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Ona Beach to Seal Rock Hike

From Oregon Hikers Field Guide

Tidepools and Elephant Rock, Seal Rock Beach (bobcat)
Concretions, wave-cut platform, Ona Beach (bobcat)
Killdeer (Charadrius vociferous), Ona Beach (bobcat)
Castle Rock, Giant's Causeway, and tombolos, Seal Rock State Recreation Site (bobcat)
Sea Thrift (Armeria maritima), Smith Point (bobcat)
The hike along Hobbit Beach and then up to Heceta Head (not a GPS track) (bobcat) Courtesy: Google Maps
  • Start point: Ona Beach TrailheadRoad.JPG
  • End point: Elephant Rock and/or Smith Point
  • Trail log:
  • Hike Type: In and out
  • Distance: 5.5 miles
  • Elevation gain: 120 feet
  • High Point: 60 feet
  • Difficulty: Moderate
  • Seasons: All year
  • Family Friendly: Yes
  • Backpackable: No
  • Crowded: Yes, at access points only

Contents

Hike Description

This interesting beach walk takes in some of the most scenic marvels of the central Oregon coast. From the mouth of Beaver Creek, walk south to inspect fossil-rich wavecut platforms composed of Yaquina formation sandstone. Two miles of sandy beach from the trailhead, cut up to Highway 101 to take in the views of the spectacular basalt formations at the Seal Rock State Recreation Site. Down on the beaches, you can scan the rocks for harbor seals and sea lions. At low tide, a marvelous contorted sandstone platform, where Hill Creek cascades through tide pools and mussel beds to the sea, becomes exposed. This last section of the hike, which begins at the Seal Rock Trailhead and ends at Smith Point is a very worthy short excursion in and of itself.

Ona Beach is part of the recently retitled (2013) Brian Booth State Park, named after the first Chair of the Oregon State Parks and Recreation Commission. Ona is Chinook jargon for razor clam. Take the paved trail that leads out towards the beach. Some of this route maybe be flooded in winter/spring, in which case you can detour around the south side of the restrooms. A sturdy wooden bridge arches over Beaver Creek, and the path soon emerges onto Ona Beach. To the right, a small spit reaches to the mouth of Beaver Creek. Walk left under sandstone bluffs capped by tortured spruces and clifftop homes. The wavecut platform here is highly eroded sandstone of the Yaquina Formation, laid down during the Oligocene epoch, about 30 million years ago. Rounded concretions of harder rock, really agglutinations of smaller particles that formed around a shell, bone, or chunk of iron, protrude in symmetrical rows (Note that these formations will mostly be covered in sand in the summer). This area has been a trove for fossil hunters. One of the most prolific of these was Douglas Emlong, who found the remains of megafuana such as a desmostylian (a hippopotamus-like creature); an ancient sea-lion that resembled its bear-like ancestors; and a whale that possessed both teeth and baleen.

Its about two miles before you reach the Seal Rock area. The beach becomes a sandy expanse, but often the high tide will lap against the base of the bluff, so pick the two or three hours you need for this hike around the lowest tide. Pass a public access point to the beach: before Highway 101 the beach (at low tide) was the main thoroughfare, and this was where vehicles would head inland to circumvent the Seal Rock headland. Next, splash across Deer Creek. A line of rocks sometimes called the Giant’s Causeway appears offshore, part of the Seal Rocks archipelago. The largest stack here is called Castle Rock. These are part of a basalt sill that runs more or less parallel to the shore and, like all of Oregon’s offshore islands, they are protected by the Oregon Islands National Wildlife Refuge, also a federally-designated wilderness. You’ll also pass some sandstone formations on the beach.

About 370 yards before the end of the beach, find a trail leading up a gully thicketed with spruce and shore pine. Some rickety wooden steps will take you up to a driveway, where you go left to Highway 101. Walk 250 yards south along the highway to the entrance for Seal Rock State Park, and turn into the parking area at the Seal Rock Trailhead.

