Cascade Head

View from Cascade Head

  • Easy (from upper trailhead)

  • 2 miles round trip

  • 160 feet elevation loss

  • Moderate (from lower trailhead)

  • 4.2 miles round trip

  • 1200 feet elevation gain

Cascade Head’s panoramic, blufftop wildflower meadows were threatened by commercial development in the 1960s, but fans of the wild headland rallied to raise funds for the non-profit Nature Conservancy to purchase the fragile area for preservation. Ironically, the impact of up to 30,000 nature-loving visitors a year now threatens the meadows’ ecology, so please stay on the trail and follow the visotr use guidelines to help preserve this special place.

Dogs, drones, flower picking, hunting, camping, fires, and bicycles have been banned. The Forest Service road leading to the easy, upper trailhead to the headland meadows is closed six months of the year (see Harts Cove Hike) to protect threatened wildlife. If you hike here from the lower trailhead (open all year), please stay on the trail. Even spreading out a picnic may inadvertently trample the meadow’s rare checkermallows (5-petaled pink wildflowers) or the violets that serve as food for rare Oregon silverspot butterfly caterpillars. You might also consider hiking the much quieter Cascade Head Rainforest Trail instead, a woodsy route that lacks ocean views but avoids the fragile meadows.

If you’re taking the Nature Conservancy Trail to the headland meadows from the lower, all-year trailhead, drive Highway 101 north 1 mile from the interchange where highways 101 and 18 join (just north of Lincoln City). Then turn left on Three Rocks Road for 2.3 miles and turn left on Savage Road 100 yards to the parking lot of the Knight Park boat ramp, and turn left again into the trailhead parking area on the north end of the park.

From the trailhead kiosk at the north end of Knight Park, the trail crosses Three Rocks Road and traverses the woods beside Savage Road. Stay on the trail because this section crosses private land and the road itself has local car traffic. After 0.4 mile you’ll end up along the road to the old trailhead, where parking is strictly prohibited. From this old trailhead, the path climbs into a forest of large, gnarled spruce for 1.1 mile to a meadow with a breathtaking view across the Salmon River estuary. In the distance are Cape Foulweather and Lincoln City’s Devils Lake. Then the path steepens and climbs 0.6 mile to an upper viewpoint, the turnaround spot.

If you’d prefer a less crowded, more challenging hike at Cascade Head, instead try the Oregon Coast Trail through the inland rainforest. To find this path from the junction of Highways 101 and 18 (just north of Lincoln City) drive 1 mile north on Highway 101, turn left at Three Rocks Road, and immediately park by a sign for the Rainforest Trail on the right. The path switchbacks uphill through a forest of big Sitka spruces with pink salmonberry, red thimbleberry, and clusters of red elderberry in summer. In spring look for white trilliums, oxalis, and wild lily-of-the-valley. Much of the trail follows ancient roadbeds, regrown with alder. Expect a few muddy spots and some distant highway noise.

This portion of the Oregon Coast Trail is entirely within the Cascade Head Experimental Forest, where logging-oriented research has cut many of the area’s old-growth trees. A stately grove of 6-foot-thick Sitka spruce remains in a hidden glen where springs feed the headwaters of Calkins Creek, 2.9 miles along the trail. A boardwalk crosses a skunk cabbage dale here.

After 3.6 miles you’ll reach gravel Road 1861. The Oregon Coast Trail continues another 2.4 miles, but there isn't yet a good trailhead parking area at the north end of the trail, so it's recommended that you turn around here.

This chapter taken from the book 100 Hikes: Oregon Coast.