Location: Drift Creek Wilderness, Suislaw National Forest, east of Waldport, Oregon
Access: Tricky to get to TH as the Forest Service directions are wrong. From Waldport, travel 6.8 miles to Beaver Cr Rd and turn right (east). Drive 3.8 miles and turn right onto Elk Horn Road #51. Watch for horses on the roads through here. Drive 6.0 miles on Elk Horn Rd, then take a left on FR 5000 (staying on pavement, still). Drive 1.4 miles and turn right onto FR 5087 (sign is damaged, says only 508). Drive 3.5 miles to the end of the road and the TH. Maps show the road continuing, but it has been rehabilitated beyond the TH and is not drivable.
Trail: Trails in this area are pretty confusing. Iím not exactly sure what we hiked, but it is described thorougly below. Hard to get lost, since the trails are all well-defined, if not well-labeled. Moderate to strenuous with steep grades.
Fees: None
Dogs: Allowed on leash

August 13, 2008
After camping the evening before at Hartís Cove, and spending the day hiking near there and along the beaches around Newport, we headed east in the late afternoon towards the Drift Creek Wilderness, aiming for the Horse Creek TH. This proved pretty difficult to find, as the Forest Service directions from the web instructed us to drive on FR 50, instead of FR 5000 and on FR 5087, which is labeled as 508 in reality. Nevertheless, we eventually found the TH, yet it was so late in the evening by then that we decided not to attempt a backpack into the woods. Beyond the trailhead, the road had been carved up severely to prevent driving further, but the graveled surface beyond, though reclaimed by grass, was still smooth and free of trees. We ate dinner at the car, then hiked on the old forest road a half mile or so and set up the tent right on the road. Not exactly boundary-expanding accommodations, but it worked. The evening was very clear, and the sun shone orange through the hemlocks. We walked slowly down the road, enjoying the quiet forest. The dichotomy between the old-growth forest to the left, and the harvested forest to the right was extreme. I walked into the old growth with my camera, and enjoyed the golden light pouring through the hemlock leaves. It was like an illustration from a fairy land. Further down the road, we walked off the road again into a dense stand of younger hemlocks, perhaps grown up since the last logging of the area. The trunks of the young trees were thick and close together, and the branches, leafless, formed a dense thicket under which nothing grew. The sunlight, so orange out in the open stands of old growth, was in here red and distant, and the forest floor was dark and spongy with untold depth of rotting leaves and needles. As we proceeded further into this stygian darkness, a breeze picked up that swayed the moss hanging from limbs. Backlit as it was with the red sunlight, it looked like a horror house of cobwebs and skeletons. It was altogether unwholesome and creepy. A spider had built its web in this dark cavity of the woods, and I photographed it, backlit by the red ball of the sun. The episode reminded me of Bilbo Baggins in Mirkwood Forest. Gandalf said to him, "Stay on the road and do not stray into the forest. If you do you will never get out of Mirkwood." After minutes, we retraced our steps through the pillowy leaf layer, and got back onto the road. Immediately, the light reverted to its former comforting orange color, but you could still see the red glow inside the trees deep in the old growth. We slept comfortably that night as it got nice and cool.

August 14, 2007
Waking the next morning around 8 (for the trees completely blocked the sun and it still seemed almost dark at 8), we got up and packed up camp and hauled our gear back to the car at the TH. After a quick snack of granola bars for breakfast, we loaded up a few essentials into the daypack and headed up the Horse Creek Trail. In the unblemished morning light, the forest took on an entirely different character. Whereas the old trees bathed in the orange light of sunset had evoked quiet reflection and a melancholy of age, the brilliant white morning light evoked freshness and timeless good cheer. I felt fantastic as we plodded quickly along the narrow path, brushing massive banks of sword ferns with our hips, and passing by giants of trees that rose up like bridge columns on either side. For the first hour of hiking, the route was relatively flat, and the hiking was no more strenuous than walking around the block. We passed many banana slugs on the trail, and speculated on all aspects of their existence. By degrees, the trail began to slope downwards, and soon we were hugging the hillside on switchbacks leading steeply down a south-facing slope toward Drift Creek. Most of the trees were hemlocks, with ruddy, red bark, but we soon came to recognize the western red cedars by their smooth, tightly-lined bark. Upon arriving to an unplanned fork in the trail that was unlabeled, we turned left since someone had placed sticks and logs over the righthand option. As this was an unplanned fork, I was from that point a little unsure of where exactly the trail was heading. The fork we took was labeled as the "new trail". The Forest Service publishes that the Horse Creek Trail is 2.5 miles one-way, and a web map shows that it reaches a junction prior to reaching Drift Creek, with the right fork becoming the Harris Ranch Trail and the left fork becoming an unnamed, unmaintained segment. The likely possibility is that we took the unmaintained segment down to the creek, although I am unsure why someone felt it necessary to physically block the Harris Ranch Trail if that is officially maintained by the Forest Service. In the end, the forest is so magnificent, I doubt you could go wrong taking either fork.

This "new trail" headed down steep switchbacks, and I began to think of the upcoming difficulty we would encounter hiking out. After about 10 switchbacks, Andra decided she had seen enough, and we sat down to take a break. The air temperature had risen, and even hiking downhill we had both broken a light sweat. As we sat just off the trail, we watched a few tiny gray birds hopping and flitting in the undershrubs, chirping quietly as they danced around searching for prey, I suppose. After a 10-minute rest, I decided I had to continue on to see the end of the trail, feeling it was near. Andra decided to sit quietly on the trail until I came back. I left the pack with her and took only my camera. 

Ten switchbacks later, the terrain flattened, and I reached a campground with firepit and lots of sitting logs. Just beyond that, Drift Creek slid along in its wide channel. I clambered down the steep slope to the water and splashed my face with the cool liquid before snapping some photographs of the area, then heading back uphill to where Andra was waiting. Arriving about 30 minutes after I left, I took another short break to cool off, then we both trudged up the switchbacks to the trail fork, and then over the flatish terrain back to the car. The entire hike took about 3 hours.


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