To the right of the restrooms here, there’s a viewing platform that gives you a view to the Giant’s Causeway and up the beach, with Yaquina Head visible in the distance. Sand causeways, termed tombolos by geomorphologists, connect the rocks to the beach, but the rocks are out of bounds as part of the wilderness. These tombolos are formed by waves pushing in material around both sides of a rocky impediment to form a low ridge. Then walk behind the restrooms to pick up a trail that leads out to a fenced area that keeps you from intruding into nesting habitat on the grassy hummock of Tourist Rock, so called because in less environmentally sensitive days, tourists would walk out here to get their pictures taken. Nowadays it is part of the wildlife refuge and a nesting area for black oystercatchers. Native American shell middens have also been found in this closed area. The paved viewpoint trail then takes you south to get views of enormous, basalt-columned Elephant Rock and the continuation of the basalt sill manifested as a string of sea stacks sheltering a lagoon of quieter water. The trail is fenced off here where it has been washed out, so turn into a picnic area, and follow a newer tread down the sandstone bluff to the driftwood-backed beach. Do not take any of the user trails that lead towards Tourist Rock.

The beach here is dominated by Elephant Rock, composed of columnar basalt, technically the Gingko flow of the Frenchman Springs Basalt, Wanapum Member (15.6 million years ago). This is the farthest south remnant of the Columbia River Basalts, exemplified in numerous coastal headlands on the central and northern Oregon Coast, and which originated from vents about 300 miles farther east and flowed towards the ocean down existing river valleys. The basalt flows do not, in fact, end at the shoreline, and may extend ten miles out under the ocean. Elephant Rock squats above a layer of softer sandstone from the Yaquina Formation, an indentation clearly visible. Gulls, cormorants, and other seabirds nest on top of the rock, also part of the wildlife refuge/wilderness.

Walk down the beach admiring the horizon of stacks and low rock benches. Harbor seals will often haul themselves out on the rocks at low tide. The shallow lagoon here is a wonderland of tide pools at the very lowest tides. The contorted formations, supporting mussel beds, barnacles, and both red and green algae are also havens for sea stars, anemones, crabs, and sculpins. Hill Creek spreads through sands of the upper beach and then cascades prettily through the sandstone gullies. A one-foot wide basalt dike runs through the formation. At the south end of the first beach, after crossing Little Creek, you can find a short scramble passage over a basalt dike to another beach: at low tide, there’s a sandy defile through the rocks to your right. Look for the oystercatchers that like to pose on the high rocks. The next beach has fewer tide pools and a lower line of rocks at the surf line offshore. Black guillemots can usually be seen in the shallow water. You can explore a smaller cove before reaching Smith Point, decorated in spring and summer by pink-blooming sea thrift, and an easy scramble at low tide to the long beach that extends south 4 ½ miles to Waldport.


Maps

Fees, Regulations, etc.

  • Dogs on leash
  • Restrooms, picnic tables, interpretive signs
  • Do the beach walk at low tide

Trip Reports

Related Discussions / Q&A

Guidebooks that cover this hike

  • 100 Hikes/Travel Guide: Oregon Coast & Coast Range by William L. Sullivan
  • Exploring the Oregon Coast Trail by Connie Soper
  • 120 Hikes on the Oregon Coast by Bonnie Henderson
  • Day Hiking: Oregon Coast by Bonnie Henderson
  • Oregon Coast Camping & Hiking by Tom Stienstra & Sean Patrick Hill
  • Best Easy Day Hikes: Oregon’s North Coast by Lizann Dunegan (Seal Rock only)
  • Hiking the Oregon Coast by Lizann Dunegan (Seal Rock only)
  • Oregon Coast Trail: Hiking Inn to Inn by Jack D. Remington
  • Oregon Coast Hikes by Paul M. Williams
  • The Oregon Coast Trail Guide by Jon Kenneke (eBook)
  • Oregon’s Best Coastal Beaches by Dick Trout
  • Oregon State Parks: A Complete Recreation Guide by Jan Bannan
  • The Dog Lover’s Companion to Oregon by Val Mallinson
  • Canine Oregon by Lizann Dunegan

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.