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Oregon vistas on volcanic rock

Tillamook Head, in coastal dairy country, offers views of Astoria and the mouth of the Columbia River.

August 17, 2003|John McKinney | Special to The Times

Tillamook is a name familiar to many travelers -- or to cheese lovers, anyway. Tillamook County in northern Oregon is dairy country. "Trees, cheese and ocean breeze" is the local chamber of commerce slogan.

For hikers, though, the name means something different. Tillamook Head is a rugged hunk of basalt, a volcanic curiosity of the Coast Ranges. The formation is positioned in such a way that it resists erosion by the relentless waves. From the point you have excellent views toward Astoria and the mouth of the Columbia River.

The headlands lie within Ecola State Park and are accessible by way of a splendid trail. The park takes its name from the Chinook word for "whale," and it's an excellent spot to observe migrating grays.

Another attraction is the Tillamook Rock Lighthouse, which sits on an island about a mile offshore. Terrible Tilly, as the lighthouse is known, was built around 1880 and has withstood storms that sent waves crashing over its top. The lighthouse was decommissioned in 1957. It's privately owned and is used as a columbarium.

The lovely coastal trail promises cheerier sights, winding through a lush forest of spruce, fir, salal and salmonberry. The path is wild and often wet, even in summer.

The trail roughly follows the route taken by Meriwether Lewis and William Clark in 1806. Lewis dubbed the headland Clark Mountain in honor of his colleague, but it later was renamed after the indigenous Tillamook.

I suggest starting your adventure by driving to Ecola State Park's south entrance. To get there, follow U.S. 101 north of Cannon Beach. About two miles from town, look for the turnoff for Ecola State Park. At the park entry station, pay the $3 day-use fee and drive to the picnic area near Ecola Point.

A bluff-top path serves terrific ocean views as it travels to Indian Beach. (You actually can start the hike by bypassing Ecola Point and driving 1 1/2 miles north to the parking area for Indian Beach.) Next, the trail climbs to a camp atop Tillamook Head. Another mile of walking brings you to a 1,000-foot-high viewpoint and a vista Clark declared "most pleasing" in his diary.

This is a good turnaround point for day hikers. An alternative, if you can arrange for a shuttle car, is to continue on the trail about three miles to the outskirts of Seaside. The path alternates between ancient forest and breathtaking open areas with superb views. To reach this northern trail head, follow U.S. 101 north to Seaside. Turn west on Avenue U, go two blocks and turn left on Edgewood Street, which soon becomes Sunset Boulevard. Continue 1 1/4 miles to the signed parking area.

John McKinney offers more tips at www.thetrailmaster.com.

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