The Ecosystems and Trails of Cascade Head
By Laura Swanson
Published: 06/11/2010  Updated: 08/15/2019

Hike the nature trails and experience the experimental forest and scenic research area at Oregon's Cascade Head

From sea level to 1750 feet, Cascade Head juts between Neskowin and Lincoln City on the central Oregon coast. Often creating its own weather, this spectacular coastal headland was established as an "experimental forest" of 11,890 acres in 1934 for scientific study of Sitka Spruce-Western Hemlock forest.

In 1974, an act of Congress established the 9,670-acre Cascade Head Scenic Research Area that includes part of the experimental forest, several prairie headlands, the Salmon River estuary to the south and contiguous private lands. The US Forest Service works in partnership with The Nature Conservancy to protect and manage the wildlife, the land and the trails systems on Cascade Head. George Buckingham, head ranger based at the Hebo Ranger Station, notes that the official designation documents state the purpose: "To promote a more ­sensitive relationship between man and his ­adjacent environment."

Cascade Head's variety of ecosystems are home to over 350 species of wildlife, including four federally-­listed endangered species (Spotted Owl, Marbled Murrelet, Coho Salmon and the Oregon ­Silver Spot butterfly.) The butterfly is known to only five other locations in the world, and depends on a single plant species, the early blue violet (which grows in coastal grasslands, such as on Cascade Head) to serve as food for its larvae. This is a haven for rare plants, wildflowers and native prairie grasses. The basalt headland's name comes from the cascades that pour off its cliffs into the ocean.

There are three trailheads that access the meadow viewpoints of this huge headland. The Harts Cove Trail descends about 900 feet in elevation through the coastal rain forest, crosses two seasonal creeks and ends at a ­prairie headland overlooking the Pacific Ocean. This 2.7-mile trail is open from July 16 through December 31.

There are two trailheads for the six-mile inland Cascade Head trail that runs north to south in the Sitka Spruce-Western Hemlock rain forest that has been studied by foresters since 1934. Less crowded than the popular headland trail, this hike has plenty to view, from the Three Rocks Road trailhead, through gnarled spruce to a meadow with a breathtaking view across the Salmon River estuary. Mid-way on the trail near the headwaters of Calkins Creek, there remains a grove of six-foot diameter Sitka Spruce. Access the trail from Three Rocks Road or at the north end Falls Creek Trailhead. The south section of the trail from the Three Rocks trailhead to Road 1861 will be brushed out, trees removed and should be re-opened for summer hiking; the north section will require much more large tree removal and they do not have a schedule for re-opening this section. Hikers should check the website for updated information or call the Hebo Ranger Stations for updates.

While the trails at Cascade Head nature preserve are indeed a ­hiker's delight, due to the sensitivity of the endangered species' in the area, ­hikers are asked to leave their pets at home and to stay on the trails at all times. For more information about trail conditions, contact the Hebo ranger station at (503) 392-1500 or visit the US Forestry Service website at
The Ecosystems and Trails of Cascade Head