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Eel Lake Hike

From Oregon Hikers Field Guide

View west from the Eel Lake Trail (bobcat)
Eel Creek, William M. Tugman State Park (bobcat)
Sword fern woods, Eel Lake Trail (bobcat)
Conservation Easement Boundary sign, Eel Lake Trail (bobcat)
The route along the south shore of Eel Lake (not a GPS track) (bobcat) Courtesy: USFS/Caltopo
  • Start point: William M. Tugman TrailheadRoad.JPG
  • End point: Eel Lake Trail End
  • Trail log:
  • Hike Type: In and out
  • Distance: 6.6 miles
  • Elevation gain: 615 feet
  • High Point: 130 feet
  • Difficulty: Moderate
  • Seasons: All year
  • Family Friendly: Yes
  • Backpackable: No
  • Crowded: No


Hike Description

About half of the trail along the south shore of Eel Lake is on state park land; the other half is on private timberland with a conservation easement. You will see clearcuts, but they can longer come down all the way to the lake shore. When land parcels were transferred to state parks in the 1960s and 1970s, the State Game Commission had to clear out all the logging debris from Eel Lake, which has now become a popular destination for bass and trout fishermen. Eel Lake itself was formed from a combination of geomorphological circumstances. Rising sea levels after the last ice age drowned river valleys all along the Pacific Coast, in this case the lower valleys of Clear Creek and Eel Creek. Later, a barrier of sand dunes formed along the coastline, effectively damming the creeks and forming the barrage lake you see today with its two distinct arms. The trail itself undulates along the south and east shores of the lake, offering direct access only at a couple of spots. It’s a shady walk in the woods among native coastal vegetation, but one of the lengthier outings in the area.

The Eel Lake Trail is the main trail in William M. Tugman State Park. Tugman (1894-1961) was a journalist and first head of the State Park Advisory Committee. The lake itself is named after the Pacific lamprey, a primitive jawless fish that looks like an eel. Lampreys, like salmon, are anadromous: they spawn in fresh water, but migrate to the ocean, where they will spend one to three years as parasites attached to a variety of fish species. Lampreys migrate back to fresh water to spawn, but unlike salmon, will spend up to one year inland before doing so.

From the day-use area, walk towards the shore of Eel Lake, where you can see up the Clear Creek Arm, and then head east towards the outlet of Eel Creek. You’ll reach a small building, the Eel Lake Trap, constructed to boost the almost extinct coho runs that once made this area the most abundant coho spawning ground on the Oregon Coast. While coho populations are much healthier now, the trap is still used to collect steelhead eggs for hatching and rearing to smolts. From the trap, follow a wide gravel path into the shore pines and Sitka spruce to bear left at a junction. Pass two interpretive signs explaining healthy riparian ecosystems, and cross Eel Creek on a footbridge to begin the Eel Lake Trail.

Hike along the lake’s south shoreline under a typical coastal forest canopy of Douglas-fir, western red-cedar, Sitka spruce, and western hemlock. Large rotting stumps are the remnants of the old-growth forest that was logged here. Descend through a salmonberry thicket to cross two footbridges, and undulate above the shoreline on a sometimes rooty trail. The thick undergrowth includes evergreen huckleberry, salal, sword fern, deer fern, and rhododendron. Past a bench, use another footbridge, and then keep following the convoluted shoreline along an alder slope to pass your first Conservation Easement Boundary sign. You are now entering private property, so stay on the trail.

The trail descends to cross the first of several rotting log bridges. Hike into a deep inlet below a clearcut, and pass the 1.5 mile marker. Look for ducks and grebes scudding along the dark waters below. A spur trail leads to a once-fenced overlook below a bench. Now the trail begins to head north along the Eel Creek Arm of the lake. Hike between walls of salal and evergreen huckleberry, and come to the 2.0 mile marker. You’ll see that tall trees, exposed to the winds by the clearcutting above, have fallen across the trail into the inlet. The path follows a creek choked with elderberry and salmonberry to the edge of a clearcut. After another log bridge, pass under a spreading myrtle tree. Another spur to the left affords a view of this eastern part of Eel Lake. Hike up through huckleberries and rhododendrons, and cross another rotting footbridge. Then drop down to a boggy inlet hosting coast sedge and skunk-cabbage. This is effectively the Eel Lake Trail End where the path becomes mired in sucking mud and downed limbs.


Fees, Regulations, etc.

  • Dogs on leash
  • Restrooms and picnic tables at the day-use area
  • Share trail with bikes

Trip Reports

Related Discussions / Q&A

Guidebooks that cover this hike

  • Day Hiking: Oregon Coast by Bonnie Henderson
  • Oregon State Parks: A Complete Recreation Guide by Jan Bannan

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.