South of Pacific City, near the tiny community of Oretown, a partially-forested hill rises above the confluence of the Nestucca and Little Nestucca Rivers. Historically known as Cannery Hill, this habitat-rich prominence is now part of the 1202-acre Nestucca Bay Wildlife Refuge.
We stopped at the refuge some years back, glanced at the (then-empty) pastureland and saw what could have been an amazing hilltop view (we assumed; the hill was fogged in). We drove away. But birds come and go at their own whims, fog doesn't stay forever, and we have since returned to the refuge. It is a beautiful, peaceful place, known for sightings of Aleutian cackling geese and silverspot butterflies, as well as less-rare creatures such as black-tailed deer and peregrine falcons. Shorebirds, amphibians, salmonids, migratory songbirds, and a variety of mammals call this place home (click here to download wildlife and bird-watching guides, as well as a birding checklist).
Today the refuge encompasses more than it did on that foggy afternoon. In 2013, nearly 200 acres were added: the Two Rivers Peninsula. As Cannery Hill descends northward toward the bay, it tapers to a forested point with a delightful view of the water. A visit to the peninsula offers lush coastal forest, history, birdwatching, tidelands, wildflowers, and fishing access at Nestucca Bay. The trail's official length is 2.2 miles, but since it is shaped like a squashed figure-eight with trails leading off from either end, the route is what you make it. Much of the trail follows old roadbeds cut into the hillside; these have been connected with simple paths. Part of the peninsula was a Jesuit retreat for decades, up until its acquisition for the refuge. This hike will show you why.
To find Cannery Hill, take Highway 101 south of Pacific City and turn west on Christensen Road, which lies just north of Oretown. The narrow, well-paved road passes through level pastureland; part of this belongs to the refuge, the rest is managed by local farmers to provide habitat for ducks and geese. Here is where the dusky Canada and Aleutian cackling geese forage. This bottomland is off-limits to humans and there are no convenient pull-outs, so drivers must continue less than half a mile up to the first parking area. Here you will find informational signage, restrooms, and excellent views of the pastures from the gazebo, especially for those who brought their binoculars.
It is recommended that visitors leave their cars here at the first viewpoint if they are able-bodied, as the next half-mile of road is even narrower (as well as unpaved) and parking at the second trailhead is limited. If you choose to walk, be alert for vehicles on the roadway; if you drive, watch for pedestrians and be prepared for the possibility of oncoming automobiles on the narrow road.
|Viewing platform (barely visible on the left) on Cannery Hill
|Lump of concrete from an installation of yesteryear
Walking through these woods on a winter day, one finds few reminders of human activity besides the trails and old roads. The rattling, leafless alders allow views of the surrounding land and water. Chestnut-backed chickadees survey hikers quizzically, as their ancestors probably viewed members of the Nestugga tribe pulling salmon from the bay, or workmen constructing a new cannery, or Jesuits meditating in the forest. And still the two rivers run together as they have for centuries, still the deer browse among the thickets, and still the chickadees go about their busyness among the winter skeletons of the sleeping forest.
|Nestucca valley pastureland
|Gazebo at first parking lot
|Second parking lot at Cannery Hill
|Hard-to-find map of the refuge's trails
|Ferns overhanging the trail to the picnic area
|Peek at the Pacific
|View through the trees at the picnic area
|Odd installment near picnic area
|Another view. Abandoned well? Water fountain? Gateway to Narnia? Suggestions welcome!
|Nestucca River, Pacific City's Haystack Rock in the background
|Confluence of Nestucca and Little Nestucca Rivers
|Happy 2020, from our family to yours!