Without Trails

Newest section of Wilson River Tail paves the way for future hiking in Tillamook State

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If you were to start the Wilson River Trail at the western end and hike its full 24.3 miles to the east, you would arrive unceremoniously at a quiet gravel road high in the Coast Range mountains.

But if you walk just a short way down that road, you’ll run into a mountain viewpoint and a rough trail winding into the thick brush, where someday soon there might be even more opportunities for hiking and mountain biking in the Tillamook State Forest.

READ MORE: How to explore the Wilson River Trail

The newest segment of the Wilson River Trail is a 3.7-mile stretch between the Elk Creek Trailhead and Idiot Creek Loop Road, a remote logging road that winds through the forest on the north side of Oregon 6, the highway that runs between Hillsboro and Tillamook.

Constructed in 2009, the trail segment represents the beginning of an eastward expansion of the long-distance hiking trail, which was originally conceived as running between the eastern and western boundaries of the state forest. The next phase of trail construction could see the Wilson River Trail extended to the nearby Storey Burn Trail, forest officials said, though no plans have been announced.

Wilson River Trail

A Coast Range view through the mist and the trees along the newest segment of the Wilson River Trail, a 3.7-mile section between the Elk Creek Trailhead and Idiot Creek Loop Road in the Tillamook State Forest. Jamie Hale/The Oregonian

Wilson River Trail

A Coast Range view through the mist and the trees along the newest segment of the Wilson River Trail, a 3.7-mile section between the Elk Creek Trailhead and Idiot Creek Loop Road in the Tillamook State Forest. Jamie Hale/The Oregonian

Wilson River Trail

The newest segment of the Wilson River Trail is a 3.7-mile section between the Elk Creek Trailhead and Idiot Creek Loop Road in the Tillamook State Forest. Jamie Hale/The Oregonian

Wilson River Trail

Mushrooms grow on a dead tree along the newest segment of the Wilson River Trail, a 3.7-mile section between the Elk Creek Trailhead and Idiot Creek Loop Road in the Tillamook State Forest. Jamie Hale/The Oregonian

The section between Elk Creek and Idiot Creek Loop Road is also a particularly serene hike that offers big views and pretty creekside areas as it marches up the side of one of the many, rolling Coast Range mountains.

Open to hikers and mountain bikers, the trail segment begins at the Elk Creek Trailhead, which is also the starting point for the Elk Mountain hike and the Wilson River Trail hike to the Kings Mountain Trailhead and beyond. But instead of jumping on the main trail headed west, the new section starts at a trailhead on the north end of the parking lot, running alongside Elk Creek for half a mile before turning east, crossing the creek over a seasonal footbridge and beginning a long climb uphill. The footbridge is usually in place until the middle of fall, depending on the creek’s flow, state forest officials said, after which hikers will need to ford Elk Creek.

The hike leads to the highest point on the Wilson River Trail and is also one of its steepest trail segments, with an elevation gain of 1,160 feet and a high point of 2,150 feet, according to a track by the Oregon Hikers Field Guide. That’s still much less steep than the climbs up nearby Elk and Kings mountains, with an ascent that’s aided by new, well-graded trails.

That easier grade makes this hike much more accessible, opening up yet another beautiful outdoor adventure for Portland-area hikers. And if it’s any sign of future trail segments to come, the Wilson River Trail should continue to be one of the premier local hiking destinations for many years to come.

Wilson River Trail

A narrow bridge crosses Elk Creek on the newest segment of the Wilson River Trail, a 3.7-mile section between the Elk Creek Trailhead and Idiot Creek Loop Road in the Tillamook State Forest. Jamie Hale/The Oregonian

Distance: 7.4 miles, out and back

Difficulty: moderately difficult

Amenities: Portable toilet at trailhead, campground (open year-round)

This hike is rated “moderately difficult” for a long, steep climb to the top.

This hike begins at Elk Creek, home of a trailhead and year-round campground. To reach the trailhead, take Oregon 6 from U.S. 26 west from Hillsboro, and follow the highway for about 23 miles. Look for signs to the Elk Creek Campground and turn right on Elk Creek Road, following a gravel road past the campground and a small parking area all the way to the end, where you’ll find a large parking lot.

Head to the far end of the parking lot, where you’ll find a sign for the Wilson River Trail headed to Elk Creek and Idiot Creek Loop Road. The trail runs for a half mile along Elk Creek before it reaches a signed junction with the Elk Creek Trail. Go right to stay on the Wilson River Trail, crossing a seasonal bridge over Elk Creek.

From here, the trail begins its long, steady climb uphill. On the way, it passes some open Coast Range views, though most views here are obscured by the trees.

After 3.2 miles, the trail reaches its end at Idiot Creek Loop Road, a gravel logging road that marks the high point of the trail. This is technically the end of the hike, but if you want an extra view, turn right on the road and stay right as a dirt path branches off into the trees. You’ll soon run into a small clearing with an open view, from which it looks as if the trail might someday continue.

To return, simply turn around and head back the way you came, all the way back to the Elk Creek Trailhead.

–Jamie Hale; jhale@oregonian.com; 503-294-4077; @HaleJamesB

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Read More:Newest section of Wilson River Tail paves the way for future hiking in Tillamook State