|Ecola Point to Tillamook
August 6 2015
Andra and I hiked part of this trail before, and, having enjoyed it greatly, decided to hike it again to its terminus at Indian Beach. We had just flown in to Portland, rented a car, and driven as fast as Portland traffic would allow to the coast. This hike was first on our list. We paid the entrance fee, and drove through the lush forest down to Ecola Pointís parking area. Years ago, one could walk out to the end of the point on a narrow, rocky trail to an overlook above Sea Lion Rock, but I guess that became too hazardous because there are fences up now preventing such access, though the trail is still easily visible in aerial images. This is too bad, because the end of the point was the best place to view the series of offshore sea stacks leading away from the point. It was also a great place to view the Tillamook Rock lighthouse, built on a tiny, lonely barren island more than a mile out in the ocean. We strayed around the overlooks of Canon Beach, then down to the gap in the trees where you can still catch a glimpse of the lighthouse. Then we returned to the car, put on our hiking shoes, and set off north on the trail to Indian Beach.
I love the smell of the coast: the ocean breeze smells of salt, while the forest smells of peat and conifers. Itís a great combination that I always associate with fun. We hiked up the trail with this wonderful smell filling the air, and brilliant sunshine slanting down through the enormous Douglas fir and spruce lining the trail. For several weeks prior to the trip, my legs had been weak and sore, a product of a particularly nasty bought with flu-like virus. On this hike, they quickly tired out, much to my great disappointment, and I was painfully aware of them the entire hike. Fortunately, I was able to largely put it out of my mind and focus on the amazing scenery. I never get tired of seeing a carpet of sword ferns under a canopy of giant conifers.
We followed the trail on its meandering course, up steep slopes and down, around exposed, rocky points and back into the dark of the forest. There was a section where the old trail had washed away, and had been rerouted. At the exposed outcroppings we stopped to admire the waves pounding the rocks below, and the long, endless queue of white-capped waves slowly pushing in to shore like ridges on a conveyor belt. A few people were walking the sandy strip between the water and the rocky cliff from which we were watching a hundred feet above. Our panoramic view encompassed Tillamook Rock Lighthouse. Most lighthouses are sedate and beautiful, almost comforting, but not Tillamook Rock. Nope. Itís downright creepy. Hereís this tiny structure built like a fortress on an absolutely barren chunk of basalt over a mile from shore, relentlessly battered by waves, completely exposed to the vast maw of the ocean. More than anything, it looks like a prison. Alcatraz looks more cheerful than this place. I can imagine few duties as unpleasant as lighthouse keeper for this island tower through the 70+ years of its operation, especially in the early years as it was just being constructed and adapted. The story of its construction is really fascinating. These days it apparently houses cremated remains of people. Iím not surprised. That completely fits with the inherent creepiness of the place. I think a good horror movie would involve shipwrecked tourists clambering ashore Tillamook Rock on some tempestuous, moonless night when the waves are crashing over the walls of the turret, seeking shelter in the steel shell of the abandoned lighthouse quarters, finding the ghosts of the uninterred up and about, gliding noiselessly and iridescently about the black, wet basalt walls of the cryptlike castle, unable to find eternal rest because of the constant foundation-rattling pounding of the surf that has driven the spirits insane and malevolent. Yep, Iíll stay on the mainland, if you please.
Continuing on we reached a branch in the trail. The left branch obviously led down to Indian Beach, where we could see folks frolicking about on the sand. A couple of gals were doing Yoga. The other trail presumably led to the beach also, but we decided weíd take the short route. It was an easy, short downhill dance through the ferns to reach the beach. We walked out to the water and walked up the beach on the firm, wet sand. Tons of folks were hanging out on the beach. Some were swimming, but the breeze was stiff and water cool, so most were hanging out well back from the water. Andra and I reached the parking area and decided to keep going up the trail towards Tillamook Head. The first time we hiked Tillamook Head, a thick cloudbank shrouded the higher elevations and prevented seeing anything more than 100 yards away. Consequently, I recall standing at some possibly wondrous overlooks of the ocean, but only seeing white water vapor. I wanted to see those again on such a clear day so we huffed and puffed up the steep trail leading to the Hikers Camp. We grew tired along the way, having left our house in Cheyenne this morning, in a later time zone at that, just about the times the bars were closing. We found a grassy clearing amongst the ferns 50 yards offtrail and laid down for a nap. Though I was able to doze lightly, I was aware that mosquitoes had found us, and were biting my legs. For awhile I was so tired I didnít care, but after 15 minutes I began to care. We resumed our hike shortly after.
We reached the hiker camp, and then took the short trail down to the overlook, which was pretty darn cool. In fact, I decided that it so quenched my desire to see the ocean from a high perch that, combined with my aching legs and my general desire to simply lay down a sleep for a few hours, we agreed to simply head back to the car without taking the extra miles to reach the top of Tillamook Head. Later I regretted that decision, but at the time I was too tired to give it much thought. Ah, the joys of jet lag.
We cruised down the trail at a fast clip, given the slope, and reached Indian Beach in short order. From there we took the well-groomed trail back towards Ecola Point, completing the hike. It is such an enjoyable route, I am sure my boots will tread that ground again in the years to come.
For further reading about
hiking at Tillamook Head, check out an earlier hike description from 2013
The trail affords frequent views through the trees to Indian Beach, Tillamook Head and the Tillamook Rock Lighthouse