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John Dellenback Dunes Loop Hike

From Oregon Hikers Field Guide

Seasonal pond, John Dellenback Dunes (bobcat)
Pond on the interpretive trail, John Dellenback Dunes (bobcat)
View to the ocean from the big dune, John Dellenback Dunes (bobcat)
Trail post, John Dellenback Dunes (bobcat)
Dunescape in the John Dellenback Dunes (bobcat)
The across the dunes from the John Dellenback Trailhead (not a GPS track) (bobcat) Courtesy: Google Maps
  • Start point: John Dellenback TrailheadRoad.JPG
  • End point: Dellenback Deflation Plain
  • Trail log:
  • Hike Type: Loop
  • Distance: 4.0 miles
  • Elevation gain: 220 feet
  • High Point: 135 feet
  • Difficulty: Easy
  • Seasons: All year
  • Family Friendly: Yes
  • Backpackable: No
  • Crowded: No


Hike Description

A one-mile nature trail loop begins at the John Dellenback Trailhead, but if you want to really experience the dunescape here, venture out into the open sandy expanse. You can follow the crest of a huge oblique dune to the marshy deflation plain, and then return via conveniently placed trail posts to complete the nature trail (A trail leads through the deflation zone to reach the beach after 0.7 miles, but this path is flooded much of the year). The nature loop here is named after John Dellenback, who served as one of Oregon’s Representatives in Congress from 1966 to 1974 and was instrumental in pushing for legislation authorizing the Oregon Dunes National Recreation Area in 1972.

The Dellenback Dunes are the widest stretch of dunes on the Oregon Coast and exhibit some excellent examples of this sandscape. However, the constitution of the dunes landscape has changed drastically in the past 80 years or so with the introduction of European beachgrass (Ammophila arenaria) to “bind” shifting sand near jetties, highways, and other human construction. Of course, the plant spread everywhere, and while the coastal landscape is a lot more static than previously, it is far less natural. The foredunes near the beach are now colonized by beachgrass and are relatively stable. With the foredunes bound up, coastal winds have scoured a depression behind the dunes, known as the deflation plain, which supports marshes and copses of shore pine and Sitka spruce as well as invasives like Scots broom. There are large shifting dunes on the land side of the deflation zone among tree islands and seasonal pools.

At the north side of the parking area, find the trail head, and cross the long footbridge over alder and waxmyrtle shaded Eel Creek. Hike up through a tunnel of salal, evergreen huckleberry, and rhododendron with Douglas-firs and madrones above. At a junction, go right to begin the nature trail loop, where numbered posts correspond with a key you may be able to pick up at the trailhead. Pass through a shore pine and manzanita regime before you enter a dense thicket and pass above a spiraea swamp. Glimpse some of the Eel Creek Campground sites to your left. Walk by a memorial bench near a pond, and then cross the campground road. Head up near the crest of a ridge, passing by a cluster of madrones. At a junction, keep right for the Sand Dunes.

When you reach the dunes, go left to hike up to the crest of the large oblique dune. Oblique dunes are big, constantly moving dunes unique in the world to the Oregon Dunes area. They are shaped by both summer and winter winds. You’ll get views from here of the Pacific Ocean as well as tree islands and ponds in the dunes themselves. A wooded and marshy deflation plain extends between the open dunes and the foredunes and beach. The crest of this oblique dune is about a mile long. Walk along it, noting the wooden posts of the official “trail’’ below you. As a tree island looms closer, descend to your right and make for the nearest post. You’ll see hummocks bound by invasive European beachgrass to your right as you follow posts towards the deflation plain. Pass a couple of ponds, and reach a hiker sign at the deflation plain. The trail here does lead out to the beach, but it is overgrown and flooded during the wet season, so it’s best to return at that time. In summer/early fall, you can go another 0.7 miles on the trail through the vegetated deflation plain and foredunes to the beach. Part of this is on a boardwalk that gets flooded in winter.

To return from the edge of the deflation plain, follow the wooden posts east across the dunescape. You’ll cross over a hummock where coast strawberries have found a foothold. Then pass by a sheltered depression colonized by Sitka spruce and shore pine with a seasonal pond. Hike up to the east end of the oblique dune, and find the nature trail reentering a shore pine wood. From here it’s half a mile back to the trailhead. Note how moss, lichen, and kinnikinnick form a carpet in open areas and under the manzanita bushes. Follow the sandy track up along a split-rail fence. An interpretive sign explains that the depression below supports a community of red fescue grass – such large communities are now rare because of aggressive invasive species like beachgrass. Exit the dune area, and bear right to descend the trail to the junction that begins the nature trail loop. Go right here to return to your car.


  • Maps: Hike Finder
  • U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service: Oregon Dunes National Recreation Area
  • U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service: Siuslaw National Forest
  • Pacific Northwest Recreation Map Series: Oregon Central Coast

Fees, Regulations, etc.

  • Northwest Forest Pass (or America the Beautiful Pass) required
  • Restrooms and picnic tables at the day-use area
  • Trail in the dunes marked by posts; be aware of your bearings
  • Beach access limited March 15th – September 15th because of snowy plover nesting (Stay on trail and, at the beach, wet sand only)

Trip Reports

Related Discussions / Q&A

Guidebooks that cover this hike

  • 100 Hikes/Travel Guide: Oregon Coast & Coast Range by William L. Sullivan
  • 120 Hikes on the Oregon Coast by Bonnie Henderson
  • Day Hiking: Oregon Coast by Bonnie Henderson
  • Best Hikes With Kids: Oregon by Bonnie Henderson
  • Oregon: The Creaky Knees Guide by Seabury Blair, Jr.
  • 100 Classic Hikes in Oregon by Douglas Lorain
  • Oregon’s Best Wildflower Hikes: Southwest Region by Elizabeth L. Horn
  • Siuslaw Forest Hikes: A Guide to Oregon’s Central Coast Range Trails by Irene & Dick Lilja
  • Oregon Campgrounds Hiking Guide by Rhonda & George Ostertag
  • Exploring the Oregon Coast Trail by Connie Soper
  • Oregon Coast Trail: Hiking Inn to Inn by Jack D. Remington
  • Oregon Hiking by Sean Patrick Hill
  • Pacific Northwest Hiking by Scott Leonard & Sean Patrick Hill
  • Canine Oregon by Lizann Dunegan

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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