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Grant's Getaways: Estuary Expeditions

Grant McOmie visited the North Oregon Coast to explore two estuaries with spectacular views.

OTIS, Oregon — These are the fickle days of late winter and early spring; days that seem to switch from dark downpours to sun-filled skies in a heartbeat; “Blue Hole Days” that demand you take advantage of each dry break and head outdoors. 

This week, we take on two estuary expeditions for the price of one getaway along the North Oregon coast. 

The Salmon River is a sinuous braid work of channels and sloughs that thread their ways toward the sea through a broad estuary of grassy marsh. 

It is a place worth a closer look!  

The U.S. Forest Service recently completed the groundwork of the Salmon River Interpretive Trail, along North Fraser Road, located just off U.S. Coastal Highway 101 and not far from its junction with State Highway 18 near Otis, Oregon. 

RELATED: Grant's Getaways: Go with the flow

It is a fine place to get out, stretch your legs, perhaps enjoy a picnic lunch and stroll a trail that leads to something special. 

Picnic tables and restrooms are in place and a short trail with multiple interpretive panels display information about the area’s geology, flora, fauna and cultural significance. 

The site consists of many artistic elements portraying the sinuous tidal channels which are hidden by the marsh grasses, yet dominate the estuary. 

At the end of the short gravel trail, enjoy the view to a significant and protected site that is prized for its rare plant and animal life called “Cascade Head.”  

Rugged Cascade Head rises to meet the sky and it is located near the line between Tillamook Lincoln Counties. 

There are multiple trails you can follow to explore the area. 

I chose the shortest for our hike, just a mile in length, that spans U.S. Forest Service land and reaches nearly 300 acres of the well-known Nature Conservancy Preserve where the view takes your breath away. 

Cascade Head has been a National Scenic and Research Area since 1974.  

Few deny it’s one of the finest points of the Oregon coastline. Hiking partner Don Best says it makes him feel young again on a day too nice to be indoors. 

“The Capes at Cascade Head stick out like a multi-pronged fork and the ocean is a wash of deep blue that is strong contrast with the dramatic landforms," he said. "The breakers hit and surround the rugged rocky shore and when you look out to the horizon the water is a pretty light blue. It is all so beautiful.” 

Cascade Head provides awesome views on a day when coastal clouds roll ashore and seem so close you could reach out and touch them. There’s an ethereal feel to the hiking experience. 

It is gorgeous and a fine estuary expedition you can make anytime, while just 12 miles to the north, another estuary invites you on an expedition that offers a different point of view. 

Take a deep breath and savor a place meant for the quiet times along the Little Nestucca River in Tillamook County 

The waterway cuts a beeline thru the Nestucca Bay National Wildlife Refuge and the trip is so easy anyone can try on a river paddle with local guides from Kayak Tillamook. They cater to beginners. 

“The paddle trip flows right next to the forest and through the wildlife refuge,” said guide Marcus Hinz. “As you paddle out toward the bay you quickly forget there’s anything else around you except the wildlife.” 

You may see bald eagles, red tail hawks, osprey, deer, elk, beavers, river otters and more. In fact, the bird life is remarkable. 

Be sure to dress warm and in layers to accommodate your level of activity. Avoid cotton and don’t forget a rain jacket cap and gloves. 

A life jacket is provided and it is mandatory on a trip where safety comes first.

We follow our river guides as flocks of Canada geese wing past on their way north. 

“When you’re paddling in a kayak, you’re much less intrusive than a car,” added Hinz. “You get pretty close to the Canada geese and other waterfowl because – [in a small boat] they’re not as frightened away from you.” 

As a paddler, I seem to glide with the incoming tide as it helps move us along. Hinz added that the Little Nestucca River offers a timeless and easygoing adventure. 

“It's really the best of both worlds because you’re seeing the land from the water as opposed to seeing the water from the land, so it is a much more intimate experience and you really feel like you’re in nature.” 

In addition to the Nestucca Bay Wildlife Refuge trip, you’ll be pleased to know that there are more than 800 miles of water trails in Tillamook County that reach across any rivers, estuaries and sloughs.  

There’s even a map to guide your way: Tillamook County Water Trails

Be sure to follow my Oregon adventures via the Grant’s Getaways Podcast: Each segment is a story-telling session where I relate behind the scenes stories from four decades of travel and reporting. 

You can also learn more about many of my favorite Oregon travels and adventures in the Grant’s Getaways book series, including:  

"Grants Getaways I," Photography by Steve Terrill
"Grant's Getaways II," Photography by Steve Terrill
Grant’s Getaways: 101 Oregon Adventures,” Photography by Jeff Kastner “Grant’s Getaways: Guide to Wildlife Watching in Oregon,” Photography by Jeff Kastner
Grant’s Getaways: Oregon Adventures with the Kids,” Photography by Jeff Kastner 

The collection offers hundreds of outdoor activities across Oregon and promises to engage a kid of any age.  

The next book, “Grant’s Getaways: Another 101 Oregon Adventures” will be published in November.

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