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North Fork Nehalem River Hike

From Oregon Hikers Field Guide

View to the top of North Fork Falls and the fish ladder, North Fork Nehalem River (bobcat)
Looking to Kidders Butte, North Fork Nehalem River (bobcat)
Clear waters on the North Fork Nehalem River (bobcat)
Upper North Fork Falls, North Fork Nehalem River (bobcat)
The road walk up the North Fork Nehalem River (not a GPS track) (bobcat) Courtesy: Caltopo


Hike Description

While this is entirely a road hike, it is a good winter destination for those seeking snow-free zones in the dead of winter. The North Fork Nehalem River is regarded as one of the best winter steelhead fisheries in the country, but most of the activity is just downstream from this hike below the North Nehalem Fish Hatchery and the busy months are December and January. The following months, February and March, see a wild steelhead run that carries farther up the river, so during that time you might meet a handful of fishermen while hiking the North Fork Road. The first three miles of this outing is on gated McCracken Woodlands land, and after that you’ll be in the Clatsop State Forest. Along the way, while clearcuts are also part of the scenery, you’ll also get frequent views of the river and its numerous cascades and small waterfalls. From Upper North Fork Falls, you can continue up Fall Creek Road to see more forest waterfalls. The North Fork Road is good packed gravel, so this route also makes for a leisurely bike excursion.

Walk past the gate to McCracken Woodlands property, crossing a creek in the process. You’ll immediately pass a clearcut on the left as the North Fork Nehalem flows behind a screen of trees on the right. Turn around, and get a view back to double-humped Kidders Butte before rounding a bend in the road. Enter a dark woodland of young Douglas-firs. On your right, the river narrows below rocky outcrops and plunges through a narrow gorge dripping with sword fern. Cross a bridge over the river: In the spate here, there may be anchored a rotary screw trap, used for counting salmon smolts. There’s also a great summer swimming hole on the river’s north bank, just east of the bridge. Pass below another clearcut and a spur road leading right. Cross a small creek, and note two large roadside Sitka spruce. The road rises before you arrive at an observation platform over North Fork Falls on your left. There’s a fish ladder below next to the falls, which constitute a 12-foot drop below sheer rock walls. If you're just out for a short hike, this is 1.5 miles from the trailhead, and you can turn around here.

From here, the alder and spruce-lined road drops to reach almost river level, and you’ll pass a quarry. Just before Milepost 2, there’s another big spruce on the left. After passing an alder thicket on the right, reach a spur leading up to a clearcut. There’s an alder swamp on the south side of the road and then another logging spur. Cross wide Gods Valley Creek, and then look to the right for an old hunters’ camp shaded by a grove of Sitka spruce. A spur left leads to a campsite on the river, and another road to the right would take you down into Gods Valley. Head up a rise in a dense thicket of alders, and come to the three-mile mark. The road drops from here to recross the North Fork Nehalem and arrive at a gate on the Clatsop State Forest boundary.

There’s a clearcut to the left and another campsite to the right. Another spur leads right to a camp spot above a sedge and skunk-cabbage swamp. Continue to hike about 20 feet above the alder and spruce-shaded river, and pass a small quarry. Reach a major junction where the North Fork Road turns right to cross the river. You’ll keep left here on Fall Creek Road. This route takes you up a slope high above the North Fork Nehalem, where you’ll pass under a trio of sprawling mossy maples and then descend above a lovely spruce/hemlock bottomland. Then below you, the river braids at its confluence with Fall Creek. Walk past a large quarry area down to the road bridge over Fall Creek.

Where the road bends to the left, and to the right of a designated campsite on the North Fork Nehalem, a rough track leads through the salmonberries to a catwalk and suspension bridge across the river above Upper North Fork Falls. You can’t cross the suspension bridge to the fish ladder on the opposite bank because it has a padlocked gate, but you can slither down to the rocky verge and scramble along the bank to a rocky prominence that offers a good frontal perspective on the falls. Look for dippers bobbing on exposed rocks in the river and a hunters’ campsite across the way and just downstream.

Returning to Fall Creek Road, continue up the valley a little more to visit more waterfalls. Mature alders shade Fall Creek, which runs to your left. You’ll see a pretty waterfall tumbling down the steep slope across the creek: this fall is more visible in winter when the trees are leafless. Then, below you, look for a three-stepped waterfall on Fall Creek itself. Each drop is only about five feet as the creek tumbles over alternating bands of rock. Above this fall, on a tributary, an attractive veil waterfall splashes down bare rock: this fall sees much reduced flow in the summer months. From here, it’s best to turn around as soon you will be encountering private land (and many clearcuts) again.

After the hike, it is worth driving down Highway 53 a short distance to visit Umbrella Falls, accessed via a short trail from the North Nehalem Fish Hatchery.


  • Maps: Hike Finder
  • Oregon Department of Forestry: Tillamook State Forest

Fees, Facilities, etc.

  • No camping on private timberland

Trip Reports

Related Discussions / Q&A

Guidebooks that cover this hike

  • 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

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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