This is the tale of the steepest hike we’ve ever accidentally done.
We set out on this cloudy weekend to do a hike that wouldn’t necessarily have great views, but would be a nice stroll through the Tillamook State Forest in the Coastal Mountain Range. Our plan was to hike a gentle, shaded 7.4-mile trail. Basically, we thought we were taking a long walk through the woods, which is why we didn’t dress to get particularly sweaty, bring a backpack to hold our water bottles, or mentally prepare ourselves for climbing a mountain.
You see, we thought we were going to hike the Elk Creek Trail. Let me share a little from the description of the hike we thought we were doing:
“a long, mostly flat traverse”
“a nice forest stroll”
And now, let me share a little from the description of the hike we actually did (Elk Mountain Trail):
“the steepest, roughest trail”
“considerably steeper than Dog Mountain”
“a whole lot of up”
“a challenge for even the most experienced of hikers”
Let me be clear: Elk Creek Trail and Elk Mountain Trail are NOT the same thing.
Both trails start in the same campground, and since I read the description of the Elk Creek Trail approximately 7 times in the car, I thought I had a good understanding of what we should expect. And since we didn’t bring a pack, I left the book in the car. So, what I didn’t notice was that we started off on the wrong trail (mostly because I had no idea there would be two trails starting with “Elk”). I guess we should’ve been tipped off when, about 15 seconds into the hike, we were both out of breath.
This thing was steep. Like, the steepest hike we’ve ever done, outside of the South Sister hike (which is a 10,358-foot peak, so you can expect some serious slopeage- which the Internet tells me is not a real word I should use to describe a mountain).
So, as we’re climbing this trail (literally climbing, using arms and legs, at certain points), oblivious to the fact that we’re on the wrong trail, we’re cursing the man who wrote the description for this hike. Easy, it was not.
Beautiful, it was. The trail basically ran the crest of Elk Mountain, so it continuously opened up to spectacular views of the Coastal Mountain Range. (This is a great excuse to stop, rest, and drink the water from the bottle that you hooked to your camera bag, which has been slamming into your thigh for the past hour.)
I’ll confess we were probably a bit whinier than we needed to be on this trail, since my legs are still recovering from last weekend’s marathon, and we did a pretty killer trail run the day before. But still, this thing was a beast.
After about an hour and a half, we finally reached the summit of Elk Mountain, which we later discovered was a 1900-foot elevation gain over just 1.5 miles. Yikes. But once we got there, I think it was worth it. The views are pretty phenomenal.
There’s even an adorable box at the summit with a trail log tucked inside. I love looking through those things.
We hung out at the summit for a bit, mentally preparing ourselves to hike back down. While less painful than going up, going down was pretty challenging. I’m a bit less surefooted than Eric, so he spent a lot of time standing around, waiting for me to creep down the steepest sections. I’m pleased to report there were zero wipeouts on this trail, although I had approximately 20 arms-flailing-almost-wipeouts. Basically, the trail is tricky up and down.
The whole thing took us about 3.25 hours. So if you’re doing that math, that’s about a mile an hour (with a nice break at the top of the mountain). If you are looking for some serious exercise, along with some serious views, the Elk Mountain Trail is the way to go. Just know you’re going to feel the burn.
To get to the trailhead, take US 26 west of Portland, then go west on OR 6. Drive 23 miles to Elk Creek Campground (just past milepost 28). The trailhead is at the back end of the campground. There are bathrooms on the left as you approach the trailhead.
A few tips:
-The campground is closed in the non-summer months, so you’ll have to park outside the gates or across the street.
-No forest pass required.
-Bring plenty of water. It was between 50-55 degrees on our hike, and I sweat out way more water than I had available to consume.
-This is not a trail for trail runners, kids, or the faint of heart.
-We agreed this would be a lovely hike any time of year, and sort of wished we had been there during the foggy morning hours.
After the hike, we drove over to Tillamook (home of the creamery and all the cows that go with it), where we dined at Tacos La Providencia, a little food truck on the side of Hwy 101. It’s nothing fancy, but the tacos were excellent and cheap. Plus, they have a covered area with a few tables and chairs, so you can enjoy your tacos and the smell of the dairy air (focus on the tacos). Tip: the tacos are small. Order a lot.
We figured that since we were just minutes from the ocean, we should probably head over there, but signs warning of a landslide ahead kept us from getting to the lookout point we were hoping for. Still, we got to see where the Tillamook River and the Pacific Ocean meet, with the river surrounded by mountains. Not too shabby.