Rockaway Beach is a laid back coastal town that’s recently been making appearances in travel guides - and for good reason. It’s an easy, scenic drive from many Oregon cities, boasts seven miles of rugged coastline, and is immersed in Oregon history. Plus, it’s close enough to the cheese wonderland of Tillamook to have cultivated its very own culinary scene.
But the first and last attract of Rockaway Beach will always be its spectacular coastline, and the wild, swampy acres of semi-hike-able woodlands it calls home. It can be an intimidating tangle of trees to navigate, especially for folks traveling with kids, but luckily there’s an easy way to check out the wilderness without even leaving the town.
I’m talking about the Old Growth Cedar Wetlands Preserve, of course, a rare example of an intact native urban forest, located in the middle of residential Rockaway Beach.
Sure – it’s only a tiny remnant of what used to be a far larger sprawl of primeval swampland, but it’s a still a healthy and protected 45 acres of bog land with massive spruce and cedar and an untamed understory. Since these types of trees, growing on flat land, are often snatched up by logging interests, it’s a real natural gem and a singular kind of ecosystem along the Oregon Coast.
The trails networking the preserve used to be local secrets, but in 2001 The Nature Conservancy gathered funds to create a trail and viewing platform through the woods to Rockaway Cedar, one of Oregon’s biggest trees, estimated to be 500-900 years old. (The rest of the trail networks are hit-or-miss, depending on how the coastal winter storms treated the area, and how fast cleanup crews rebuild trails.)
But for the simple, yet immersive, there-and-back experience, hike along the signed trail that kicks off at Rockaway Beach’s Island Street. The path is rooty, and hemmed in with dense salal growth, so watch your feet! You’ll see towering, mossy Sitka spruce, western hemlock, and wester red cedars. It’s a short walk in, and the you’ll reach a viewing platform around the Rockaway Cedar. It’s massive and impossible to miss, standing 154 feet tall and stretching 49 feet wide.
You can end your exploration here, or you can wander down trails reaching out from this point, but most are short paths ending in swampland. I’ve found it’s best to first ask a local for dry trail directions before getting mired up in these woods!