Distance: 7 miles
Elevation gain: 1,200 ft.
Location: Oregon’s Coast Range in the Tillamook State Forest
Popular with mountain bikers, the Gales Creek trail travels gently up and down the hillsides beside Gales Creek through a coastal rainforest of Douglas fir and red alders, with a thick understory of ferns and oxalis.
The Gales Creek trail runs for 12.7 miles from the Summit Trailhead (accessed 2.5 miles farther west on Highway 6) to Reehers Camp Trailhead (accessed via Highway 26). This out and back hike begins at the Gales Creek Trailhead near the campground entrance and heads north for 3.5 miles before turning around and heading back the same way.
In the winter of 2007, several landslides and washouts occurred and necessitated rerouting three miles of the central portion of this trail. Trail access was closed for five years to rebuild the trail until it was reopened in 2012.
An important part of Oregon’s history, this area is where the devastating series of Tillamook Burn forest fires began in 1933. The first fire was started in the Gales Creek Canyon during logging operations when a steel cable dragging a fallen tree rubbed against the dry bark of a snag. The snag burst into flame, and the wildfire that grew out of this burned 311,000 acres before it was extinguished by seasonal rains three weeks later. Three additional large forest fires occurred over the next two decades, burning a total of 355,000 acres. A massive reforestation project took place from the 1950s to 1972, and many Portland schoolchildren took part in replacing the forest with new saplings.
Long since recovered, the young forest is lush with many shades of green, even in the driest parts of the year. The hillsides are covered with ferns, and devil’s club (a shrub with large leaves and thorny stems) lines the trail. A junction with the Storey Burn trail is 0.8 miles from the Gales Creek Trailhead, allowing for a loop hike with the Low Divide trail also accessed from the parking area. The trail passes over several smaller creeks with wooden bridges, and while never steep, it travels in an up and down motion continuously alongside the creek. Hike as far in as you like, then turn around and return the same way.