Thursday, February 29, 2024

Amblin' on the Wilson River Trail

Ski trips and some truly bad weather in mid-January put hiking on hold for a couple of weeks.  When the rain and wind finally let up, I was itching to get my outdoor fix.  With sunshine finally in the forecast, I texted my buddy Catherine and invited her to join me.

Beautiful, mossy coastal forest

With higher gas prices, these days I'm all about visiting trails closer to home.  For a quick drive without the metro area traffic, the Oregon coast range has become my go-to hiking place.  The nearby Gales Creek trail was today's destination.  However, when Catherine and I pulled into the trailhead parking area, we were disappointed to see orange tape strung across the trail.  With our first choice closed for construction, I decided to try for University Falls, whose trailhead was directly across the highway.  However, this trailhead is also used as a staging area for ATV users, and on this Saturday we found it swarming with all types of motorized recreation vehicles.  Needless to say we beat a hasty retreat!  

Loved the light on the trees

Okay, option number three?  I decided to drive a bit further down the highway to my standby coast range hike - the section of the Wilson River Trail between Jones Creek and Footbridge Trailhead.  Upon our arrival at the Jones Creek Trailhead, we both breathed a sign of relief to find it very much open.  Yahoo - finally time to hike!

The Wilson River is an unusual green-blue color

The Wilson River Trail is a 20.6 mile linear path that mostly follows the Oregon Coast Range's Wilson River.  Several trailheads along its route make for easy access to hike a short portion of the overall trail.  The scenery is amazing - thick forests of huge, mossy trees; large patches of ferns; steep, rugged canyons; and the lovely, blue-green waters of the Wilson River.

Huge, mossy tree on the riverbank

From the parking lot, Catherine and I first ambled down to the nearby banks of the mighty Wilson.  Recent heavy rainfall had it running fast and furious.  Then we meandered through some nice riverside picnic areas, until encountering a trail detour through the closed Jones Creek campground.  Although this detour was a bit annoying (an extra mile of out of direction travel) the thick, green mossy forest it crossed was especially lovely.

Views from our wonderful lunch spot

Once back on the main trail, Catherine and I passed by the Tillamook Forest Learning Center, which was closed for the season.  At least the bridge between the trail and the center was still open.  We walked upon the huge suspension bridge spanning the Wilson River and enjoyed the views anyway.

Raging rapids

Then our trail dived back into the forest, and although still following the river, it was perched high above the water on top of tall bluffs.  Thick trees allowed only a handful of unobstructed views of the mighty Wilson.  Several crude fisherman's paths dropped steeply down to the banks, but most of them looked precarious enough to keep us on the main trail.

To our delight, two kayakers paddled by

We spied a handful of fisherman scattered upon the Wilson's banks all trying for steelhead, an oceangoing trout that is supposed to be good eating.

The men put on a show as they shot the rapids

Catherine and I covered a good 2 miles before the high bluffs flattened out and we could access the river without clambering down a steep bank.  I spied a lovely flat area adjacent to the water with a wide patch of moss-covered rocks, and suggested we take a lunch break there.

Kayakers conferring

Oh it was divine!  We reclined on the moss-padded rocks and pulled out our lunch bags.  The river burbled through a small set of rapids, its waters churning bright blue.  A large stand of alder trees towered over the river, their bare white branches providing a nice contrast.  The sun streaming down from the sky warmed our bodies.  My friend and I happily soaked up as much solar energy as we could.


As we were happily sunbathing on the riverbank, enjoying our lunch, I thought the day couldn't get any better.  But it did!  Catherine spotted a pair of kayakers paddling upriver.  Excited, I grabbed my camera hoping for some action shots.  I wasn't disappointed - the men floated down to our lunch spot, and seeing us on the banks, looped around the rapids a couple of times.  Much photography ensued!

Scouting his next line

I really wish I could've gotten the men's contact information, but the sound of the rushing water was so loud, there was no way they could've heard me (or me them).  So we waved and I clicked my shutter as fast as possible.  Maybe if by some off chance, these guys see this blog post (hah!) they will contact me.  I'd be happy to share some images!

More photos of the lovely Wilson River

Watching those kayakers was definitely the day's highlight.  After the men finally disappeared downriver, Catherine and I packed up our lunch remains and continued further down the trail.  When I've hiked this section in the past, the Footbridge Trailhead was usually the turnaround point, but today we were both feeling a bit tired.  Neither of us had hiked very much lately, and eight miles round-trip seemed like a lot.  So we decided to cut our trip short and make Wilson River Falls the day's destination.

Water crossing at Wilson River Falls

Our trail diverged from the riverside and began climbing up a steep switchback.  A tall cliff rose above the track.  We came upon a wide creek flowing across the trail.  High above, Wilson River Falls cascaded from a rocky ledge.  Full of runoff from the month's frequent rainstorms, it tumbled mightily down the steep cliff face.  So beautiful!

Wilson River Falls, flowing high above the trail

After an enjoyable few minutes watching white water tumble down the slope high above, Catherine and I did an about-face, retracing our steps back through the green, mossy woods towards the trailhead.

Thick moss and ferns engulf this tree

As we headed back, afternoon clouds began to obscure the day's lovely sunshine.  It made me realize how much better the forest looked lit up by the sun.  In contrast now everything seemed duller, and I wasn't motivated to take many more photos.  

I couldn't get enough of the river views!

But we'd had a golden morning of sun, forest beauty, and lovely river views that would sustain us through next week's gloomy rainstorms.  Another great outing!


  1. The scenery is breathtaking especially those mossy trees with the sunlight catching them. Lucky you to be able to watch those kayakers perform.

  2. What an incredible trail! At first glance it reminded me of the Hoh Rainforest in Washington. The first thing I thought of when seeing that river was fishing. I would love to fish that river. Not kayak though, although I like kayaking, that was way above my skill level.

  3. Good to see you were able to get back out hiking. That's great lunch time entertainment!

  4. Wow, beautiful place! Your pictures of the kayakers are fantastic.

  5. Beautiful photos as usual! One of these summer trips to Portland, I'd love to go hiking to University Falls or the Footbridge Trail! This summer, we'll be spending just one day in Portland on our way to British Columbia and Alberta.


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