hike: Gales Creek
Popular with mountain bikers, the Gales Creek trail follows Gales Creek through a coastal rainforest of Douglas fir and red alders, with a thick understory of ferns and oxalis.
7 miles with 765 ft gain
Oregon’s Coast Range is often overlooked by hikers, but the trails here are some of my favorites. I love the massive ferns that fill the forest understory, and the moss and lichens add to the rich green scenery. This trail is a great option for a quick hike… it’s close to Portland and you can hike as far as you have time for and then turn around.
The road to the trailhead is gated, so we parked at the pullout on Highway 6 and walked half a mile down the road to the trailhead.
The Gales Creek trail runs for 12.7 miles from the Summit Trailhead (accessed 2.5 miles farther west on Highway 6) to Reehers Camp Trailhead (accessed via Highway 26). We started at the Gales Creek trailhead near the campground and hiked north for about 3 miles before heading back the same way.
An important part of Oregon’s history, this area is where the devastating series of Tillamook Burn forest fires began in 1933. The first fire was started in the Gales Creek Canyon during logging operations when a steel cable dragging a fallen tree rubbed against the dry bark of a snag. The snag burst into flame, and the wildfire that grew out of this burned 311,000 acres before it was extinguished by seasonal rains three weeks later. Three additional large forest fires occurred over the next two decades, burning a total of 355,000 acres. A massive reforestation project took place from the 1950s to 1972, and many Portland schoolchildren took part in replacing the forest with new saplings.
Long since recovered, the young forest is lush with many shades of green, even in the driest parts of the year. The hillsides are covered with ferns, and devil’s club (a shrub with large leaves and thorny stems) lines the trail.
Two of the water crossings on this hike are over wooden bridges, but most are rock hops that during high water periods can be tricky to stay dry while crossing.
In the first several miles of trail, it only reaches the creek level a couple of times. I always like to stop at this spot and spend a few minutes next to the rushing water.
I love all of the layers of moss and lichens on this tree…
Gales Creek had a magical quality today that felt like a place inhabited by elves and fairies.
This moss-draped stump takes on the look of a mystical woodland creature.
Partway through our hike, the sun came out and warmed the forest.
Roller coaster trail…
The winding trail next to the winding creek…
Near the end of our hike, we stopped and sat by the creek to take it in for a while longer.