When summer’s glorious colors have faded and an amber glow wraps around the land, I am especially fond of the trips that breeze along some of Oregon’s finer roadways on a crisp October afternoon.
Stephanie Beall, Oregon Department of Forestry Recreation Specialist, noted that the timing couldn’t be better: “It is gorgeous out there right now! The vine maples are brilliant oranges and reds while the alders and big leaf maples are turning amazing shades of yellow…you’re going to see some amazing color.”
When it comes to those "amazing" fall colors, try two unique and easy to find trails: the Four County Point and Steam Donkey Trails. Taken together, they can provide two trails for the price of one day-long adventure that may teach you something new about Oregon.
West of Portland along Hwy 26 (sunset Hwy) and stop at mile post 35 where you can pull into a spacious parking area and discover a new information board with a trail map to guide you to one of the most unique Oregon hiking destinations called Four County Point Trail.
Stay to the left and travel down the trail that parallels Highway 26. Beall added, “The trail parallels a creek for a bit, so sometimes if you’re out in the early morning, you may see deer or other wildlife.”
The mile long hike ends at a granite marker that marks the only spot in Oregon where 4 counties meet. Once you reach the marker, straddle the site and realize you are surrounded by Clatsop, Tillamook, Washington and Columbia counties – all in a heartbeat – a fun cap to an easy hike and a geographic feature you won’t find anywhere else in the state.
Back on the Sunset Highway, continue west less than ten miles to reach the Sunset Rest Area. It’s a popular stop for travelers that journey from the valley to the coast, but if you stroll across a wooden bridge, enjoy the Steam Donkey Trail.
It's an easy, 1/3 of a mile loop and all of it is wheelchair accessible. It's also a short trek that reaches back to touch a bite of Oregon history.
While so called “steam donkeys” have long disappeared from the Oregon forests, in their day they were state of the art iron and steel machinery that hauled the big timber out of the woods.
At the Tillamook State Forest Center, you can see a real steam donkey on display and learn more about the role of steam donkeys in Oregon timber history.
You will also discover the remarkable story of how they got it here for visitors to admire.
“The steam donkey was really created just to yard logs out of the woods,” said Chris Friend, recreation specialist at the Forest Center.
He said the story of their donkey reaches back to a time before the Tillamook Burns, the collective and devastating fires that raged across half a million acres in the1930’s.
“The company that owned this one had no reason to salvage it once their land and timber holdings burned over, so they just left it there. As a result, this machine was pretty much stranded in the woods with no roads to it.”
In fact, the Forest Center’s donkey was hidden for decades, deep in the Salmonberry River drainage, until a small army of volunteers decided it was worth the effort to try and fly it out.
“So, they measured its size, estimated its weight and slowly dismantled the old steam donkey for an airlift,” said Friend.
It took tremendous effort and no small amount of donated time and money to bring this chapter of Tillamook logging history to the Forest Center.
It’s a scene worth exploring along trails where the fall color prime time is passing – so hurry here soon.The Center will close for winter at the end of November.
You can also download free trail brochures from the Oregon Dept of Forestry. The Tillamook Forest Center is open each Wednesday through Sunday.