Cascade Head

View from Cascade Head

  • Moderate (from lower trailhead)
  • 4.2 miles round trip
  • 1200 feet elevation gain

  • Moderate (inland trail)
  • 3.6 miles one way
  • 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 purchase the fragile area and donate it to the non-profit Nature Conservancy for preservation. Ironically, the impact of up to 10,000 nature-loving visitors a year now threatens the meadows’ ecology.

Flower picking, hunting, camping, fires, bicycles, and dogs have been banned. The easy, upper trailhead to the headland meadows is closed six months of the year (see Harts Cove Hike) to protect threatened Oregon silverspot butterfly caterpillars. 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 the rare caterpillars. You might also consider hiking the much quieter Cascade Head Inland Trail instead, a woodsy bypass 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.

From 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. 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 trail sign 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 once continued another 2.4 miles, but this northern portion was so damaged by storms that it has been abandoned. Long-distance hikers now must follow Road 1861 to the right 1.2 miles and hike the shoulder of busy Highway 101 north 4 miles to Neskowin.

This chapter taken from the book 100 Hikes/Travel Guide: Oregon Coast & Coast Range.