Out Our Back Door By Tom Baake
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Keep (mostly) Dry Feet On Coastal Forest Walk
By Tom Baake
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Mention the Oregon Dunes and most people, not surprisingly, think of sand. But there’s more to “Dunes Country” than sand, especially as anyone who wanders out there in this particularly rainy season can attest. While some areas have always gotten flooded, it seems even vaster stretches are inundated this winter.

The dunes are cut through by rivers that run all year round and are especially robust right now. As might be expected, Dunes Country lakes are also getting filled up.

But beyond sand and water are wide swaths of coastal forest, logged in earlier days but allowed to grow back since the creation of the Oregon Dunes National Recreation Area (ODNRA). Some of those trees are getting pretty big!

Which leads us to this week’s challenge, set off by a friend who complained about dealing with flooded conditions. “I can’t even go to the beach without having to jump across little streams coming down,” she said. “Is there anyplace that isn’t half underwater?”

“How about the trail from Tahkenitch to Three Mile Lake?” I said. “There are only those little springs and seeps along the way.”

“Famous last words,” she said. So off we went to the ODRNA Tahkenitch Campground and Day-Use area halfway between Reedsport and Florence on US 101.

As it turned out, I was mostly correct, although the seeps and springs had muddied the trails more than usual, and there were downed branches and even a steep “sandfall” across the trail at one point. As agreed, we passed up a couple of potential ways to get to the beach as they would’ve involved dealing with deeply flooded places. We were, after all, trying to prove the possibility of a dry-footed expedition this time of year. If anyplace could fit the bill, Tahkenitch could.

Getting There

From the intersection of US 101 and Highway 38 in Reedsport, we went north on US 101 about 7.7 miles and turned left (W) into seasonal USFS Tahkenitch campground, and parked in the day-use area. A $5 day-use pass or annual permit is required.

An interpretive sign noted this Sitka spruce and Douglas fir forest was last logged in the 1920s, and is now protected as part of the ODNRA. A variety of wildlife abounds, from pine martens and red-headed woodpeckers to rough-skinned newts and reclusive mammals.

The trail from the parking area headed immediately uphill, following a wooded canyon above US 101. While firmly-packed, much-trodden and well-maintained, the trail also carries rain runoff right down the middle in a few places, so some muddy and eroded parts had to be negotiated.

My companion was muttering.

“This doesn’t count,” I said hopefully.

We soldiered on.

At 0.25 mile the trail forked, with a sign indicating the way to the right to the dunes and beach. We went left, following the sign to Three Mile Lake, appropriately enough about 3 miles from this spot. Distant traffic noise began to fade and with every turn we seemed farther removed from the sights and sounds of civilization.

The trail was a narrow ribbon through a robust understory of rhododendron, huckleberry, salal, salmonberry, red currant, waxmyrtle, ferns all sizes and luxuriant carpets of almost-fluorescent moss, while fine old trees crowded all around. Hard to believe we were just a couple of ridgelines from the busy highway, and that the Pacific Ocean was close by to the west – the setting could easily have been up in the Cascades somewhere.

The trail reached its high point about halfway along, where a bench provided respite. The descent that followed came with brief views of Three Mile Lake to the south. And then here it was, crossed by a wooden bridge over its farthest northern reach. The trail made a final uphill push to unveil a fantastic seaward panorama, with dunes and shorepine forest in the foreground, and the lake stretching what seemed like miles into the mist to the south.

An old campsite amidst wind-sculpted trees afforded more views and also served as our turnaround point, although as noted it would’ve been possible to continue to the beach – albeit with some deep wading!

We had, however, remained mostly dry, and would stay that way on the return, again enjoying this special slice of coastal wonderland known as Tahkenitch.

(Shopper columnist Tom Baake is author of regional guidebooks.) 
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