It’s a ways from summer, but it’s never too early to start planning summer hikes. And on the top of my list of trail requirements are two items: solitude and shade. I know if I head to the ridges in the Drift Creek Wilderness, the largest of Oregon’s pocket Coast Range wildernesses, I’ll find both.
This stretch of wild is located in the Siuslaw National Forest, a place known for backcountry camping, lush coastal forests and great hiking. There are numerous trails crisscrossing this Oregon outback, but I’d recommend trying the Drift Creek North Hike Trail. It’s a great trail for both one-day and weekend adventures, but feels like it’s thousands of miles from civilization.
Start at the Horse Creek North Trailhead and you'll find yourself within the Drift Creek Wilderness after only 0.6 miles. You’ll pass under towering Sitka spruce, western hemlock and Douglas-fir. You’ll see a boulder with “Drift Creek Trail” painted on its side, pointing the way to the decommissioned trail. Hike up a ridge, pass an information board, and you’ll hit the “new” trailhead. Here officially starts the hike.
Pass alder and salmonberry on your way up the ridge curving to the right. The trail traces the hill crest, weaving between large hemlocks. Young growth mixes with ancient trees here, the result of a 19th century forest fire. Soon after the trail heads into deeper woodlands, with a dense riot of Oregon native plants to admire (and duck under): red huckleberry, Oregon grape, salal, and sword fern. Look for golden chanterelles and chicken-of-the-woods on the trailside if it’s fall, or for wildflowers in the spring.
You’ll hike up to another crest, the drops down the slope for a long traverse. The trail will bend to the right past a thicket of Douglas firs and a carpet of sword ferns. Switchback will wind you down, then up, then down again, past more forest shade and foliage. Catch your breath at the Harris Ranch Trail junction, then make five more downhill switchbacks until you hit a bench. Look for a giant Sitka spruce here – you really can’t miss it – and hike down through a mossy area of salmonberry and ferns. This will deposit you at the Drift Creek Campsite.
If you prefer a more private campsite, there are additional and more primitive campsites to the north or south on the same side of the creek. You can continue on and hit the creek (which you can ford in the late summer/early fall). Hike downstream if you have the stamina and you’ll connect with the Harris Ranch Trail as well as several trail offshoots.
Note that while the trail is accessible year-round, creek crossing is only safe when the water level drops after mid-summer. Be sure to check the water conditions before heading out. But even if it’s too deep and fast to ford, the creek banks are a great place to watch for Chinook and coho salmon, steelhead, and cutthroat trout.
Directions from Newport:
Take Highway 101 south, cross the Yaquina Bay Bridge, and then turn left onto N. Beaver Creek Road. You’ll hit a junction with S. Beaver Creek Road, at which you’ll stick to the right. Drive 2.9 miles before turning right onto Elk Horn Road. The road will lead up into the foothills, and you’ll turn right on FR 50 for the Horse Creek Trail. Wind up into the foothills for 6.0 miles and turn left. After another 1.5 miles come to the signposted junction with FR 5087, and turn right here. It’s just another 2.9 miles on a gravel road to the parking area.