written by Amira Makansi
There is something alluring about the idea of hiking from one place to another without interruption. From the Pacific Crest to the Continental Divide to the Appalachian, hikers in America have tested their mettle against trails that span thousands of miles and traverse the breadth of the country. But you need not walk from Mexico to Canada or Georgia to Maine to achieve the sense of satisfaction that comes from crossing a great distance on your own two feet. Soon, hikers will be able to walk from the heart of the Willamette Valley to the Oregon Coast on a 60-mile stretch of uninterrupted trail.
The Corvallis-to-the-Sea Trail Partnership has finished construction on the first half of a trail that will lead—as the name indicates—from downtown Corvallis through the coastal mountain range and finish at the Oregon Coast just north of Seal Rock. Parts of the trail will be accessible to equestrians and bicyclists as well. At present, only the first 30 miles have been built, much of them along existing bike paths, sidewalks and county roads. But in the fall of 2018 the trail partnership received a twenty-year permit from the U.S. Forest Service to build and maintain the latter half of the trail, and the partnership expects to open the second half no later than the spring of 2020.
“There’s that sensation of nearing the coast on your own two legs,” said Gary Chapman, president of the Corvallis-to-the-Sea Trail Partnership. “You can smell it, you can feel it in the air. Arriving at the coast, taking your boots off, walking in the surf. It’s a definitive experience.” To him, the idea of being able to walk out his door in Corvallis and onto a stretch of trail that leads through the vast, largely unknown history of the coastal mountains and arrive at the end point of America, flush with saline air and salt spray—that is magic.
I wanted a taste of that magic. Like most Oregonians with a thirst for the outdoors, my summer months are spent with my camping gear in my car, my backpack neatly packed, my camp stove and camera always ready to go. So, one three-day weekend in September, I drove to Corvallis to do a day hike of the Corvallis-to-the-Sea trail with an old friend. The section we picked is a part of the Corvallis watershed, paralleling Woods Creek Road. The territory is all protected growth.
The light filtered through the trees, pale yellow and evanescent green in the dry season of this temperate rainforest. My companion, a longtime Corvallis resident and an avid backpacker, identified trees and plants as we walked. The biodiversity astounded me. Vine maple, salal, ocean spray and myriad edible berries—black cap raspberry, trailing blackberry, filberts, elderberry, salmonberry, rosehips, Oregon grape, thimbleberry and huckleberry—bunched together in the undergrowth with sword and maidenhead ferns, arrowhead plants and wood sorrel (I couldn’t stop snacking on those lemony leaves). All were watched over from above by Douglas fir, hemlock, oak and alder.
The Corvallis-to-the-Sea trail doesn’t have the same sweeping vistas or grand mountains you’d find in the Cascades. But it has two distinct advantages. First—for many, it’s close. Residents of Corvallis can be in the wild sections of the trail in ten to fifteen minutes, and from the surrounding areas it might take you an hour. Second—it’s less crowded. As anyone who has visited the Cascades in recent years knows, the sweeping vistas and grand mountains draw crowds, from PCT thru-hikers to ambitious Instagram photographers to Portlanders in various shades of Subaru. Not so with the C2C. My hiking buddy and I spent half a day on the trail and saw exactly four other people—all walking a different trail, up to the summit of Mary’s Peak. That was on one of the most accessible stretches. Farther into the Coast Range, I would have been surprised to see a single soul.
There’s more than meets the eye on this trail, with or without a knowledgeable plant guide to inform your hike. “There’s a lot of history out there,” Chapman said. “Much of the trail goes across old homesteads [from the nineteenth century] that have been lost because people couldn’t make any money out there. Those lands eventually became national forest.” Look carefully and you might find evidence of Oregon’s early homesteaders, whose tenacity contributed so much of the character of this state—and, in the search, you may happen across a patch of tasty mushrooms. In either case, you’ll be the richer for it.