The Gales Creek Trail area has weathered several natural disasters, causing it to be inhospitable to travelers numerous times over the years. Back in the 1930s this spot caught the brunt of the Tillamook Burn forest fires that devastated 311,000 acres before it was extinguished by seasonal rains. And then, in 2007, landslides and washouts destroyed parts of the trail area for five years. But mountain bikers and travelers have happily returned to the restored Gales Creek Trail, and it’s slowly regaining its popularity. And it’s no surprise – the recovered coastal forest is a beautiful mix of Douglas fir, red alders, and a thick understory of ferns, salal and oxalis.
Even in the high summer the area is lush with shades of green, and is home to a network of creeks. The full there-and-back trail runs for 12.7 miles and can be accessed at either end. I'd advise starting at the Gales Creek Trailhead and walk up through Douglas-fir, western hemlock, and alder. Just a bit down the path you cross over Gales Creek, noisy with the many log jams that cause the frothy water to rush and roar downstream.
You’ll see massive stumps on the sides of the trail, testament to the area’s logging history. Keep walking uphill, and you'll pass one of the last old-growth trees on this hike – a lonely Douglas fir. Farther down the trail you'll cross a double bridge that spans a tributary, then you’ll encounter a footbridge at the Gales Creek-Storey Burn Trail Junction. Take a right, and you’ll find yourself under the shade of alders and cottonwoods.
Ascend westwards, cross another creek, and walk back under the branches of that familiar mix of Douglas-fir, hemlock, and alder, now with some western red-cedar added in. The trail starts to undulate here through an alder-rich bottomland. You’ll pass by a small waterfall behind a clump of young big-leaf maples as the trail drops down again, then rises back up. On the opposite side of the creek you’ll see the second waterfall of the trail along the east bank. Keep straight as you cross several small creeks that crisscross a carpet of thriving oxalis and sword fern. Here the path starts to rise and dip multiple times through alder bottomlands, crossing creeks along the way.
Eventually you’ll switchback off the road bed through a carpet of salal and Oregon grape. Cross Gales Creek and say hello to the final waterfall of the trail, then traverse through salal under a canopy of Douglas-firs. Here you’ll connect with a spur of Bell Camp Road, which leads to the signed Bell Camp Road Trailhead. There is parking to the west of the trailhead sign.
- Drive 15 down Highway and turn left on Highway 6.
- Drive 16.6 miles and turn right on Rogers Road for the Gales Creek Campground.
- The Gales Creek Trailhead is less than a mile down on the left.
Learn more about the area in the video below.