CLATSOP COUNTY, Ore. — It is the time of year perfectly suited to a wonderful backcountry byway along a river you may have missed. It’s a getaway that offers hiking to dizzying heights and camping delights.
On a clear day even from a distance, Saddle Mountain steals the scene across the Oregon Coast Range: a distinct landmark that’s hard to deny!
It is even harder for hikers to resist on an Oregon State Park trail that will steal your heart.
Shelley Parker, OPRD Ranger, said that Saddle Mountain is cherished for its wildflowers, hiking and spectacular views.
“It is something that must be experienced. It begins with a pretty steep climb but then it levels off as you experience a coastal rain forest with Sitka spruce and Doug fir trees. You see remarkable geological features with big rocky boulders and outcrops, and you will see really amazing mosses and lichens that you won’t see anywhere else.”
Photos: Saddle Mountain
Each step up the Saddle Mountain two-and-a-half-mile long trail reveals a timeless place born of events that are 16 million years old.
The site dates to a time when a thick layer of Columbia River basalt flowed into the ocean from distant eastern Oregon. Eventually, the ground rose and the mountain was born.
Today, the basalt breaks away in chunks, cracks, crevices and bands that show off eons of geologic time.
The trail opens onto grassy meadows covered in a riot of wildflowers.
Although water is rare, cool springs seep and replenish a surprising number of plants with a distinct sound that also soothes the soul.
If time is on your side, you will be face to face with the namesake: the saddle and then the summit with bare double peaks that loom ahead.
“The trail is a steep climb the last half mile,” noted Parker. "It’s definitely not for anyone who’s afraid of heights! It’s quite rewarding when you get to the top because you made the climb but also you have a spectacular panoramic view of the Pacific Ocean and the Cascade Mountains. Each day’s view is different; in spring the ocean is often obscured.”
As sixth highest point in the Oregon coast range, Saddle Mountain serves up drifting clouds so close you’ll feel as though you can reach out and touch them.
That means it can be downright cool too! So, dress warmly and in layers and be sure you wear sturdy hiking boots with good ankle support for your climb and the descent back to the parking lot.
“It’s one of the gems of the Oregon coast for sure!” added Parker.
You may choose to make the park a longer stay at one of the 10 primitive campsites. Each is perfect for a tent. There is no trailer space, although trailers are allowed in the parking area. But be aware that there are no hook ups for water or electricity.
Let Saddle Mountain State Park be but the start of your back road journey.
Next up: the nearby Lower Nehalem River Road is accessed at Elsie, Oregon.
A few short miles down the road you’ll meet Henry Rierson Spruce Run Campground. It is a fine place to call it a day!
Ron Zilli said that the Oregon Department of Forestry manages the campground: “Most times on the weekends you can still find a spot out here – you may not get a spot adjacent to the river, but there are 31 spots here and most times you can find a spot here.”
Spruce Run campsites (many are streamside) go for $20 a night and each is available on a first come-first serve basis; no reservations are accepted.
Four miles up the road you can get lost on purpose with a rod and reel and a chance to catch fish at Lost lake
“Lost Lake is stocked by Oregon Fish and Wildlife and offers fishing for both bank anglers and canoe fishermen. It’s a shallow water lake but a good place close to highways and access and when you’re there, you feel miles away from anywhere.”
The Lower Nehalem River Road winds about as a dizzying affair with views of the Nehalem River and once back to straight-as an arrow State Highway 26.
Look for landmark “Camp 18,” popular rest spot known for it’s restaurant and these days - something new.
Mark Standley said that the Camp 18 Logger Memorial Museum is a place to remember those who gave their lives to Oregon logging.
A crowning museum centerpiece greets you at the entrance: a life-sized bronze of a hard working logger with actual logging equipment, even a full sized tree.
It’s a remarkably accurate work of art: the logger’s pants and sleeves cut short so not to hang up on limbs or brush – a firm grip on his working chainsaw with a falling axe within easy reach.
“It is just awesome,” noted Standley. “Most people walk in and find it so incredible as a way to keep those logging memories alive. It’s just a good thing.”
That’s what you’ll be saying about this backcountry byway, where the Nehalem River flows to the sea and the mountains soar to the sky. It is a fine stretch of Oregon that will keep you coming back for more.
Be sure to follow my Oregon adventures via the new Grant’s Getaways Podcast:
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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.
My next book, “Grant’s Getaways: Another 101 Oregon Adventures” will be published in 2022.