Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Kings Mountain

Oregon's Coast Range lies between the populated Willamette River Valley and Pacific Ocean.  Although much lower in elevation than the Cascades (it's more well-known cousin), this humble chain of peaks hosts a bounty of flora and fauna.  It also offers a wide variety of hiking trails.  Surprisingly, some rival the Columbia River Gorge in their steepness and difficulty. 

Excellent signage

One such trail is the trek up Kings Mountain.  Ascending 2800 feet in a mere 2.7 miles, it has the reputation as an arse-kicking conditioning hike.  Combining this trail with a climb up nearby Elk Mountain creates a challenging traverse, gaining 3500 feet elevation in nearly 12 grueling miles.

The forest was full of ferns

I'd heard lots about trails up these two peaks, but for some reason had never checked them out for myself.  I really had no excuse - the trailhead was a mere 40 mile drive from my house, and I didn't have to fight Portland traffic to get there.


Finally one Sunday in early June, the opportunity presented itself.  I really wanted to fit in a hike, but had a morning commitment.  Then I remembered the Kings Mountain Trail.  It had everything I was looking for - short drive with minimal traffic, challenging climb, but reasonable distance (since I'd be starting midday).  And...I heard the wildflowers were blooming.  Perfect!  Time to check Kings Mountain off my list.

Still a long ways to go

The air was warm and humid as I pulled my car into the last available trailhead parking space.  Starting out in a thick forest filled with bright green ferns, I quickly came upon my first trail junction.  Impressed by the nearly new signs, I had no trouble finding the correct path to Kings Mountain.

Making progress

As I was to find out, the trails climbing Kings and Elk Mountains were maintained by the Mazamas, a Portland Mountaineering Club.

Unusual tree bark

Then the climbing began!  My path rocketed upward, and I soon found myself sweating and gasping for breath.

A picnic table near the summit!

The lower forests were full of wildflowers.  I noticed monkeyflowers, bleeding hearts, tiny candyflowers, and some unusual brown blossoms that looked like tiny tubes.  But once I passed the 1500 foot elevation mark (helpfully noted by a sign on a nearby tree) the flowers disappeared.

Views I worked hard for

After that point, my journey became a long, sweaty slog through endless woods.  The path alternated between steep and steeper.  Often I felt as if I was barely moving.  Yes, "challenge" was a good description of this hike!


The trail passed through several different vegetative zones.  The Coast Range mountains catch a lot of moisture that blows in off the Pacific Ocean, creating lush, dense forests, with unique plant life.

Slopeside flower garden

And then, I was nearing the summit, when I came upon a picnic table in a small clearing.  Now that's something one doesn't often see at the top of a mountain!  The inscription near the bottom stated the table was built as a Boy Scout's Eagle Project.  I couldn't imagine hauling all the wood and tools needed to assemble that table up such a steep trail!

Summit register

After a bit more huffing and puffing, and sliding on another steep, rocky slope, I emerged into a wide clearing.  Wildflowers dotted the nearby cliff faces.  Forested hills spread out below me.  I was almost there!


Wildflowers were blooming in force!  The final quarter mile to the summit proper took much longer due to numerous photo breaks.

Indian Paintbrush

But finally I located the summit sign, and after a quick cellphone selfie, opened the tube inside and signed a notebook that served as the summit register.

Sweeping views

Then it was time to relax and take in the tremendous views.

Flowers decorated the mountaintop

I'd heard one could see the ocean from Kings Mountain's summit, however the day's cloudy skies prevented any far-reaching vistas.  The rounded mountains of the Coast Range spread out below.  Although most of the terrain was thickly wooded, sadly, ugly clear cuts marred several nearby hills.  Logging has historically been the predominant land use here. 

One lone tuft of beargrass

Logging was the cause of the most infamous forest fire in the Coast Range.  In August of 1933, logging work ignited a huge fire that burned 240,000 acres.  Know as the Tillamook Burn, it allegedly destroyed 200,000 of these acres in just 24 hours.  Thankfully a huge reforestation project restored many of the burned areas, and the damage is no longer noticeable.

Tiny forest flower

I was surprised to see a large number of people straggling up to the summit.  As I rested on top, a steady stream of  hikers passed by in both directions.  I even met several groups that were doing the entire Elk-King traverse.  Going back down, I leapfrogged with a group of women that had already climbed Elk Mountain and were now on the homestretch of their journey.  Hats off to those ladies!

