Neahkahnie Mountain Loop Is Maybe the Oregon Coast’s Most Scenic Overlook Trail

Embark on an eight-mile loop from a beach strewn with driftwood to a rocky outcropping with a view.

(Hilary Sander)

You're going to want to pack a lunch on your hike up Neahkahnie Mountain. Because by the time you wind your way to the peak, you're going to be starving. And you're going to want to spend as much time as you can up there.

At a modest 1,680 feet above the sea, Neahkahnie isn't the tallest peak in the Oregon Coast Range. Yet it offers striking views of the infinite Pacific Coast, yawning toward the town of Manzanita and the Nehalem Bay.

You'll want to begin not at the North Neahkahnie Mountain trailhead, but at the Short Sand trailhead. It's exactly a mile north up U.S. Highway 101, nestled in Oswald West State Park. You'll double your selfie opportunities while giving yourself an extra 2 1/2 miles of good hiking—enough that you'll pass out in the car on the ride back to Portland.

Begin in a parking lot, heading down a trail busy with child-laden tourists in sandals and shorts, with whom you'll pass over a modern wooden suspension bridge. Though you can follow the sign south to begin on the Elk Flats Trail immediately, you'll be well off following your sandaled friends west toward Short Sand Beach. That three-minute detour will have you climbing over some handsomely weathered ocean debris toward picturesque Smuggler's Cove—legend has it it's home to buried pirate treasure.

After you get your photos in, you'll head back up to Elk Flats Trail and get to work. The first mile is a muddy, hamstring-stretching, uphill ladder of switchbacks under the chilly shade of cedars and Sitka spruces, some of which may serve as obstacles depending on the severity of the most recent storm.

Once you clear the first leg, you'll head out of the forest into a golden-brown swath of open field that intermittently serves as grounds for local elk herds. As you approach the highway, take the fork to the right. After a muddy interlude, you'll find yourself with a striking view of the Devil's Cauldron, a cove behind a sea stack that churns aquamarine and teal on clear days. Sit on the bench and have a snack: This is your last rest until you make it to the top of Neahkahnie.

Head back up the fork and head toward the whooshing of U.S. Highway 101. After you cross in front of a sign marked "Oregon Coast Trail," you'll find yourself on the northwest face of Neahkahnie Mountain. You'll hike up a few switchbacks carved through a thick carpet of salal, where you may intrude on garter snakes sunbathing when the weather is nice. Look back and you'll see Cape Falcon, one of the coast's favored surf spots, in the distance.

As you wind into the forested center of Neahkahnie, you'll notice an almost total absence of sound. The interminable roar of the ocean and the whooshing of the highway dissolve, giving way to the soft crunch of dry ground or the squish of mud, intermittently punctuated by the dull thud of a woodpecker searching for snacks in the waterlogged husk of a spruce, a solitary squirrel chirping at an invisible rival, or small talk from one of the dozen or so fellow hikers you'll pass on your way up.

About 90 minutes up from the highway, the spruce is thin, and you'll pass by a conspicuously large, spooky tree whose curved branches raise skyward. You're approaching the opening to Neahkahnie's south summit, a rocky outcropping.

And when you reach that overlook of Nehalem Bay, you'll utter an obscenity at the sight. You can stop and rest against the bluff, but go just three minutes around and up its steep face and you can peer across miles of land. There'll be around a dozen other people with you, taking photos, eating, drinking and maybe smoking pot. Find a comfortable wedge in the rock and take your time, because it's a long walk back down.

Once you reach the bottom of the mountain, your last stretch is a mile of Highway U.S. 101 north. Come down at the right time and the Pacific will shine silver—a great final photo op before you stumble back into your car. You went the long way and the hard way, but the right way.

The Neahkahnie Mountain Loop Hike is approximately 8 miles. From U.S. Highway 101 south, go 14 miles south of U.S. Highway 26 and park at the Short Sand Trailhead at Oswald West State Park.


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