Oregon Hiking & Naturalist Programs With Theresa (T-) McCracken

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To give you an idea of the sorts of hikes I lead, here's the schedule I sent a group who hired me.


Theresa (T-) McCracken & Sammy @ The Wooden Throne on the Gwynn Creek Trail

Dear Hikers,

For years we’ve done a hiking Elderhostel (now Road Scholar) program where we only walk about four miles a day. Since you requested six challenging miles a day in two locations, Sammy (my nine-year-old mutt) and I scouted out some new trails. A couple aren’t ones I would usually take Elderhostelers (oops, Road Scholars) on unless they are really game. They’re very scenic, but pretty challenging. Even I was huffing and puffing on some of them and Sammy’s big pink tongue was hanging so low she practically tripped over it.

All the days but one have options so don’t worry. We can make this as challenging or as easy as you want. This is your vacation and we don’t want it to feel like a forced march.


Siletz River (½ mile one way, 1 mile round trip)

After you settle into the Inn At Spanish Head I’ll take those who are up for a short walk ½ mile down the beach to the river. With luck, we’ll be able to see through a scope some of the 200 seals that lounge on the opposite bank. I once tried to duct tape them there so our visitors would be guaranteed a sighting, but angry Greenpeace folks hit me over the head with a “Save the Whales” sign. I did mention that I have a warped sense of humor, didn’t I?

This is an easy enough walk that we do it during every program we hold at the Inn no matter its topic.


OPTION ONE: Hart’s Cove at Cascade Head (2.7 miles one way, 5.4 round trip)

This is my new favorite trail in Siuslaw National Forest. Unfortunately, it’s also one of the most difficult because the first ½ mile is very steep. Since this is at the very beginning of the hike, thoughts of having to hike back up do sort of linger in the back of one’s mind putting a bit of a pall on the rest of the hike. But OH, what a hike.

The next 1½ miles goes through old-growth forest with 400 to 500 year old trees. Many are ones that survived the massive fires we had 140 years ago and have burn scars to prove it. There are areas where some of these giants have fallen, toppling other trees as they crashed to earth and creating an impressive swath of destruction. As I always say, “Nature. It’s not necessarily pretty or for the faint of heart.” Around here it can take almost as long for a tree to decay as it took it to grow, so for another 400 years these trees will be nurse logs providing an all you can eat buffet for many creatures … but I digress.

The last .7 miles goes gradually down hill through a meadow over looking the ocean. You can hear sea lions barking in the distance and see interesting rock formations. At the very end of the trail you can see a waterfall that plunges into the ocean. It’s not a great waterfall, but it is the only waterfall I’ve ever seen that goes directly into the ocean.

Then, like the motto of jugglers, “What comes down, must go up.”

OPTION TWO: Cascade Head Nature Conservancy Trail (2 to 3 miles)

About a mile from the Hart’s Cove parking area is parking for a much easier relatively flat 1½-2 mile hike out to a meadow that over looks the ocean. When I hiked it two weeks ago it was really foggy on the ground but sunny on top. I was above the clouds looking down at birds flying. Pretty awesome! From the viewpoint one has two options: turning around and going back to the parking area or taking a mile-long trail down to a different parking area where I’d pick you up. That part of the trail is pretty narrow and steep, almost Billy goat like.

We’ve taken Elderhostelers (oops, Road Scholars) on the first part of the hike, but not the second part. Once we had a group go up and do some Tai Chi in the meadow. At one point they all had their hands in the air and to the casual observer probably looked like they were summoning the mother ship. Right at that moment the Coast Guard Helicopter flew by and then circled a couple of times to make sure we weren’t about to be abducted. I’d love to see the pilot’s log book for that day.

Day 3

Check out of the Inn at Spanish Head before heading to Drift Creek Falls Trail (1.5 miles one way, 3 miles round trip)

The trail is mostly down hill, but it’s a gradual incline. For those who want a little more than three miles, there’s a loop about 2/3 of the way down that can add a mile to the total hiked.

The pay off is a phenomenal pedestrian suspension bridge and a pretty good waterfall. I’m afraid that after you’ve seen Niagara and Victoria falls, no other falls will make you whisper in awe, “Oh my God,” or as youth today would say, “OMG!”

I did have an OMG moment, though, when I went last week, not because of the falls, but what had fallen off the falls just days earlier: a rock the size of my house.

I have taken a small group of women Road Scholars (got it right this time) on this trail. It wasn’t on the schedule as it was a writing program, but some participants asked if I’d take them on their afternoon off. None had too many difficulties with the hike.

