Horse Creek Trail–Trot through towering coastal old-growth forest

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Some of the biggest and oldest trees remaining in Oregon’s Coast Ranges can be found within the Drift Creek Wilderness.

Quick Facts

Location: Drift Creek Wilderness, Siuslaw National Forest

Land Agency: National Forest Service

Roundtrip: 7.2 miles

Elevation gain: 1,400 feet

Difficulty: moderate

Contact: Central Coast Ranger District (Waldport), Siuslaw National Forest

Notes: Drift Creek Wilderness is south of Newport. Do not confuse with popular Drift Creek Falls near Lincoln City.

Access: From Newport Oregon, follow US 101 south to Brian Booth (Ona Beach) State Park. Turn left onto North Beaver Creek Road and after 1.0 mile bear left. Continue 2.7 miles and turn right onto Elkhorn Road. After 5.8 miles turn left onto FR 50; then after 1.4 miles, bear right onto FR 5087 reaching trailhead in 3.4 miles.

Good to know: kid-friendly, dog-friendly, old-growth, backpacking opportunities

The tranquil Drift Creek Wilderness lies just a few miles inland from the crashing Pacific Ocean. Protecting a 5,800-acre rare tract of coastal Oregon old growth forest, Drift Creek is one of just three wilderness areas within the Siuslaw National Forest. While all of these areas are small, they are immensely important for their role of protecting threatened species and mature forests. The Drift Creek Wilderness harbors spotted owls, bald eagles, Roosevelt elk and black bears; and impressive groves of Douglas fir, western hemlock, and Sitka spruce. The creek supports spawning Chinook and Coho salmon.

The coastal forests up and down US 101 in the Beaver State have been heavily logged since settlers spilled into the Willamette Valley in the 1840s. Drift Creek stands as a testimony to what most of this region’s forests once looked like. Settlers tried to homestead here too, but the saturated soils and incessant rains thwarted early ranching and farming endeavors. A couple of relics of the old Harris Ranch can sometimes be spotted by observant hikers on the Harris Ranch Trail within the wilderness area.

There are three trail accesses into this wilderness. The Horse Creek Trail traverses the area from north to east. The hike from this trail’s northern trailhead described here traverses some of the oldest and largest forest groves within the wilderness. From the trailhead located on a high ridge enjoy a fairly level and easy first mile. The good trail snakes around towering firs, spruces and hemlocks, some with diameters exceeding seven feet. You may hear the sound of the distant surf over chattering wrens and thrushes. But more than likely you’ll just hear rain drops pitter-pattering as this area receives over 120 inches of annual rainfall.

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Drift Creek can run fast and deep and can usually only be safely forded in late summer and autumn.

Eventually the way begins descending to the river, dropping 1,400 vertical feet. At 3.6 miles reach Drift Creek. The Horse Creek Trail continues on the other side of Drift Creek, but fording this waterway in winter is usually not an option. If you want to extend your hike, you can head right on the Harris Ranch Trail for another .8 mile paralleling the wilderness river before coming to another ford. Whether you chose to continue hiking or just spend some time here contemplating the beauty of this coastal waterway, make sure you save some energy for the climb back to the trailhead.

For more information on hiking Oregon’s coast, consult Day Hiking Oregon Coast by Bonnie Henderson (Mountaineers Books).

For more information on lodging and other attractions near the Drift Creek Wilderness and along the Central Oregon Coast, consult Northwest TripFinder.

 

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