You’ll find incredibly scenic hiking in the area around Carl Washburne State Park, 14 miles north of Florence on U.S. 101. At the southern end of the park is the Hobbit Trail, which winds 0.4 miles through dense forest thickets of pine, fir, and rhododendrons to the three-mile-long beach. From the same trailhead, a trail takes off uphill to the Heceta Head lighthouse. In its 1.75-mile run, the trail gains quite a bit of elevation and passes some outstanding viewpoints.
Also starting at the same U.S. 101 parking area, the China Creek Trail (a.k.a. the Valley Trail) runs 1.7 miles on the east side of the highway through a series of elk meadows to the Washburne campground. The parking area for all these hikes is on the east side of U.S. 101. It’s also possible to park in the day-use lot across the highway from the campground, catch the Valley Trail near the campground entrance, and hike to the Hobbit and Heceta Head Trails.
Up the North Fork of the Siuslaw River is the Pawn Old-Growth Trail, a half-mile pathway through 9-foot-thick 275-foot-tall Douglas fir and hemlock trees that are several hundred years old. The trailhead, located at the confluence of the North Fork of the Siuslaw and Taylor’s Creek, is a good place to see salmon spawning in the fall and observe water ouzels (also called dippers). The trail follows the creek and offers interpretive placards along the way.
At one point in the trail, visitors walk through fallen Douglas fir logs 21 feet in diameter. Placards explain the science of tree rings. From Florence, take Highway 126 east for one mile, then turn north onto Forest Road 5070 and take it 12 miles to Forest Road 5084; stay right and go another five miles to the trailhead.
An excellent and not terribly difficult introduction to dune hiking can be found about 10 miles south of Florence at the Oregon Dunes Day-Use Area. The Overlook Beach Trail runs for about a mile from a viewing platform to the beach. Follow the blue-topped wooden posts that mark the trail through the sand. To turn this into a more strenuous 3.5-mile loop, continue one mile south along the beach and head back inland (again following the posts) along the more rugged Tahkenitch Creek Loop. Find the turnoff from U.S. 101 near milepost 201.
Another good place to explore the dunes is along Carter Dunes Trail and Taylor Dunes Trail. Carter Dunes Trail starts near Carter Lake and heads west 1.5 miles to the beach. The first half of the mile-long Taylor Dunes Trail is wheelchair accessible; the trail passes some of the oldest (and gnarliest) conifers in the area. Both of these trails are good places to view wildlife, especially in the winter and spring, when the dunes take on wetland characteristics. The two trails link up, forming a Y rather than a loop. The turnoff for both trails is 7.5 miles south of Florence. Carter Lake also has a campground.
Hike the Waxmyrtle Trail along the Siltcoos River; the 1.5-mile trail travels along the estuary and ends up at the beach. The trail is closed March 15–September 15 to protect nesting snowy plover. This is a good spot for bird-watching. Find the trailhead near the Waxmyrtle campground about eight miles south of Florence at the Siltcoos Recreation Area.
by Judy Jewell and W. C. McRae from Moon Oregon, 8th Edition, © Elizabeth & Mark Morris and Avalon Travel