Huge ferns

After a wonderful rest, snack, and attempt to capture all the wildflowers with my camera, it was time to descend.  A quick tightening of my bootlaces, and I was ready to tackle some downhill for a change!

Bleeding heart

After struggling uphill for over two hours, the first bit of descent felt great.  But I think going downhill is much harder on the body than climbing, and it didn't take long before my quads and feet began to protest.  The trailhead couldn't come fast enough!

Very weird flower!

Of course once I reentered the lower "flower zone" again, I took quite a few photo (aka rest) breaks to capture some more images of the unique flowers inhabiting this coastal rainforest.  But don't get me wrong - I was mighty happy when the parking lot, and my car finally came into view!

Lush forest near the trailhead

A genuine challenge, so close to home!  I loved the lush, fern-filled forests full of wildflowers and the sweeping summit views.  With a bit more conditioning, I'd love to try the Elk-King traverse someday.

Oh......and I forgot to turn my off my gps when I got into the car and drove home, so it registered a grand total of 46 miles hiked that day!  :)


  1. Love the walk through the forest. Very moody and lots of greenery. The sights on the outside are equally thrilling. Gorgeous mountain scenery.

  2. The flowers and the forest are beautiful. Never underestimate smaller summits, especially those near the coast that rise from near sea-level. Rather like small dogs they can be pretty vicious when they want to be!

  3. Um trilho pela montanha muito agradável e com paisagens espectaculares.
    Um abraço e boa semana.

    Dedais de Francisco e Idalisa
    O prazer dos livros

  4. Hello, another beautiful hike. The forest is gorgeous. I love the ferns and wildflowers. The views are fabulous. Kudos to the boy scouts for the picnic table. Your photos are awesome, as always. Happy Thursday, enjoy your day!

  5. ...about all I have to say is WOW!

  6. Congratulations on the 46 miles plus elevation hiked! Ha, ha! Just what I too often do. So annoying.
    Congratulations on the big effort. My legs hurt just reading the post. As always so envious of all your amazing wildflowers.

  7. What a gorgeous area. Everything is so wonderfully green!

  8. Thanks for the photos and trip report Linda. I will add this one to me "to do" list.

  9. 46're an animal! ;-)

    Looks beautiful but hard! I agree, the downhills are harder. But those flower and view breaks make it all worth it!

  10. What a glorious walk, Linda! Gorgeous photos.

  11. The flowers are always worth a steep climb.

  12. Those wildflowers are just amazing. Quite a haul up there though.

  13. Very lush. It does look like classic temperate rain forest scenery there and all the flowers are a bonus. You could be in training for the Appalachian Trail- the ultimate forest walk. I find downhill much harder than up these days as well.

  14. What a beautiful hike - you certainly have great places in your neighborhood.

  15. My hat's off to anyone who can conquer hikes like that! Love the wildflowers and ferns.

  16. Stunning photos Linda! LOVE all the green.

  17. Fabulous flower pictures, Linda, and that really is a VERY long hike! :-)

  18. Hi! The wild flowers are very beautiful. Nothing venture, nothing win.

  19. Our coastal range here has a King's Peak and it's just as strenuous as the hike you describe. The Oregon version is probably easier to drive to though. Gorgeous photos! I especially love your blog when it's wildflower season. :)

  20. So much still blooming up there! Looks like you were rewarded for your efforts. Great views and beautiful flowers.

  21. I'm not physically able to do the hiking you do, so I do enjoy your posts. What simple but fantastic flora you encounter and I love that beargrass!! Awesome scenery and congrats on making it to the top :)

  22. 46 miles....Wow what a hike, lol. That beargrass is beautiful close up

  23. Brava, Linda! Well done! I could never do this climb--first because such elevations are beyond my strength and second I could not take the heat and humidity. The older I get the more I like colder weather.

  24. This one is on my list, even more so after seeing your photos of some fantastic rock gardens at the summit. Your "weird flower" is a piggy-back plant; the tiny forest flower is one of my favorite photo subjects: western starflower

  25. "Photo stops" - I use that excuse as well :)
    I've also done the forgetting to turn off the GPS trick to create some stunning distances and speeds!


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