Kings Mountain is located in the Tillamook Forest between Portland and the coast. It’s a strenuous hike but the views from the peak are dramatic and sweep from Mt. Hood to the Pacific Ocean. Starting in 1933 until 1951, a series of forest fires which became known as the Tillamook Burn, devastated over 355,000 acres of old growth virgin forest, composed mostly of Doug fir, western red cedar, hemlock and Sitka spruce with an estimate age range from 150 to 400 years.
Oregon voters approved a bond for restoration and protection and in 1949 work began to build access roads, snags were felled, and timber was salvaged. Reforestation work began in the 1950’s, 60’s and early 70’s, resulting in a forest mostly of Doug fir that was hand planted or aerial seeded. (Over 36 tons of doug fir seeds and 72 million 2-year old seedlings). In 1973, Governor Tom McCall dedicated the burn area as the new Tillamook State Forest.
The trailhead is located at the east end of the parking lot and immediately we are plunged into a dense, moist forest of second growth doug fir. The under story is lush and thick with western sword ferns, trilliums, wild lily of the valley, coolwort, and carpets of oxalis. I have never seen a sword fern forest so thick. The trail is well marked and easy to follow as it winds its way slowly uphill. There are not as many switchbacks as on other trails we have hiked, so consequently it is a bit steeper, but we take our time knowing we have a challenge ahead of us. (Don’t be afraid of this trail even though it is steep, just take your time, take lots of breaks, drink your water and eat your snacks.)
After about 3/4 mile we come to a fork in the trail, an old logging road heads off to the left but the trail continues to the right. As we climb higher, the forest becomes less dense; the vegetation is not as moist. It’s drier with bracken fern and lupine replacing the sword fern forest, and the old growth stumps become more evident.
As we take a water break, two very friendly gray jays fly close to us to see if we have any food to offer them. They are very tame birds and are attracted to campsites were they notoriously snatch as much food as possible. We chose a good day for this hike, as the weather is cool with a slight mist. The wildflowers and shrubs are abundant and continue to change as we gain in elevation. Oregon grape, Indian paintbrush, bear grass, wood violet and penstemon, all in full bloom. We come to a ridge with a fantastic view to the west of the coast range and the valleys below, so we take a short break to admire it, have a snack and rest our legs a bit.
The trail continues and we climb still higher. There are a few places where we have to scramble up through rock beds and it’s very steep. Here I will advise good sturdy boots with a good tread, and I am thankful I have mine on! The trail leads out of the forest onto the southeast side of the mountain. Once again, the views are amazing, but this time to the south and east.
Spreading phlox and other low growing wildflowers are all in bloom. It’s a carpet of color on this rocky, windy slope. From here, it’s a short scramble to the top up a steep gravel trail but it’s exciting because we are nearly to the summit! (The gravel is loose so be careful going downhill). At the summit of this rocky volcanic peak, you can see a 360 view of the Tillamook Forest. It’s a bit windy so the vegetation is lower to the ground. There is a plaque nailed to a short tree with the elevation marked at 3,226 ft.
After a nice long lunch break we head down the mountain, taking careful steps in the gravel areas. It’s all down hill and if you like to use a walking stick, this would be a good hike to bring one.
Take your time, please don’t rush it. There is so much to see and I notice plants and flowers I missed on the way up: starry Solomon seal, wild ginger, windflower and a huge patch of queens cup that is not blooming yet. Remember to bring lots of water, especially as the weather warms up and take as many breaks as you need. Pack snacks and wear shoes with a good tread.
How To Get There:
From Salem, head west across the Marion St Bridge and over the Willamette River. Take the ramp for West Salem/Edgewater/ Wallace Rd. Keep right at the fork, heading north on Wallace Rd towards Dayton. Just after the Wheatland Ferry, take the left turn onto Lafayette HWY/ OR-154. Head north for approximately 11 miles and when you reach Lafayette, take a left onto Third Street/99W. You’ll be heading west on 99W, take a right onto OR-47 towards Carlton and Yamhill. Pass through Carlton, Yamhill, and continue on to Forest Grove. When you reach Forest Grove, take a left onto B Street and after one mile, another left onto OR-8. Traveling northwest on OR-8, passing through the very small community of Gales Creek (where the first forest fire started in 1933), you’ll come to a junction for OR-6. Turn left here onto OR-6, and head towards the coast. Just east of milepost 25 there will be a brown hiker sign and a large parking lot on the right side of the road. This trip takes approximately 2 hours and you’ll drive 82 miles.
Distance and Elevation Gain:
Okay, this is definitely one of the steepest hikes I have ever done, but it is well worth the trip. It’s not really “kid friendly” or especially dog friendly unless you have an energetic, young, healthy pup. It is steep, and at times, you are scrambling up rocks. It’s 5.5 miles round trip and 2,780 feet in elevation gain.
Fees and Permits:
There are no fees or permits and there is a very nice bathroom at the parking lot. No mountain bikes allowed. If you bring your dog, remember to pack water for him/her too. The mountain trail can be climbed year round, weather permitting but the best time to go is during the spring wild flower show. Camping is permitted at the nearby Elk Creek Campground