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Crown Zellerbach Traverse Hike

From Oregon Hikers Field Guide

North Scappoose Creek, Crown Z Trail (bobcat)
Pilings at Chapman Landing (bobcat)
Tualatin Mountains and irrigated fields, Crown Z Trail (bobcat)
Everlasting pea (Lathyrus latifolius), Crown Z Trail (bobcat)
Jackson Creek Wetlands, Crown Z Trail (bobcat)
Cutting in old basalt, Crown Z Trail (bobcat)
The old Chapman School, Crown Z Trail (bobcat)
1930 Caterpillar on display at the Ruley Trailhead (bobcat)
Jewel weed (Impatiens capensis), Crown Z Trail (bobcat)
Inside the Nehalem Divide Tunnel (West Portal) (bobcat)
Display panel about the Floeter family at the Floeter Trailhead (bobcat)
Second footbridge, Scaponia Park (bobcat)
At Camp 8, Crown Z Trail (bobcat)
At the Holce Trailhead, Crown Z Trail (bobcat)
Cattails, Vernonia Lake (bobcat)
Route of the Crown Zellerbach Trail showing the trailheads (bobcat) Courtesy: Google Maps
  • Start point: Chapman Landing TrailheadRoad.JPG
  • End point: Vernonia Trailhead
  • Hike Type: Traverse (car shuttle)
  • Distance: 24.8 miles one way
  • Elevation gain: 1815 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, officially termed the Crown Z Linear Trail, is a work in progress and a reroute of Section 5, which heads up into forested hills owned by Weyerhaeuser, has been promulgated to take the route directly to Vernonia Lake and then the Vernonia Trailhead to hook up with the Banks-Vernonia State Trail. Chapman Landing may become more developed in the future. Recently, interpretive signs have been installed along the trail explaining local history.

This is all secondary and tertiary woodland interspersed with farmland and rural dwellings. The trail surface is a deteriorating asphalt from Chapman Landing Park to the Ruley 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 Wilark Trailhead and Knott Street near Vernonia. You'll need to leave the trail to visit attractions such as Bonnie Falls, the Nehalem Divide Tunnel, and Scaponia Park. All in all, this is a more rustic, hiker-friendly experience than the now entirely paved Banks Vernonia State Trail.

There are campgrounds with restrooms at two points along the trail: Scaponia Park and Vernonia Lake. Some other trailheads have vault toilets or port-a-potties as well as bike repair stations.

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 you cannot park at Chapman Landing Historical Park. The Trtek Trailhead and Chapman Landing Trailhead offer vehicular access. 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 Pisgah Trailhead also becomes rural rather quickly but runs right next to the Scappoose-Vernonia Highway.

From the Chapman Landing Trailhead, first walk southeast towards the Columbia River (Multnomah Channel) shore. 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 Silver Star Mountain, Mount Saint Helens, Mount Rainier, Mount Adams, and Mount Hood. You'll get views over the nursery fields in Scappoose Bottoms, while the Tualatin Mountains define the horizon to the west. After you pass over Dike Road on an old railroad bridge, you'll come to Chapman Landing, where a couple of benches overlook the Multnomah Channel. This was originally the terminus of the Portland & Southwestern Railroad and then of the Crown Zellerbach Logging Road. Here, there was 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. Look for cormorants, ospreys, and bald eagles. You can walk south along the grassy dike, but soon a gate will block your passage.

Return to the Chapman Landing Trailhead 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 recently constructed Trtek Trailhead, which has restrooms, picnic tables, and a bike repair station. Continue on to cross West Lane Road. Then you'll need to 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 Pisgah Trailhead) is two miles ahead. Even though there is space here, this is not an approved parking area for the trail. An interpretive panel informs about the Chinookan village Skáppus, after which the modern town of Scappoose is named, and the Chinook Chief Kiesno (Cassino). You'll walk by 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. The trail crosses a couple of driveways and makes its 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, rimmed by a line of crash barriers, at the Pisgah Trailhead.


2. North Scappoose Creek Section

  • Start point: Pisgah TrailheadRoad.JPG
  • End point: Ruley 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 a display explaining the Pisgah Home Colony, which offered rehabilitation to men who had fallen on hard times. 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. After crossing paved Pond Drive, you'll see the Heinen Pond on private property below and then cross 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.

