Elk Mountain and Elk Creek Campground

Oregon's Northern Coast Range— tillamook State Forest

2011 Elk Mountain

Western vista from Elk Mountain

Elk Creek campground and the Elk Mountain trailhead are located at milepost 28 on the Wilson River Highway (aka Hwy. 26) about 10 miles west of Gales Creek, which makes it a nifty hike for restless Portlanders who need to work off a little stress.

It’s a short, but aggressive hike and climb with an elevation gain of about 1500 ft. in just over a mile and a half.  At least a third of the trail is a scramble through rock … not quite as convenient as stairsteps but not bad.  Just steep and demanding. There’s lots of opportunity to make a misstep you’ll regret.  Less than 10% of the hike is flat or gently sloping. Take plenty of water as there is no access to water anywhere along the trail. (There's a water pump at the campground.)

The trail is well marked and in good shape due to the efforts of the Mazamas, who maintain it as a training trail, which should also be a clue as to its nature.

The Elk Mountain trail is just over 3.2 miles from trailhead to summit and back, but you can proceed to either King’s Mountain or the Elk Creek trail for a longer trek. The King’s Mountain trail takes you to the King’s Mountain trailhead at milepost 25 on the Wilson River highway with a return loop via the 3.5 mile Wilson River trail to the Elk Creek trailhead. A second option loops from Elk Mountain summit to the Elk Creek trail for a total trip of about 7 miles.

Each hike has its challenges and inherent dangers, so being prepared is essential. Take adequate water and food, a first aid kit, and map. Don’t expect your cell phone to work despite the relatively short distance to civilization — chances are it won’t. I took trekking poles, which were often helpful, but sometimes just got in the way when climbing. They were generally useful though and saved my pitiful knees, especially on the descent. (Having started late, I was serious about getting to the trailhead before losing too much light ... bad planning on my part.)

Much of the trail follows the ridgeline or crosses the face of rock outcroppings with substantial drops to the valley floor. If you have issues with heights, you might have more of a challenge than one of your more intrepid friends. Fear not … just watch your footing and you’ll be fine.

Your reward for the effort is measured in sweat (lots) and some really fine vistas of the Coast Range. At Elk Mountain’s summit, you can see the Pacific Ocean and, weather permitting, you can also see Mt. Hood to the east.

About the only negative is the traffic noise from the highway. It's moderately intrusive until you gain substantial altitude.

  • Details
  • Getting There
  • Map

Permits & Passes: $5 per night for camping.

Camp sites: Limited ... 14 walk-in sites and a central parking area. There are no reservations and it's first come, first served. Sites are restricted to 8 people and 2 vehicles per site.

Amenities: Vault toilets. With respect to the hike, pack everything out. There is water at the campground, but none on the hike ... bring what you need.

Activities: Mountain and trail hiking. Elk Creek runs along one side of the campground and is wadeable but not really swimmable. Hiking trails include Elk Mountain, Elk Creek, and and for longer walks, Wilson River and King Mountain trails.

Season: Camping from May through September. Hiking year around though winter weather could force complete closure.

From Portland, head west on Sunset Highway (26W) to the Banks/Tillamook (Wilson River - Highway 6) turn off. Travel west on Hwy 6 to milepost 28 for the Elk Creek campground. During the summer months you can drive into the campground and will need to pay park fees. From October to May, the campground is closed but parking is available at the gate. The walk to the trailhead is less than 1/4 mile.

Elk Creek Campground map

Disclaimer: The trail map shown here is for information only. For accurate, up-to-date information, visit the ranger station at Detroit Lake for Forest Service maps.

Related links

Tillamook State Forest — Elk Creek Campground— Includes info for both Elk Creek campground and Elk Mountain trail.