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Step Creek Loop Hike

From Oregon Hikers Field Guide

West footbridge, Plenty Big Creek, Step Creek Loop (bobcat)
Nehalem River in winter, Gales Creek Trail (bobcat)
Devil's club, Plenty Big Creek, Step Creek Loop (bobcat)
Vine maple bower, Step Creek Loop (bobcat)
Oregon grape, Step Creek Loop (bobcat)
The Step Creek Loop Hike marked in red (not a GPS track) (bobcat) Courtesy: Caltopo
  • Start point: Reehers Camp TrailheadRoad.JPG
  • End point: Step Creek Loop Junction
  • Hike Type: Loop
  • Distance: 7.4 miles
  • Elevation gain: 880 feet
  • High Point: 1510 feet
  • Difficulty: Moderate
  • Seasons: All year
  • Family Friendly: No
  • Backpackable: No
  • Crowded: No


Hike Description

The Step Creek Loop has been a work in progress by the Northwest Trail Alliance for several years now and, in the past, included a section of Rice Road to connect with the Gales Creek Trail. Finally, in 2017, Step Creek became a singletrack loop in and of itself serving hikers, bikers, and horses. This hike begins on the Gales Creek Trail and takes you across the alder-shaded Nehalem River, crossing the now very overgrown Tillamook Bay Railroad to arrive at the junction with the Step Creek Trail. The loop actually begins near Plenty Big Creek; the description below follows it counter-clockwise as it winds in and out of drainages and then above Step Creek. New trail tread links repurposed but brushy logging roads to fashion the course. Four sturdy bridges have been built to support horse traffic. It should be noted that there are Timber Sale postings all around the trail, so you might be inconvenienced by nearby logging, and sections of the trail could be closed altogether during logging operations. As of 2017, most maps, including those posted at the Reehers Camp Trailhead show the old Step Creek Trail alignments. However, confusing side trails have been properly decommissioned and, as long as you stick to the main trail, you will find yourself back where you started.

To do this loop as part of a Gales Creek Trail hike (See the North Gales Creek Trail Hike), take the loop clockwise from the Step Creek Loop Junction, and leave the Step Creek Trail at the connection with an old logging road that connects with Rice Road - See the description below.

Hike down an old road bed from the trailhead and then along the course of the Nehalem River shaded by Douglas-fir, red alder, and western red-cedar with an understory of sword fern, Oregon grape, and salmonberry. Don't try to take any of the now decommissioned user trails to the river. Soon enough, the trail rises to the Nehalem River bridge on Cochran Road. The Gales Creek-Triple C Trail Junction is across the road. Cross the bridge and pick up the Gales Creek Trail at a boulder barrier next to a gated logging road to its right. You'll now skirt a fresh clearcut and cross a footbridge over an unnamed creek. The trail rises on a slope of Douglas-fir, Oregon grape, mossy vine maples, and salal. You will see some larger Douglas-firs just before you cross the tracks of the abandoned Port of Tillamook Bay Railroad. Note how there are now 15-foot alders sprouted in the middle of the tracks! Wind up from the railroad line, dip, and then rise to the Gales Creek-Step Creek Trail Junction, where you go left.

Drop to a road bed, walk 15 yards to the right, and resume the trail. Mountain beaver burrows, probably breached by the horse traffic, leave some gaping holes in the trail tread. Traverse up in a Douglas-fir plantation. Switchback up to cross an old road bed at the crest of a hill and drop to the unsigned (as of 2017) Step Creek Loop Junction.

Go right here to follow the loop counter-clockwise. You'll cross a brand new bridge over Plenty Big Creek and then veer away from the creek under a canopy of big-leaf maple and red alder. The trail switchbacks three times above a deep ditch of unknown provenance before winding down to cross a small stream in a sword fern/salmonberry draw shaded by alders. Then you'll ascend to cross an old logging road and meander along through trailing blackberry and Oregon grape. Head up with the road to your right, and then traverse down and hike on the level to arrive below a logging landing. A spur leads right from here to a logging road from which you can access the Gales Creek Trail. (Head up the road to reach Rice Road. Go right and, just past the junction with Round Top Road, come to the Gales Creek Trail-Round Top Road Junction. You can also drive to this access point via Round Top Road and Rice Road to make a pure loop of 3.9 miles and thus avoid any hiking on the Gales Creek Trail.) Continuing on the Step Creek Loop, drop down above a creek and switchback twice to cross a footbridge. Switchback up and then descend high above the creek before passing around the nose of a ridge. Wind along a contour through bracken, salmonberry, and nettles to reach an old road bed above Step Creek.

Follow the road bed as it parallels Step Creek, which is to the right. Eventually, you'll cross a footbridge over Plenty Big Creek and swing up a dense woodland of young Douglas-firs and alders. Follow this road bed to the unsigned junction, and go right to close the loop and return to the Gales Creek Trail.


Fees, Regulations, etc.

  • Share trail with mountain bikers and horses

Trip Reports

Related Discussions / Q&A

Guidebooks that cover this hike

  • Riding Northwest Oregon Horse Trails by Kim McCarrel
  • Afoot & Afield: Portland/Vancouver by Douglas Lorain (Describes old alignment)
  • 50 Hikes in the Tillamook State Forest by the Tillamook State Forest Committee, Columbia Group Sierra Club (Describes old alignment)

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.

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.