When you reach the Bonnie Falls Trailhead at Walker Road, you can decide if you want to visit 15-foot Bonnie Falls and its fish ladder. If so, you'll need to walk a quarter of mile. Hike down Walker Road to the highway and then turn left along the highway past a chain link fence to a rough pullout. From the pullout, you can descend to get a view of the falls and fish ladder. For a frontal view of Bonnie Falls, which splits over a basalt face, you can climb a slippery basalt cliff to a rock platform that just into North Scappoose Creek.

From the Bonnie Falls Trailhead, the Crown Z Trail 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 footbridge over Alder Creek (not the same Alder Creek as the trail crosses in Scappoose). 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. You'll cross a couple of driveways and then walk over a bridge, a converted railroad trestle, on 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 of the old Chapman Schoolhouse (1913-1949), which later became a church, across the road. Soon reach the wide, open paved parking area at the Ruley Trailhead. An interpretive sign here explains "important plants" of the area.


3. Nehalem Divide Section


Description: From the Ruley Trailhead, the road bed is mostly 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, 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.

At the Ruley Trailhead, there's a gravel foot trail that leads around a series of interpretive panels explaining the logging town of Chapman, the WPA's (Works Progress Administration) Camp Chapman, and the Portland & Southwestern Railroad. Also on display is a 1930 Caterpillar Model 30 which once belonged to local logger Oral Varley. 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 read about the Chapman Grange) and then Chapman Road before crossing a road bridge over Cedar Creek. After passings a power substation, you'll see the homes of Raingarden Lane. Cross another driveway and pass through a corridor of maple and then a small open area. The Crown Z Trail rises under a leafy arbor above a farm and dips 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 Crown Z Trail, pass a 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 Crown Z Trail and go left under the road bridge. After passing a signboard, 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. After passing through an open yellow gate, you'll reach the Floeter Trailhead. A display panel here features several generations of the Floeter family, German immigrants who homesteaded here in the 1890s.

From the trailhead, take a bridge over Hawkins Creek and then cross Hawkins Road. 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 at a 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 Crown Z Trail behind some bollards. A natural gas pipeline runs below the road here. A log house across the highway exemplifies the rural setting. The trail rises gently and then drops to get more glimpses of the East Fork under its canopy of alders and maples. You'll cross Kenusky Creek and pass by a field of Scots broom before keeping 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. another display panel here explains the origins of the natural gas pipeline, which originates at the Mist Natural Gas Field. Natural gas was discovered at Mist in 1979, and the field is still productive. Right across the highway is the Wilark 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. From here, there's a hiker/biker trail to the Vernonia Trailhead in Anderson Park in Vernonia. 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 may, in the future, be diverted from the Pebble Creek Mainline-Knott Street Logging Road Junction. Plans call for the trail route to stay on the Pebble Creek Mainline and descend to Coon Creek Road. From there, a bridge over the Nehalem River will connect the Crown Z Trail 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 Holce 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. The concrete wall here was the site of the log dump, where trucks deposited timber into the pond for sorting. A sign at the parking tells the history of the Oregon-American Lumber Mill.

From here, take the trail leading right around the west shore of Vernonia Lake. Continue past the boat ramp to the side of the lake covered with water lilies. Across from another fishing dock, the gaunt concrete structure of the former fuel bunker is the last structure left standing from the Oregon-American days. Make sure you go inside: there are full-grown alders sprouting from the floor but also some splendid graffiti by the area's finest. Also near the fishing dock is the log slip, which was used in pulling logs from the pond to send to the sawmill. Much of the lake shore is rimmed with cattails, and there are benches, picnic tables, and garbage cans at regular intervals. Bring binoculars to search for water birds. Buffleheads come here in numbers in the fall, but there are many other species of waterfowl as well.

When you reach a trail junction (see the Vernonia Lake Loop Hike), bear right and hike along with the Nehalem River on your left and tall big-leaf maples shading overhead. The trail heads through a blackberry thicket below sewage disposal ponds that support a variety of bird life. Head left when you reach a gravel road, and pass high school playing fields. After crossing Rock Creek on a footbridge, you'll arrive at the entrance to Anderson Park, the Vernonia Trailhead, and the intersection with the Banks-Vernonia Linear Trail.


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 Vernonia)
  • Take a Walk: Portland by Brian Barker (North Scappoose Creek section)

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.

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