Top Five Hikes to Big Trees

Theses trails will lead you into some of the coast’s most spectacular old-growth forests.

There’s a reason we’re drawn to big cedars, spruces, and other tall trees, and it’s not just historical interest. Yes, those few ancient cedars still extant on the Oregon Coast are museum-worthy—the last examples of the venerables that used to thickly populate the temperate rainforest blanketing this coastline. But those last-of-their-kinds are also a glimpse of the future forest: what whole groves that have come under private, state, and federal conservation over the past century will look like one day, hundreds of years from now, when they’ve reached maturity. The trees on these hikes are already among the tallest trees on Earth. And they have something ineffable to offer us right now. Linger long enough at the big trees on these hikes to absorb their wisdom. As writer Richard Preston writes in The Wild Trees, speaking of one of his favorite huge redwoods, “Maybe these trees can teach us something about ourselves . . . Look at Kronos. It’s been hammered. It’s dying. And it’s more beautiful than ever. These trees can teach us how we can live.”

The following five hikes, listed north to south, are not the only places to see big trees on the Oregon Coast, but they’re a start. They range in difficulty from easy to challenging.

➊ Ecola Creek Forest Reserve, Cannon Beach

2.4 miles round-trip

East of the town of Cannon Beach lies a community forest, preserved by the residents to maintain a clean source of drinking water in perpetuity. Hikers are welcome, along with dogs on leash. The trees here range in age, but they include western redcedars as much as 350 years old. Take the Sunset Boulevard exit off Hwy 101 and follow Elk Creek Road a short distance to the gated trailhead; from here, walk the gravel road past the water treatment facility and over the creek. Where the road steepens considerably, keep going: this is where you’ll see the biggest cedars. The road ends about 1.2 miles in; return as you came, or detour onto other trails in the forest.

➋ Short Sand Beach, Manzanita

1 mile round-trip

Park at the large middle parking area for Oswald West State Park and pick up the trail that starts behind the restroom and ducks under Hwy 101. It leads through a wonderland of ancient forest that includes some magnificent old cedars with their complex, craggy crowns. Follow surfers down the main trail 0.5 mile to Short Sand Beach, or detour onto one of the many short trails that wind through what used to be a hike-in campground (but is now strictly for day use).

➌ Hart’s Cove, Lincoln City

5.8 miles round-trip

South of Neskowin, turn west on gravel Forest Road 1861 and follow it 4.2 miles to the trailhead at the road’s end. After a steep downhill start (challenging on the hike out), this trail rolls at a mostly gentle grade through the deep forest of Neskowin Crest Research Natural Area on Cascade Head. Sitka spruce and western hemlock dominate, but you’ll see redcedars, Douglas fir, and other species here too, some larger than others. The trail ends at a remote viewpoint high on a cliff overlooking the ocean—a worthy reward for this fairly rigorous hike. Note that the road and trail are closed January 1 to July 15.

➍ Giant Spruce Trail, Yachats

2 miles round-trip

Sitka spruce grow to maturity faster than cedars, so you’ll find more full-grown spruces than cedars on this coast. The Giant Spruce for which this trail is named stands at the end of the 1-mile trail that begins at the Cape Perpetua Scenic Area visitors center, but it’s only one of many very big spruces you will walk among on your way to the turn-around spot.

➎ Redwood Nature Trail, Brookings

1 mile round-trip

This short loop trail will nonetheless have you breathing hard as it leads up the hillside above the Chetco River at Alfred A. Loeb State Park. Keep going; the biggest trees on the trail are higher on the hill. These are the northernmost redwoods in the world—not as awesome as those in national and state parks just across the border in northern California, but impressive still—including some as much as 800 years old.

Bonnie Henderson is the author of four books, including Day Hiking: Oregon Coast.