Sunday, April 18, 2021

Hiking to God's Thumb

There were rumors over the years. A place known only to a few Lincoln City locals, a hike with amazing views. Access was a mystery, no one knew who owned most of the land the paths passed through, and it was best to go with someone who had been there before. 

Then word started getting out, and determined hikers  began unravelling the route in increasing numbers. The hike's reputation grew: a baffling maze of trails, downed trees, angry landowners, slippery paths, injuries, daring rescues. Of course, this only drew more attention to the area, along with the many intriguing photographs posted on social media.

These days, the hike's popularity has worn a reasonably clear trail, the trailheads are (somewhat) marked, and the recommended parking area has been announced. If you go, you probably won't get lost, you shouldn't get towed, and you definitely will not be alone.

Wood Violets

For those hikers who aren't solely seeking the adrenaline rush of summiting God's Thumb, this is a wonderful walk through coastal woods with stunning views, wildlife, and plentiful wildflowers. It is definitely worth the effort for those who can keep their footing on the sometimes steep and muddy trails. This peaceful place has been a local haunt for good reason.

First, allow yourself plenty of time. The distance is given variously from 4.5 to 6 miles; likely this is due to different access points and to a loop option that adds a bit of mileage. In any case, the walk will probably take longer than you expect. The path is often steep; it makes a good early-season leg burner for those of us who have not been out as much as we should over the winter. The footing is frequently quite muddy when it's wet and crumbly when it's dry. Wear supportive shoes with plenty of traction. You might want to consider trekking poles if you want to scale the Thumb itself. Please keep children close and dogs on a leash.

Now, to the hike. Parking has been a serious issue on the narrow streets of the local neighborhood, so we are being asked to use the "official" parking area, a disused cul-de-sac. From Highway 101, turn north on NE Devil's Lake Blvd, keep straight at 50th Street, pass through a gate, and continue to the cul-de-sac to park. Please note that there are no facilities. Don't be confused by signs referring to "The Knoll," you will be visiting that, too. 

The Knoll

Look for a small pullout where two or three cars might be able to park; here you will find the beginning of the trail. Drop down into coastal forest and go straight at an intersection to a bridge that crosses a small creek and wetland. Pass a gate and turn right onto gravel Sal la Sea Drive. Go up the hill, where there is space for a few cars to park, though this is no longer recommended. Turn right on Port Drive and walk around the gate. Hike up an old road bed, keeping right at a fading "Y" in the trail. After about a mile of climbing, watch on your left for the side trail to The Knoll, an open, grassy crest with views south all the way to Depoe Bay. Devil's Lake and the Siletz Estuary are also visible. This is a great turnaround spot (after snacks and photographs) for families with children and those who simply want a shorter hike.

Looking north from the final meadow

Those who yearn for more climbing (and more mud) can continue through thick woodland along a ridge top and pass (respectfully) through a section of private property. Keep left at a junction where another trail heads back towards the parking area. Watch on your right for views of the Salmon River's estuary. Drop down into a broad, sheltered meadow, cross the meadow, and climb to another small opening in the trees. Continue through the forest until you reach a wide clearing high above the ocean. The trail dissipates somewhat here, but just keep walking through the grassy meadow until suddenly...the Thumb appears.

First glimpse of God's Thumb

Many folks turn around at this meadow, which is definitely worth the hike. People with children or dogs, as well as those with a fear of heights or any physical issues, would do well to stop here, relax, and soak in the stunning views from all sides. The views of God's Thumb show the singular topography of the area; this strange rock formation is actually a volcanic plug towering above a tiny cove.

If the weather is cooperative and you wish to scale the Thumb, the trail picks up again beneath a weathered tree. You will find a muddy drop to a deeply-worn groove; this is your route. This is the stretch where the accidents happen. It shouldn't need to be said, but apparently it does: stay on the trail. Let's keep this hike open to the public by not straining local rescue resources.

That being said, this is an exhilarating cliff-top walk, with the waves crashing below on your right and a steep grassy slope on your left. Drop down a bit into the saddle, then climb. This stretch is slippery and crumbly, so use caution. You may find some small footholds as you ascend the last bit, but then it turns into a brief, straight chute to the top. If you are there on a weekend, you may find it already occupied; be cautious and respectful as you summit.

Alternate route back

Return the way you came, watching for views you may have missed on your way out. There is also the possibility of a loop if you would like to add slightly to your mileage; simply take a left at the "Y" just before you cross the stretch on private property.

Don't miss this beautiful woodland path and its panoramic views. Next time you visit Lincoln City, if the weather is kind, climb up this forested headland and hike as far as you are comfortable going. As a stranger's small child said to me on the way out, "It's worth it. That's all I can say."

Note the sides of an old road bed that you will be following for part of your journey


The Knoll



Devil's Lake from The Knoll



A rather sad tree








The trail runs atop a ridge as you get close to the meadows




 Sheltered meadow



Final meadow









Looking south















































Trail across meadow just before you see the Thumb






Thumb from the final meadow
















View from the path up the Thumb, looking towards the Salmon River mouth















Walking back down



One last look back at the small cove below the Thumb

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