YACHATS — Old-growth forest, ocean views and solitude.
Those three elements usually make for a great hike, and that’s certainly the case in the mist-shrouded canyon of Gwynn Creek south of Cape Perpetua and Yachats.
The Cape Perpetua area is best-known for highlights right off Highway 101 — Devil’s Churn, Thor’s Well and the Spouting Horn — but there are miles of less-traveled pathway that wind into the primeval forests of this rugged headland.
One of the best places to experience these hidden canyons is a loop that combines Cook’s Ridge, Gwynn Creek and the Oregon Coast trails on a challenging tour of 6.2 miles with 1,300 feet of gain.
The hike begins at the Cape Perpetua Visitor’s Center, a good place to get maps and orient yourself with the area. There’s a $5 parking fee unless you have a Northwest Forest Pass.
The trail starts from the large parking lot and heads uphill at a steady clip on Cook’s Ridge Trail, climbing over 1,000 feet in 2.7 miles. The first stretch of trail is pleasant enough, and features a few huge sitka spruce trees but is probably the least impressive aspect of the hike.
That’s OK, because the final two-thirds of the hike is outstanding.
From Cook’s Ridge, jump onto Gwynn Creek Trail and head downhill into a lush old-growth forest of massive Douglas fir and sitka spruce trees. The vegetation is thick here, and from August to November, this is apparently a great place to hunt for golden chanterelle mushrooms.
The trees only get larger and denser the closer you get to actual Gwynn Creek, which you can hear rolling in the forest below.
The final stretch of trail turns right on the Oregon Coast Trail and heads a mile back to the visitor’s center. Multiple viewpoints in the forest take in sights of the ocean and Cape Perpetua to the north, and although Highway 101 is just below, you barely notice.
My favorite part about this loop is that it builds upon itself. The scenic quality of this loop improves with each mile. And while this loop won’t make any top-five lists of the best Oregon Coast trails, the old-growth forest, ocean views and solitude make it a trip worth taking.