hiking Inn to Inn by Jack D. Remington
  • The Oregon Coast Trail Guide by Jon Kenneke (eBook)
  • Oregon Coast Camping & Hiking by Tom Stienstra & Sean Patrick Hill
  • Oregon Hiking by Sean Patrick Hill
  • Pacific Northwest Hiking by Scott Leonard & Sean Patrick Hill

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.