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Elk Mountain-Kings Mountain Loop Hike

From Oregon Hikers Field Guide

King's Mountain from the summit of Elk Mountain (Jerry Adams)
Summit of Elk Mountain (Jerry Adams)
Cardwell's penstemon (Penstemon cardwellii), Elk Mountain Ridge (bobcat)
View down the Big Creek valley on the Elk-Kings traverse (bobcat)
Big Creek, on the Wilson River Trail (bobcat)
Cliffside trail on the Kings Mountain north ridge (bobcat)
Map of Elk Mountain/Kings Mountain area
  • Start point: Elk Creek TrailheadRoad.JPG
  • End point: Kings Mountain
  • Trail log: Trail Log
  • Hike type: Loop
  • Distance: 10.8 miles round trip
  • Elevation gain: 3850 feet
  • High Point: 3,226 feet
  • Difficulty: Difficult
  • Seasons: All year, depending on winter snowfall
  • Family Friendly: No
  • Backpackable: No
  • Crowded: On Kings Mountain and Elk Mountain sections


Hike Description

Elk Mountain and Kings Mountain are two popular hiking destinations in Oregon's Coast Range. This challenging loop takes in both peaks, connecting them via the Wilson River Trail and trail connections on the back sides of both peaks that involve a couple of scramble sections. The loop can be done most months of the year, depending on snow depth, but you'll want to tackle it in good weather. Carry water - there are (almost) no sources of water along the trails. The Mazamas have adopted these trails, so they are well marked and well maintained. Most people prefer to do the loop counter clockwise, beginning at either the Kings Mountain Trailhead to do the Wilson River Trail section first or at the Elk Creek Trailhead. This description begins at the latter.

To first tackle Elk Mountain, start just past the Elk Creek Campground. The road continues over a bridge to a parking area. There are two trails out of the trailhead. Take the Elk Mountain/Wilson River Trail up past a sign. The trail rises in lush woods under a canopy of red alder before a steeper section takes you to the Wilson River-Elk Mountain Trail Junction after 0.2 miles.

Here, go right (it's 1.4 miles to the summit) in a Douglas-fir, vine maple, salal, and sword fern woodland. The trail switchbacks, and you'll see large decaying stumps left from the Tillamook Burn. At a paintbrush/desert parsley meadow, there are open views to the west. Then head up steeply on a rocky spine to a clifftop viewpoint over Highway 6 and the Wilson River. The trail drops to a small saddle, and then rises precipitously again for more views. The old snags are now shaded by Douglas-fir, ocean spray, red huckleberry, and bracken. You'll drop to another little saddle and then continue steeply up. Scramble through a narrow cleft, and climb up another steep section of trail to get more views. The path drops to a saddle again, and then you’re ascending to get views to the east across a stand of alders. Drop a little, and then find your way up a short scramble section. Switchback to get more open views and keep steeply up. The trail levels on a Douglas-fir ridge with a 2,500 foot sign near a waterless campsite. Then you drop down the side of the ridge below a rocky outcrop. From here, you'll get your first view of the summit of Elk Mountain. Descend steeply to a saddle, and then head steeply up again. The path levels on a shady ridge, from which it’s a short hop up to the summit. Take in the great views to Kings Mountain across the forested bowl between the two peaks. Serviceberry blooms here in the spring, and tiger lilies display in early summer. Sign the Mazamas summit register if you wish.

There’s a steep scramble down from the summit as you continue. The trail switchbacks and traverses a precipitous slope. You'll make several short switchbacks down, head along a ridge, and then drop off of it below a mossy wall. At a TRAIL sign, switchback up to the left to reach the ridge crest again. Then hike below a rock outcrop and along a narrow crest before making steep scrambles down, up, and then down again. The path rises in Douglas-fir woods and drops to an old road bed. You'll ascend gently to another road bed and drop to an alder saddle from which the view west is now obscured by trees. After a short descent, you'll continue to rise gradually and then make a wide switchback up. The road bed switchbacks again to the left and then switchbacks right at a cairn. Make three more switchbacks to reach the ridge crest and get a view to Kings Mountain. Keep following the road bed, which is verged with small colonies of bear-grass. About 3.6 miles from the Elk Creek Trailhead, you'll reach the Elk Mountain-Kings Mountain Trail Junction, where the sign says the Kings Mountain summit is 1.3 miles away.

