Clatsop Spit Loop Hike
From Portland Hikers Field Guide
- Start point: Clatsop Spit Trailhead
- End point: South Jetty
- Trail log:
- Hike Type: Loop
- Distance: 4.6 miles
- Elevation gain: 10 feet
- High Point: 10 feet
- Difficulty: Easy
- Seasons: year round
- Family Friendly: Yes
- Backpackable: No
- Crowded: No, except around parking areas
This hike along a beach is a very pleasant walk in good weather, not only for the vistas of river and ocean, but also the congregations of wildlife. Vast flocks of brown pelicans, Caspian terns, and double-crested cormorants congregate at the "bottleneck" that is the mouth of the Columbia to feed off of salmon smolts. In the flat sedge lands and thickets, look for elk and enjoy the views to Cape Disappointment and large freighters making their way to Portland.
When Lewis and Clark camped near here, the southern end of the mouth of the Columbia was at Point Adams, where the town of Hammond is now located - a few miles to the east. The area of this walk was in their time a mere shoal, completely submerged at the height of the tide. Since then, the construction of the South Jetty and the Columbia River dam system, as well as the dredging of a shipping channel, have conspired to thrust the coastline farther into the Pacific Ocean.
In geological terms, Clatsop Spit is in fact the entire sandy plain that extends north from Tillamook Head to the river mouth, the result of sediment deposits by the river itself since the last ice age. The dynamic ebb and flow of what was essentially a sand “desert” has been altered by trapping of sediments behind the dams, the building of the river mouth jetties, and the planting of dune grass, which has stabilized the landscape and allowed colonization by shore pine, Sitka spruce, willow, and wax-myrtle.
The spit lies wholly within Fort Stevens State Park. Begin the hike at Parking Lot D and walk to the wildlife viewing blind overlooking the tidal flats of Jetty Lagoon, also called Trestle Bay. The 6 ½ mile South Jetty stretches from Point Adams across the lagoon and is accompanied by the ruins of a wooden trestle, which carried the trains used in the jetty’s construction. Elk are often seen in the grasslands that verge on the lagoon and take shelter in the spit’s thickets. The world’s largest colony of Caspian terns breeds at the mouth of the Columbia; these and thousands of cormorants are major predators of salmon smolts as they enter the ocean. The birds have found a very comfortable, predator-free refuge on East Sand, a natural island augmented by spoilings from the dredging efforts in the shipping channel.
Walk counterclockwise from the flats on the lagoon along a wide beach. Cars are allowed here, but need to heed the tides. The spruce/shore pine thickets long this stretch are being eroded by the shifting dynamics of the river. There are views across the Columbia to Cape Disappointment and North Head and back to the city of Astoria and the Megler Bridge.
During the summer, many of the the 8,000 or so brown pelicans at the mouth of the Columbia will be stationed on sand bars near the South Jetty or winging their way over the waves. You may spot both seals and sea lions in the river. When you reach the jetty where it projects into the ocean, turn south to walk past Parking Lot C and a viewing platform. Then keep walking down the road. Complete the loop by turning left at the next road junction, marked “Columbia River” and head back to Lot D.
A non-loop option, slightly longer, would be to return from the jetty the way you came and back to Parking Lot D.
- Fort Stevens State Park Trail Guide & Historic Military Site (Oregon State Parks)
- Sky Island Graphics: Oregon Coast Area Trails
Fees, Regulations, etc.
- No fees. Dogs on leash.
- Search Trip Reports for Clatsop Spit
Related Discussions / Q&A
- Search Trail Q&A for Clatsop Spit
Guidebooks that cover this hike
- 100 Hikes/Travel Guide: Oregon Coast and the Coast Range by William L. Sullivan
- 120 Hikes on the Oregon Coast by Bonnie Henderson
- Day Hiking: Oregon Coast by Bonnie Henderson
- Oregon Hiking by Sean Patrick Hill
- Portland Hikes by Art Bernstein and Andrew Jackman
- bobcat (creator)