A series of intense forest fires in the 1930s and 1940s burned vast amounts of land in the northern Coast Range. Most of this land was owned by private timber companies, who walked away from the seemingly worthless “Tillamook Burn,” leaving property rights to revert to the counties, who then handed the land over to the state.
A massive replanting effort ensued, and in 1973 the Tillamook Burn became the Tillamook State Forest. In 2006 the Tillamook Forest Visitor Center opened in a soaring timbered building in the middle of the once-burned, now-lush forest. Be sure to stop in to see the short movie about the area’s history; the vivid fire scenes are a bit frightening—a sensation that’s enhanced when the smell of smoke is released into the auditorium.
Don’t leave without walking out through the center’s back door, crossing the footbridge, and taking at least a short hike, where you’ll see an assortment of native wildflowers, shrubs, and trees. If you head west from the bridge, Wilson Falls is about two miles away.
If a short hike outside the Forest Center leaves you hankering for more, head east along Highway 6 to the Kings Mountain trailhead. On a clear day (ha!) there are good views from the top. Several more trails start at the summit of the Coast Range. The campgrounds along Highway 6, including Jones Creek, which is right next to the Tillamook Forest Center, are popular with off-road vehicle drivers, who have their own trail network back in the hills.
The Tillamook State Forest offers plenty of recreational opportunities. From a distance, the forest seems like a tree plantation, but hidden waterfalls, old railroad trestles from the days of logging trains, and moss-covered oaks in the Salmonberry River Canyon will convince you otherwise. Bird-watchers and mushroom-pickers can easily penetrate this thicket thanks to 1,000 miles of maintained roads and old railroad grades.
Two challenging trails off Highway 6, King Mountain, 25 miles east of Tillamook , and Elk Mountain, 28 miles east of Tillamook, climb through lands affected by the Tillamook Burn, but with scenic views throughout. Thanks to salvage logging in the wake of the disaster and subsequent replanting, myriad trails crisscross forests of Douglas and noble fir, hemlock, and red alder. Stop at the Tillamook Forest Visitor Center for maps and trail descriptions.