Fort-To-Sea Trail – Fort Clatsop

We have officially started our 2016 hikes. As we have done for the past several years we headed to the Oregon Coast for our first hike of the year. Our goal this time was to hike the Fort-To-Sea Trail following a route initially blazed by Lewis and Clark in 1805 from Fort Clatsop to the ocean. Fort Clatsop was built near what is now the Lewis and Clark River and the Fort-To-Sea Trail was used by the expedition to gather salt by boiling saltwater. The area is now part of the Lewis and Clark National Historic Park complete with a replica of the original fort.

We decided to start our hike at the Sunset Beach Recreation Site near the ocean north of Gearhart, OR. From there we would take the trail to Fort Clatsop and back. Things got off to a rocky start at the trailhead when we found the restrooms devoid of toilet paper and discovered that I had not yet switched our toiletry supplies from my backpack to my daypack. After a quick trip back to Gearhart for supplies we were back at the trailhead and ready to begin.
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Before heading to Fort Clatsop we headed toward the ocean on the Fort-To-Sea Trail. There used to be a viewing deck overlooking the ocean 1/3 of a mile from the parking area but it has been removed leaving a sandy circle on the grassy dune.
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The Sun was still rising behind us creating some nice colors on the western horizon.
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After returning to the trailhead we headed inland toward Fort Clatsop which was 6.2 miles away. The first portion of the trail passed through storm damaged trees skirting several bodies of water. Ducks paddled about on the water as it reflected the colors of the sunrise.
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The path then led up and over a small sandy hill and down to an arched bridge over Neacoxie Lake.
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To the SE of the lake was the Astoria Country Club’s golf course, a popular morning stop for elk. We hadn’t seen any elk during our hikes in 2015, but on the far side of the course on a small hill were three.
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We watched them for a bit from the bridge as they made their way along the hillside.
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Beyond the bridge the trail passed through a mile and a half of pastures. The fenced route was well marked as the trail led to East Neacoxie Lake.
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Smaller than Neacoxie Lake, East Neacoxie Lake was full of wildlife. A pair of Bald Eagles watched over the many ducks and small birds enjoying the lake.
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The trail crossed this lake on a floating bridge.
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As we were making our way across something swam out from under the bank near the far end of the bridge. Our minds immediately went to otter or beaver, neither of which we have spotted yet during a hike. Instead it turned out to be a nutria, a large rat-like semiaquatic rodent considered an invasive species by the ODFW.
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The trail then led past a pioneer church and cemetery to an underpass of Highway 101.
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After passing under the highway and skirting another field we crossed the Skipanon River before heading into a forest.
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At the 4.7 mile mark we reached the Clatsop Ridge Overlook which was a nice ocean viewpoint with a picnic table and several benches.
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From the viewpoint the trail followed old roads down to the Fort Clatsop Visitor Center.
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We passed through the center and continued 100 yards to the replica fort.
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We were surprised at just how small a structure the fort was especially considering it was home to 33 people for 106 days. We spent some time poking around the fort and checking out the other nearby displays.
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A 200 yard path led from the fort down to the site of the expedition’s canoe landing.
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We could have turned back here and retraced our steps, but the park has several other trails which allow for various loop options. From the canoe landing we followed the Netul Trail south along the river. Part of the year a shuttle bus stop along this trail allows hikers to ride back to the fort or back to Sunset Beach. We were heading for the South Slough Trail though which we could take back to the Fort-To-Sea Trail. This trail loop around a slough filled with ducks and a couple of red-tailed hawks.
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The South Slough Trail was the only trail marked as difficult on the park maps. It headed steeply uphill from the Netul Trail but the climb didn’t last long. The trail wound around the slough to a signed junction with the only real viewpoint of the trail.
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From this junction we could take the Lower South Slough Trail downhill to the Fort-To-Sea Trail about a half mile from the Visitor Center, or the Upper South Slough Trail which would meet the Fort-To-Sea Trail closer to a mile from the center. We took the upper option and made our way back to the Fort-To-Sea Trail and then took a second detour. Earlier that day just after entering the forest there was a signed trail forking left from the Fort-To-Sea Trail. It was named the Kwis Kwis Trail and it wasn’t shown in our guidebook or on any of the park maps we’d seen. The park maps did show a trail by that name but that trail showed as a wide arc leading from the Fort-To-Sea Trail near the junction with the Upper South Slough Trail and rejoining the Fort-To-Sea Trail about a third of a mile from the Visitor Center. Given the name and the fact that the signage for the mystery trail matched those of the park we theorized that it was a newer trail. We had also spotted sections of trail from the Fort-To-Sea Trail on the way up to the overlook which we suspected to be part of this trail.

From the Upper South Slough Trail junction we headed east on the Fort-To-Sea Trail to the signed Kwis Kwis Trail junction.
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This trail also followed an old roadbed. After winding downhill for a little more than .3 miles we spotted a sign for the Kwis Extension.
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We turned up this path which ran roughly parallel to the Fort-To-Sea Trail at a lower elevation. This was indeed the path we had seen earlier. A nice long boardwalk traversed a large marshy area before rejoining the Fort-To-Sea Trail in the forest near the Skipanon River.
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From there we retraced our steps along the Fort-To-Sea Trail to the Sunset Beach Trailhead. Later we learned the Kwis Kwis Trail Extension was completed in 2014. The scenery and wildlife along the trails were both quite varied, and the history surrounding the area made it a very interesting hike. The various loops and trail distances make this a great option for hikers of any age. Happy Trails!

Flickr: https://www.flickr.com/photos/9319235@N02/albums/72157662826694040