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Elk Creek to Idiot Creek Road Hike

From Oregon Hikers Field Guide

Elk Creek from the Elk Creek Trail (bobcat)
Junction, Elk Creek and Wilson River Trails (Elk Creek Crossing) (bobcat)
Switchback, Wilson River Trail (bobcat)
Viewpoint to the Wilson River, Wilson River Trail (bobcat)
The route of this loop hike in red; other trails in blue (not a GPS track) (bobcat) Courtesy: Caltopo
  • Start point: Elk Creek TrailheadRoad.JPG
  • End point: Idiot Creek Loop Road Trailhead
  • Trail log:
  • Hike Type: In and out
  • Distance: 7.0 miles
  • Elevation gain: 1160 feet
  • High Point: 2150 feet
  • Difficulty: Moderate
  • Seasons: All year (No bridge over Elk Creek October to May)
  • Family Friendly: No
  • Backpackable: No
  • Crowded: No


Hike Description

The most recently constructed section of the Wilson River Trail (see the Wilson River Traverse Hike) ascends three miles from Elk Creek to Idiot Creek Loop Road and gains over 1,000 feet in doing so. It is well-switchbacked and an easy grade, but involves a more continuous ascent than most sections of the Wilson River Trail. There's a limited view of the Wilson River valley at the end of the hike, and a new, single handrail bridge spans the confluence of Elk Creek and its West Fork during the spring and summer months (May to October). At other times of the year, you'll need to be prepared for a ford of fast flowing Elk Creek.

If you’re parking here in the winter, hike past the gate down the campground road. The alder-lined Devil’s Fork of the Wilson River is down to your left. Soon, you’ll reach the walk-in campground staging area, with the campsites on a shady bench down to your left. There are restrooms here also. Continue across the road bridge over Elk Creek to the summer trailhead. Keep right here and walk past a boulder and cable across the decommissioned Elk Creek Road. It’s about half a mile from here to the Elk Creek Crossing.

Hiking up the road bed, pass a spur trail that leads right to Elk Creek. You can make a short loop back to the road from here to view a waterfall that splashes down into the creek. Continuing on the road, pass another a spur that leads to a rocky narrows on the creek. Walk around a slide that has eaten part of the road bed. Baby alders crowd the trail before you reach a sign indicating this is the junction where the Wilson River Trail peels off to descend and cross Elk Creek.

A new (2017) single handrail bridge has been installed to span both the West Fork and Elk Creek at the Elk Creek Crossing for part of the year (May to October). You'll still have to ford the creeks in the rainy season, when the West Fork is a shallow gravel-bedded stream, but Elk Creek is a deeper spate with slippery rounded boulders (See Tips for Crossing Streams). Look for spawning coho salmon in the creeks in the fall through spring seasons.

Once across the creek, hike up to a junction. The trail leading right dead ends at the creek at a possible future bridge crossing. Go left and traverse along a slope carpeted with sword fern. Above you, the hillside is composed of secondary growth Douglas-fir and western hemlock, with a few maples and cedars. Below, groves of red alder and big-leaf maple crowd the gravel flats alongside Elk Creek. Switchback twice and traverse to cross a small brook. The trail dips slightly before making another traverse and then switchbacks three times up a sword fern slope. Soon, transition from fern to Oregon grape, and make a long traverse. At an alder-shaded draw, get a view across to the rugged slopes above Elk Creek. Switchback up over the nose of the ridge; then make a long traverse along its north face before switchbacking up twice. Soon, switchback again at the ridge, and make five shorter switchbacks up – at the second of these, a use trail leads right to a moss-carpeted clifftop view of the Wilson River valley. Hike through a carpet of Oregon grape, sword fern, and salal to reach the Idiot Creek Loop Road Trailhead near the road's highest point.

Once on the road, you can walk up to a muddy expanse at the highest point on the road and take a short spur up to a promontory with a campsite. There are only partial views down to the Wilson River valley from this perch, but it’s a good spot to rest and snack before you retrace your steps to Elk Creek.

The Tillamook State Forest has plans for the next 8 1/2 miles of the Wilson River Trail heading east from here. However, funding is hard to come by and is reliant on grants, especially for construction of major infrastructure like bridges. If/When the funding comes in, the trail work will begin!


  • Maps: Hike Finder
  • Oregon Department of Forestry: Tillamook State Forest Map & Guide (doesn't show this new trail)

Fees, Regulations, etc.

  • Snow cover varies considerably from year to year; check on conditions before planning a cold season hike
  • Share trail with mountain bikers

Trip Reports

Related Discussions / Q&A

Guidebooks that cover this hike

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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.