Tillamook Head National Recreation Trail
From the south end of Seaside, walk in the footsteps of Lewis and Clark on an exhilarating hike over Tillamook Head. In January 1806, neighboring Native Americans told of a beached whale lying several miles south of their encampment. William Clark and a few companions, including Sacagawea, set off in an attempt to find it and trade for blubber and whale oil, which fueled the expedition’s lanterns.
Climbing Tillamook Head from the north, the party crested the promontory. Clark was moved enough by the view to later write about it in his journal:
I beheld the grandest and most pleasing prospect which my eyes ever surveyed. Immediately in front of us is the ocean breaking in fury. To this boisterous scene the Columbia with its tributaries and studded on both sides with the Chinook and Clatsop villages forms a charming contrast, while beneath our feet are stretched the rich prairies.
They eventually found the whale, south of Tillamook Head. Ecola Point and State Park here are named for it, after the Chinook word for whale, ecola or ekkoli. By the time Clark arrived, however, the whale had been reduced to little more than a skeleton by the industrious Tillamooks, who used every part of the beast they could harvest.
Clark measured the leviathan at 105 feet, which, if accurate, could only mean it was a blue whale, the largest animal on earth and an extraordinary windfall for the Native Americans. He found the Tillamooks busily engaged in boiling the blubber in a large wooden trough by means of hot stones. The oil, when extracted, was stored in bladders.
He had to bargain hard for a share, and he wrote this of the negotiations:
The Tillamooks, although they possessed large quantities of this blubber and oil, were so penurious that they disposed of it with great reluctance, and in small quantities only; insomuch that my utmost exertions, aided by the party, with the small stock of merchandise I had taken with me, were not able to procure more blubber than about 300 pounds and a few gallons of oil. Small as this stock is, I prize it highly; and thank Providence for directing the whale to us; and think Him much more kind to us than He was to Jonah having sent this monster to be swallowed by us, instead of swallowing of us, as Jonah’s did.
Today, you can experience the view that so impressed Clark on the Tillamook Head National Recreation Trail, which runs seven miles through Ecola State Park. Prior to setting out, you could arrange to have a friend drive south to Indian Beach to pick you up at the end of this 3–5-hour trek. Or you can be picked up another mile south at the Ecola Point parking lot.
Getting to Tillamook Head National Recreation Trail
To get to the Tillamook Head National Recreation Trail from Seaside, drive south, following Avenue U past the golf course to Edgewood Street, and turn left; continue until you reach the parking lot at the end of the road.
As you head up the forested trail on the north side of Tillamook Head, look back over the Seaside town site. In about 20 minutes, you’ll be gazing down at the ocean from cliffs 1,000 feet above. A few hours later, you’ll hike down onto Indian Beach.
by Judy Jewell and W. C. McRae from Moon Oregon, 8th Edition, © Elizabeth & Mark Morris and Avalon Travel