Tired of spending time in the car, I really wanted something close to home. And I wasn't keen on driving all the way across Portland again. Where to go?
|The mighty Wilson River|
It came to me in a flash - the Coast Range! There was a huge network of trails along the Wilson River. Only 40 miles west of home with no city driving whatsoever. And....on this last weekend in October, I'd heard the autumn colors might be close to peak.
|Lovely place for a picnic!|
The Wilson River Trails weren't new to me. I'd hiked a segment back in 2013 with my dog Bear. Although the forests were nice, I didn't recall them being off-the-charts gorgeous. Besides hiking, I remembered the area had lots of "other" uses (off road vehicle trails, fishing, even target shooting-but thankfully not near the hiking trails). These multi-use recreation areas are not usually my first choice for hiking destinations, which is probably why I'd never returned.
|Fallen leaves along the shore|
Today I decided to give the area a second chance. So westward ho I went! Based on my prior experience, I had very low expectations for the Wilson River Trails. I was merely hoping to get in a good walk, take a few photos, and if I happened to spot some fall color, so much the better!
The morning started out cloudy. Passing through scattered fog banks on my drive, I hoped the skies wouldn't drop any moisture. But minutes before I arrived at my destination, the fog lifted, and bright sunshine greeted me as I pulled into the Jones Creek Trailhead.
|The best view was on the bridge|
A short access road crossed the Wilson River on the way to the trailhead. From the bridge, I got my first glimpse of trees lining this river, and boy were they colorful! I made a mental note to walk back over with my camera.
With most of the Oregon side of the Gorge closed for hiking, I expected to see lots of people on the rest of the trails. Imagine my surprise when I pulled into the Jones Creek Trailhead at 11:00 on a Saturday morning and was only the third car!
|Another gorgeous view|
Immediately, I headed down to the river's bank. Several user trails threaded through the thick forest, passing scattered picnic sites (which were surprisingly empty on this beautiful fall day). My first view of the mighty Wilson River was a great one. Sunshine illuminated the yellow and orange trees lining its banks, and gave the river's water a brilliant blue hue. The light was perfect, and the autumn colors appeared to be at peak.
|Lots of golden trees overhanging in the river|
Needless to say, my hike was delayed a bit as I wandered along the river's bank, capturing all of this incredible beauty. The fall colors were so bright, vivid, and plentiful, I felt as if I'd hit the photography jackpot.
After at least an hour of capturing the forest around Jones Creek Trailhead, I decided if I was going to get in a hike, I'd better get moving. So I headed west, following the well-graded path paralleling the Wilson River. The scenery was so spectacular, it was hard not to stop and take photo every other step.
About a half mile from where I'd parked, a huge suspension bridge spanned the Wilson River. This bridge led visitors to the Tillamook Forest Center. Oregon's coast range has a long history of logging and destructive wildfires. This visitor center strives to educate the public about reforestation, forest management, and wildfire prevention.
|Footbridge to Tillamook Forest Center|
Although I did walk up on the bridge to take in some river views from on high, I wasn't planning to explore the visitor center. Today's goal was to hike and photograph nature.
Beyond the bridge, my path twisted through dense second-growth woods. Logged extensively, Oregon's coast range is far from pristine. On far side of the river I caught occasional glimpses of State Hwy 6 and heard traffic noises. At one point the trail paralleled a gravel road and two dirt bikes flew by.
|Bridge span view between the trees|
For the most part, the Wilson River Trail had been fairly level. But about two miles in, it began to climb. Traversing the side of a steep cliff, the trail led away from the river.
I kept seeing signs for Wilson Falls. I vaguely remembered a small waterfall last time I'd hiked the trail, but couldn't remember exactly where it was. After what seemed to be an eternity, I finally came upon a small rushing stream crossing the trail. Was this all there was? Then I thought to look up.
|The forest was a delight to walk though|
High above me, a delicate sheet of water fanned out over a rock cliff, tumbling into a channel that then ran across the trail below. I didn't remember this waterfall being so lovely, but it was!
Here's a short video I shot while walking through the forest, just to give you an idea of the Oregon Coast Range's dense foliage.
|Nice river view|
My day's destination was the Footbridge Trailhead, 3.5 miles from where I'd parked. Nearing this area, the trail dropped down off the ridge, crossing several small streams on sturdy bridges. Last time I'd hiked here these crossings had been only single logs spanning the water. I remembered this because my dog had fallen off one of those logs. Thankfully he wasn't hurt, but it made me realize his hiking days were coming to an end.
Although now quite hungry and thirsty, I held out until I finally came upon the large riverbend that signaled the Footbridge Trailhead. Although I hadn't seen many people on the trail, quite a few folks were hanging around the riverbank here.
|Bottom of Wilson Falls|
It was a gorgeous place to sit, have a snack, and enjoy this perfect autumn day.
|River Bend at Footbridge Trailhead|
I even shot a short video to show all you how nice it was here!
My return trip was much quicker. By mid afternoon, the sun's angle was no longer highlighting the colorful foliage, so photo stops were few and far between. I was thankful I'd taken the time at the very beginning of my hike to capture these stunning fall colors.
The day was a rousing success! I covered seven miles, and my broken toe (now nearly healed) did wonderfully. Not only did I hit the Wilson River at full autumn peak, the weather cooperated with sunshine and amazing light.
It's always nice when a hiking destination exceeds your expectations. On this day, the Wilson River was full of surprises. Lucky for me, they were the good kind.