After the hike we’ll head to Yachats and the Adobe Hotel, about an hour and a half south. We’ll be going through Newport. I don’t know if any of you are interested in doing any sight seeing there. We’ll be passing right by Yaquina Head Lighthouse and going through Newport, home to Oregon’s largest fishing fleet. The bay front is a working bay front, but there are lots of art galleries sandwiched in between the fish processing plants.

And I think our Bad Boys of the Bay are back. That’s what we call the group of male California sea lions that hang around the docks. These are wannabes. All the sea lions go south to mate, but life isn’t fair because all of them don’t get a chance to. A dominant male may have up to 12 females in his harem, leaving a lot of wannabes. They come back here every year around the start of football season and do a little male bonding and a lot of vocal commiserating, barking almost 24/7.

If you’re up for a short hike after you settle into the Adobe, we can go on the 804 Trail, a mile long trail that starts right at the hotel and goes along the rocky shore.

Day 4

Heceta Head Lighthouse and Lightkeepers’ house down to the Hobbit Trail (2 miles)

F.Y.I. Heceta is one of the few things I can talk about with some authority in that I used to live and work there, so if you’ve got any burning lighthouse questions, fire away.

Then we'll do the China Creek and the Hobbit Trail (4 mile loop)

First we hike north about 2 miles through relatively flat woods along a creek. Mid way there’s a .75 mile loop for those who want extra miles. We’ll come out at Washburn State Park and hike back north on the beach. To get back to the van we’ll take the Hobbit Trail. It’s a bit of a climb.

Day 5

Cape Perpetua is another of my old stomping grounds. I used to be the head naturalist there. That’s how I ended up working at Heceta. It fell under—and I’m not making this up—“other duties as assigned.” Long story.

OPTION ONE: String together a lot of short hikes: There’s a 2 to 3-mile loop that takes you from the Interpretive Center past rocky headlands to the Devil’s Churn and the Spouting Horn and then back to the center. It’s got some up and down, but thousands of people hike them every year.

From the visitor center there’s a pretty easy 1-mile trail (2-mile round trip) that takes you to The Giant Spruce, a 500-year-old spruce tree.

OPTION TWO: The Gwynne Creek Trail was my favorite trail before I saw the Hart’s Cove Trail. It’s a six-mile loop that, like the Hart’s Cove, has parts of it that go through old growth (eek, more forest). The downside of it is that the first 2½ miles is up hill. At least you get the hard part out of the way.

OPTION THREE: Do a little hiking and spend some time in the visitor center looking out at the million-dollar view.

No matter which option you choose, we’ll all drive to the top of the Cape, the highest point on the Oregon Coast. There’s a ½ mile loop trail up there that takes you to a Stone Shelter built by the CCC. There is also a 1.3-mile trail, the St. Perpetua Trail, that goes down the Cape to the campground. If any of you want to hike it, I’ll meet you down there with the van.

Day 6

This day is really up in the air.


Originally I had planned on taking you south to the Oregon Dunes Overlook Trail hiking the Tahkenitch Creek Trail (4.5 miles).

Of all the trails, this is the most challenging. I’ll confess that my calves ached the day after I hiked it. But it was also one of the most remarkable trails I’ve been on in that, well, gee, it’s almost indescribable. The part of the trail that goes through dunes (about 2 to 2½ miles of it) is surreal. I was alone on what seemed almost to be another planet.

One doesn’t have to do the whole 4½ miles, though. At the very beginning is a wonderful dune to do what my niece calls “Moon Walking”, leaping and skipping down as though the earth’s gravity was almost non-existent. Fortunately, there’s a moderately sloped paved trail to get back to the top because you would really feel gravity if you tried to climb back up this particular dune.

From there it’s a mile to the beach. The first ½ mile is tough because it’s through dunes, but the second ½ is easy in that it’s a trail through vegetation.

By the way, the beach has lots of shells and agates.

For those who want to do the whole 4½ miles, we’ll hike about a mile down the beach and then take a 2½ trail back through the dunes. The others can back track.

OPTION TWO: Sweet Creek Trail (1.5 miles one way, 3 miles round trip)

This is the trail we usually finish all our hiking programs with. It’s a short trail, but most people say it’s their favorite trail of the week. That’s probably because it’s the most beautiful. It’s all along a creek and there are 14 cascading waterfalls along the way. What more need I say?

OPTION THREE: Siltcoos Lake Trail (4 mile loop)

This is another of the trails we often take hikers on. It’s got a little up and down, but for the most part is flat and goes through cedar forest (eek, there’s that word again, forest).

Anyway, sorry if I rambled on, but I don’t want you to have any nasty surprises. Look forward to meeting you all.


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Theresa (T-) McCracken
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Waldport, Oregon 97394
(541) 351-1433

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