Turn left to hike down the road bed below a rock face. The trail levels in shady woods at a viewpoint over the big bowl between the two mountains. After dropping steeply, you'll reach a narrow ridge and make a switchback down around an outcropping before heading up over a small saddle. Switchback down and reach a chute below sheer cliffs. There should be a fixed rope here to assist your scramble. The trail then passes through a thimbleberry thicket, switchbacks twice, and makes a traverse before winding up steeply. Pass below some rugged cliffs, and then undulate along through shady woods and thickets of Sitka alder, devil’s club, and thimbleberry. Look for rare copperbush shrubs that will bloom here in the summer. There are also wonderful rock gardens of wildflowers along this section. Soon, wind steeply up and make four switchbacks before switchbacking down across a flowery open space. On a clear day, you'll get a view of Mount Hood from this area. Eventually, the trail rises to a viewpoint of Kings Mountain's west ridge, with Lester Creek in the bowl below. When you get to the summit of Kings Mountain, you can enjoy more views west of the Lester Creek valley, Coronary Ridge, the Lester Creek Pinnacles, the alder-shaded road bed that is the Wilson River Trail, and the North Fork Wilson River. Sign the Mazamas-maintained summit register if you wish, and note the 3,226’ elevation sign.

Dropping off the summit, look left to see if you can glimpse Mount Hood and Mount Adams as you descend through small meadows and pass a 3,000' elevation sign. Then enter Douglas-fir woods, pass a picnic table, and wind down steeply. A spur leads right 60 feet to a viewpoint of the mountain's west ridge. Descend steeply again, using a series of rock "steps," and soon pass the 2,500' marker. Look to the left for the old, now overgrown with conifers, logging road that begins the obscure Coxcomb route, a roundabout deep bushwhack/scramble to the summit. The trail drops steeply again from this point until you reach a level section where there's a sign that tells you you're 0.63 miles from the summit.

You'll pass the Kings Mountain-Kings Mountain Junior Trail Junction at a major switchback, and the main trail from here drops down an old logging road. Make a level traverse as the old road, on a short cut, drops steeply down to the right. The trail passes the 2,000’ level and winds down with a creek on the left. Reach another logging road, and rise slightly past the shortcut road. The path switchbacks under alders and descends on an old road bed and then becomes more gradual. The large stumps in these woods attest to much logging in the years before the Tillamook Burn. The trail levels in Douglas-fir woods and then drops slightly, heading down a ridge with a rushing creek to the right. Sword fern dominates the understory. The trail drops to the left, crosses the head of a small gully, and heads up a ridge to wind down steeply. Switchback at a view of a creek and then head gradually down under alders to the Wilson River-Kings Mountain Trail Junction.

Bear left here where the sign says the Elk Creek Campground is 3.5 miles, and cross a footbridge over Dog Creek. The trail rises past a couple of bogs off to the left. After you cross a one-log bridge, you'll pass through a thimbleberry thicket. An undulating course takes you through an understory of maidenhair fern, sword fern, salmonberry, oxalis, and thimbleberry. Cross Big Creek, and switchback up twice. The trail heads through a sunny opening and then makes a rising traverse. You'll drop to cross a creek before making another traverse to get a view of the valley of the Devils Fork Wilson River. After crossing a trickling creek, the trail levels on an old road bed. Walk under a rock face and reach the junction with the Elk Mountain Trail. Make a right to return to the trailhead.

Fees, Regulations, etc.

  • Campground at the Elk Creek Trailhead
  • Access road to the Elk Creek Trailhead gated in winter
  • Check for snow levels before attempting this hike in winter; do not attempt this hike when it's icy!
  • Share Wilson River Trail section with mountain bikers


Trip Reports

Related Discussions / Q&A

Guidebooks that cover this hike

  • Hiking from Portland to the Coast by James D. Thayer
  • 75 Scrambles in Oregon by Barbara I. Bond
  • 100 Hikes: Oregon Coast by William L. Sullivan
  • 100 Classic Hikes in Oregon by Douglas Lorain
  • 60 Hikes Within 60 Miles: Portland by Paul Gerald
  • 50 Hikes in the Tillamook and Clatsop State Forests by the Sierra Club Oregon Chapter
  • 50 Hikes in the Tillamook State Forest by the Tillamook State Forest Committee, Columbia Group Sierra Club
  • Oregon Coast Camping & Hiking by Tom Stienstra & 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.

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