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Fort to Sea Hike

From Oregon Hikers Field Guide

Fort Clatsop historical re-enactment (Lewis & Clark National Historic Park)
Sunset Beach viewing platform (Navigator 2)
Portions of the trail follow fence lines through open pastures (Navigator 2)
East Neacoxie Creek Footbridge, one of several along the trail (Navigator 2)
The Pioneer Presbyterian Church from the Fort to Sea Trail (bobcat)
Crossing a swamp on the Fort to Sea Trail (bobcat)
National Park Service map showing the route of the Fort to Sea Trail
  • Start point: Sunset Beach TrailheadRoad.JPG
  • End point: Fort Clatsop
  • Trail log:
  • Distance: 12.9 miles
  • Elevation gain: 505 feet
  • High point: 370 feet
  • Difficulty: Moderate
  • Seasons: All year
  • Family Friendly: Yes, in short sections
  • Backpackable: No
  • Crowded: No

Contents

Hike Description

In the 1950s, the volunteers who created a replica of Fort Clatsop in the rainforest near the mouth of the Columbia River had a broader vision for the park that included a trail connecting the fort to the Pacific Ocean. The National Park Service commissioned a trail feasibility study in 1958, and the trail was finally constructed in 2004-05, in time for the bicentennial celebration of the Lewis and Clark expedition and the creation of the Lewis and Clark National Historical Park, which includes Fort Clatsop. The Fort to Sea Trail has two distinct segments. The 2 1/4 miles west of Highway 101 runs mostly through cattle pastures, where the squeamish may baulk at having to share an enclosed space with the occasional beady-eyed bull. There are several kissing gates to pass through. The eastern section of trail heads through secondary coastal woodland and rises to a viewpoint before dropping to arrive at Fort Clatsop. Other trails have been developed in this section since the original construction, so a combination of loops is possible on the return. Because the hike ends at a second trailhead, this trip works well as a one-way shuttle with two cars. However, most people will walk this route out and back beginning at Sunset Beach Trailhead. Even though it's a national park, dogs are permitted on leash.

You can visit the beach first if you like. It's a third of a mile walk through shore pine woods, over two footbridges and through the dunegrass to a view of Sunset Beach from the foredunes. Then return to the parking area. The trail heads inland behind the restrooms through a lovely shore pine forest with a moss carpet. A few hemlocks and spruces are sprinkled among the pines. A shallow lake appears on the left. Cross Pacific Bellevue Lane, and head up a grassy area through a row of pines and then into another field. At the crest of this next dune, wild roses form a thicket. The Astoria Golf Club is on your right. The low sandy ridges here are known as the Clatsop Plains. Look for grazing elk early in the mornings and evenings; bald eagles perch in the spruce trees, and nutria and muskrat cruise across the shallow lakes.

Cross Sunset (Neacoxie) Lake on an arched footbridge, and then go left above a mowed field with fences to the left and right. Looking back, get a view to Saddle Mountain. The buildings of the Camp Rilea Military Reservation can be seen ahead. Negotiate a kissing gate to go right across an open cow pasture, and then swing left a flourishing thicket of Scots broom to reach another gate. After passing through a third kissing gate, make a sharp right with fields to the left and right. Turn left at the corner of a field, and cross a driveway. Waterlily-dotted East Neacoxie Creek is to the right. The trail makes a sharp right under shady spruces and heads over the slough-like creek on a floating bridge. Wigeons, mallards, and buffleheads scoot away. Turn left under a slope, and head up another low ridge before making a right at the Pioneer Presbyterian Church and cemetery. Missionaries constructed a church here in 1850, the first Protestant church west of the Rocky Mountains. The church you see now, built in 1927, is the third church at the site. The cemetery, one of the oldest in Oregon, was established in 1846. The trail turns left and then runs parallel to busy Highway 101.

After 2 1/4 miles, reach a paved trail and the underpass at Highway 101, clearly labeled 'Fort to the Sea.' The trail makes a sharp left, and you hike north long a line of alders before making a right away from 101 at a No Trespassing gate. The trail follows a gravel path along an old road bed next to a coastal bog. Walk up and over an old dune and to cross the Skipanon River on a footbridge. Enter a shady secondary forest of Sitka spruce and western hemlock dominated by sword fern and salmonberry in the understory. Large cedar stumps attest to past logging in the area. Reach the Fort to Sea-Kwis Kwis Trail West Junction, and ascend a slope, keeping close to a fenced pasture, to reach a vault toilet at the end of Skipanon Road (Mountain bikers are permitted to use the road.). Walk to the right, and cross a salmonberry/skunk-cabbage wetland on a boardwalk. Undulate along above the creek, the same tributary that you followed on the Kwis Kwis Trail. Cross a skunk-cabbage bog, and hike above the large pond and wetland; you should be able to see the Kwis Kwis boardwalk on the north side of the pond. Douglas-firs are part of the spruce/hemlock mix here. Cross a creek, and switchback up to make a slope traverse on a gravel tread. Four more switchbacks take you up through salal thickets to the Clatsop Ridge Overlook. A viewpoint and picnic table extend a vista towards the Clatsop Plains, the Fort Rilea Military Reservation, and the Pacific Ocean, 2 ¾ miles away.

From a kiosk detailing the wildlife of the area, keep left to follow a gravel road down to its junction with Perkins Road (The Kwis Kwis Trail is 70 yards to your left from here.). Stay right at the junction and walk down the salmonberry-lined road, passing through a stand of red alder and then a hemlock forest. Stay left at the Fort to Sea-Slough to Sea Trail Junction, and continue a short distance in an area affected by the December 2007 Great Coastal Gale to reach the Fort to Sea-Kwis Kwis Connector Trail Junction. Keep on Perkins Road, pass a bench pullout, and enter a more sheltered forest with some large Sitka spruce. The Fort to Sea Trail turns off the road opposite the South Slough Trail and just before the South Clatsop Slough Trailhead.

Follow the trail through more forest damaged by the 2007 storm, and turn right at the Fort to Sea-Kwis Kwis Trail East Junction to cross a footbridge and pass through an open forest cluttered with splintered trees. Foxglove and elderberry thrive in the sunny spots. Cross Fort Clatsop Road, and make a right at the junction with the Clay Pit Trail to soon reach the Fort Clatsop Trailhead and Visitor Center. If you want to visit the reconstruction of Fort Clatsop itself, enter the Visitor Center and pay the entrance fee.

On the return, you can take the Kwis Kwis Trail for variation. This trail meanders through the low forested hills north of the Fort to Sea Trail and rejoins it just east of the Skipanon River (See the Kwis Kwis Loop Hike.).


Maps

Fees, Regulations, etc.

  • $7.00 entrance fee for adults 16 and over at Fort Clatsop, or America the Beautiful Pass. No fees at Sunset Beach Trailhead
  • Restrooms, picnic tables, visitor center, interpretive signs
  • Dogs on leash
  • Fort Clatsop open 9:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m., late June – Labor Day; 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m., Labor Day – late June; closed Christmas Day

Trip Reports

Related Discussions / Q&A

Guidebooks that cover this hike

  • 100 Hikes/Travel Guide: Oregon Coast & Coast Range by William L. Sullivan
  • Oregon: The Creaky Knees Guide by Seabury Blair, Jr.
  • Day Hiking: Oregon Coast by Bonnie Henderson
  • The Dog Lover's Companion to Oregon by Val Mallinson

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.

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.