Great Oregon Coast Hike: Cape Falcon and Neahkhanie Mountain

Here is a great hike on the Oregon Coast that should be good all year round — assuming you don’t mind a little mud. And if you can add a second car, the 9-mile hike to Cape Falcon and then over Neahkhanie Mountain includes many things that make hiking on the Oregon Coast terrific.

Lovely forest and skip-over creeks.
Lovely forest and skip-over creeks.

All of this is in Oswald West State Park, where a series of parking lots and trailheads along US 101, just north of Manzanita, Oregon, offer several options:

  • go a few minutes down to Short Sands Beach to run around on the sand, play in the surf, do a little tidepooling, and watch the surfers.
  • go just a couple of easy miles out to scenic Cape Falcon and maybe continue a bit on the Oregon Coast Trail.
  • go some 1,600 feet up Neahkhanie Mountain for a panoramic view.
  • or combine a few of these with a second car and a shuttle, which is what we did.

To do this one-way shuttle hike, stash a car at the South Neahkhanie Trailhead off 101 near Sunset Road, then go up and start your hike at the Cape Falcon Trailhead on 101; it’s the second one on the left (west) side of the road, just north of the big lookout area on 101.

First Up: Cape Falcon Trail

This one starts out scenic, stays easy, and delivers with a big view at the end.

You go out about half a mile, catch a view of Short Sands Beach where a trail drops down to it, then continue on out the cape for another two miles. And while I always hesitate to use the “f-word” to describe hikes, this one is … well, there is very little up and down.

Scenery starts right out of the parking lot on the Cape Falcon Trail.
Scenery starts right out of the parking lot on the Cape Falcon Trail.

There is also a cool stump which some stoner friends and I once dubbed the Throne of the Forest King, upon which I had taken the author photo for Edition of 5 of 60 Hikes Within 60 Miles of Portland. It’s still there, but getting a bit less impressive every year, I must say.

There are also some tremendous tress along this stretch, as well as cool views through the trees to beach and ocean, a side trip to a waterfall, and, yes, some mud. But hey, you brought different shoes to wear home, right? Right?

At the end, you’re just at the end of a windswept rocky point, a couple hundreds feet above the ocean, with views all around and usually some form of wildlife visible down below. That’s all.

You can go a little farther north if you like, putting in another mile or so on the Oregon Coast Trail for some more coastal scenery. (When it turns inland and starts climbing, head on back). Otherwise, just make your way back to that viewpoint of Short Sands Beach.

Hiking Around Short Sands Beach

The little walk from 101 down to Short Sands Beach is immensely popular, and for good reason. It’s a beautiful, protected little beach with plenty of sand, big trees, cool waves, some tidepools, and lots of people- and dog-watching. Speaking of that, here — as a way to show you a bit of Short Sands Beach but also to share a happy video of a dog running free — is a video entitled, Don’t Turn Your Lab-Mix Puppy Loose on the Beach if You Need Her Back Anytime Soon.

Otherwise, it’s a great little place, and there are some nice picnic spots back up in the trees, as well as some pleasant walking paths, one of which cross a creek on a fun and bouncy bridge, and then starts climbing up through some massive trees. That’s where we are heading next.

At this point on our little hike, we’ve gone about five miles. All easy so far.

Climbing Neahkhanie Mountain, Part 1

Looking back to Cape Falcon from Elk Flats
Looking back to Cape Falcon from Elk Flats

Just across the bridge, you’re headed south on the Oregon Coast Trail. The first section is surprisingly steep in a couple of spots, and also remarkably rooty. But there are some big, beautiful trees in here, one of which you can basically walk through. This is a Sitka Spruce that formed this way because it grew on top of a nurse log, wrapping its roots around and then preserving the “image” of the log in its structure.

Keep climbing, keep admiring trees, and soon pop out into an open area called Elk Flats. Here a trail leads right to a scenic coastal view which is one of the 1,348 places in Oregon with Devil in its name. We continue on up to another parking area at US 101, where you could stash your second vehicle if you don’t want to climb Neahkhanie, which will be another 1,300 feet up from here.

If you are headed up, hustle across 101 and start up the trail.

Climbing Neahkhanie Mountain, Part 2

Manzanita and Nehalem Bay from the "summit."
Manzanita and Nehalem Bay from the “summit.”

Over the next 2.5 miles or so, you’ll gain 1,300 feet, most of it in the first couple of miles. It’s woodsy, a little steep at times, but nothing terrible. There might be a couple of spots where you think you’re headed the wrong way or something, but you aren’t. There is only one trail up here, so just press on.

Right before you get to the lookout — which by the way isn’t the top of Neahkhanie Mountain — you will see it up above you and to the left. It’s a rocky spine with a view north, and to get up there you can take a rocky scramble that starts right out in the open on the trail, or continue a few steps beyond that, into the trees, and take a slightly more gradual trail up the back side.

Either way, you will now be about 1,600 feet above the ocean, with a nice view down to Manzanita and Nehalem Bay. If you were to time your arrival for sunset, it would be really great up here, and you could get down in about 30 minutes if you hustle. Still, bring a headlamp.

To head down, just keep trucking, into the woods, and down across a dirt road, for 1.5 miles until you pop out at the trailhead. Easy peasy.

By the way, the Oregon Coast Trail technically continues here, but officially it follows 101 down to Manzanita, then onto the beach. Not much fun. But there is a project underway to connect a trail from somewhere around here, on the east side of 101, and down into town. One of the main people working on it is Connie Soper, who is also the author of the best book out there on the OCT, Exploring the Oregon Coast Trail. Check it out.

Here is an elevation profile of the day’s outing. You can see the full deal, including the elevation profile, here.

And here is a photo gallery from my day:

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