Hiking Elk Mountain/King’s Mountain Loop

A week after meeting a new friend at the start of the Angel’s Rest out-and-back, we attempted to hike the Elk Mountain/King’s Mountain Loop together. This trail is an 11.6-mile hike out near the Oregon coast, in Tillamook State Forest, about an hour west of Portland.

Kelsey, a white woman, kneels at the edge of a steep drop-off. She's wearing dark hiking boots, clothing, and gloves, a red day pack, and sunglasses. Her hair is up and she's smiling. The ground she's kneeling on is a packed-dirt trail. there are small patches of small wildflowers scattered about. Behind her are hills and mountains covered in trees in various shades of green. The sky is covered in gray, low clouds.

You can start the loop at either the Elk Mountain Trailhead or the King’s Mountain Trailhead, and hike it in either direction—clockwise or counter-. We started at the Elk Mountain Trailhead, and, in the millennial tradition of taking the advice of internet strangers, hiked it counterclockwise.

Kind of.

While we started at the Elk Mountain Trailhead, we accidentally took a different trail. What had happened was, I didn’t read the sign closely enough and confidently directed us onto the wrong trail—Elk Creek instead of Elk Mountain. OOPS.

Neither of us realized until a few miles—yes miles, not minutes—in, when we hit the sign in the photo below and were unsure which way to go. Obviously the sign says to go left. When we checked our location on AllTrails, it didn’t match up and we were confused, okay!!! It took us a few minutes to realize we weren’t on the trail we thought we were on. We were on a Forest Service road instead. 🤡

A wooden sign in the forest. The sign lists four different trails or points of interest, and their distances from the current location.

We went left, and, just as the sign predicted, hit King’s Mountain Trail about a mile later. This spot is actually a juncture where Elk Creek, Elk Mountain, and King’s Mountain trails meet.

Another wooden sign along the route, where three different trails converge. Behind the sign are tall, green trees, and a large natural rock formation stretching toward the sky. The packed-dirt ground has a large patch of bright yellow-green growth.

We hung out here for a few minutes, oohing and ahhing over the cutie baby wildflowers, and the view.

A patch of small wildflowers grows on rocks. The flowers are purple, white, orange, and yellow.

It was a chilly, overcast morning, but the views were still incredible. My iPhone camera really doesn’t do it justice. And it’s difficult to get a sense through the photos for how intense the drop-off felt in person. In the photo below I think the trees make it look like it might be a graded decline. In reality, it was…not. The first photo in this post was taken at the same spot, and offers a more accurate perspective, imo.

A view of the Tillamook State Forest from a lookout along the trail. There are hills and mountains covered in various shades of green trees. The sky is grey and cloudy. Small patches of small orange and yellow wildflowers line the edge of the trail where it meets a drop-off to the forest floor below.

Going in, we knew this hike was going to be “hard.” The problem is, there’s no real way to easily discern what “hard” (or “easy” or “moderate”) actually means on AllTrails. Is it “hard” because it’s a long distance? Has technical terrain? A steep grade? Exposed trail? Some of those things? All of those things? A mystery.

We read through a number of comments before attempting this one, so we knew to expect some scramble and some steep trail. We were *not* surprised when we hit the portion of the trail that has a secured rope to help you down (or up, if you hike it the other way). Looking down:

Kelsey descends a portion of the hiking path that is steep enough to require the assistance of a built-in rope. This portion of the trail also requires navigating around large rocks and roots.

And looking up (this photo gives a better idea of the steepness/grade):

A shot of the portion of the trail requiring the assistance of a built-in rope, taken from below to illustrate how steep this portion of the path is. In the photo, it appears near-vertical.

We *were* surprised to encounter the degree of steepness and exposure we did just before and after “the rope.” (In hiking, “exposure” is defined as “precipitous drops of anywhere from 30 feet to over 300 feet or more…“) I, for one, was not prepared.

I don’t have any photos to share from these portions of the trail—the trail was too narrow and the drop-off too steep for me to even think about fucking around with my phone. I spent most of these parts of the trail with three points of contact at all times.

As if on cue, right as we hit what we felt were the hardest parts of the trail, the fog rolled in and visibility dropped, and the rain started coming down, making the near-vertical scramble incredibly slippery and the very narrow and very exposed trail very muddy. Ultimately, we decided to turn back just before King’s summit. I’ve more to say about this in a separate post.

A photo of tall trees with bare branches. Between and behind the trees, dense fog. The view is completed obscured.

When we got back to the juncture of Elk Creek, Elk Mountain, and King’s Mountain trails, we thought about taking the correct one—Elk Mountain—back to the trailhead. But because (1) our nerves and confidence had just been tested on tough-to-us terrain in less-than-ideal weather conditions, and (2) our navigation skills are obviously shit (lol, brb adding “skills include getting lost while hiking” to my Tinder), we decided to go back the way we came (Elk Creek/the Forest Service road). It added distance and time, but it was a familiar route with familiar terrain and felt like the safer and smarter option.


I bought a new pack and trekking poles for this hike. The pack is an Osprey Jet 18. I liked it well enough. Tbh, I wanted a different pack (don’t remember which now, I think a Gregory day pack) but this one was the only option that came in a bright color, and something inside me said that having a brightly colored pack could come in handy one day, considering I often hike alone and, as my last couple of hiking-related posts have established, I’m particularly skilled at taking the wrong trail/getting lost-ish (we all have to be good at something!).

A photo of Kelsey taking a photo of the view of the Tillamook State Forest from the edge of the trail. The trail is packed dirt and rock. The view is of trees of various shades of green, on hills and mountains in the distance. Grey clouds hang low in the sky.

After Dog Mountain, I decided to invest in trekking poles. Given my cranky and janky knees, they seemed like a good move, especially for steep descents. I bought the Wilderness Technology Carbon Tri-Fold Trekking Poles ($100). They’re kind of pricey, but they collapse down enough to fit in the side of my pack without falling out or hitting me in the leg or the head every other step.

Kelsey holds two trekking poles in her gloved hand. The poles are orange and black.

They’re fine. They do the job they’re supposed to do. I just…don’t like using trekking poles, turns out. You live and you learn. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

Overall, this was an okay hike. Not my favorite, and not my least favorite. I found it to be more mentally/psychologically challenging than physically challenging (I thought Dog Mountain was more physically challenging). To be fair, though, I might feel differently had we taken the correct trail, and/or if we finished the loop.

Would I attempt this one again? In drier and warmer weather, and with a hiker who’s had experience with this specific trail *and* other technical and exposed trails, probably.

Our stats: 12.0 miles, 2,929′ of elevation gain, 5h 26m.


A few more details:

Permit: None required.

Fees: None.

Trailhead: There are multiple places to begin this hike. We started it at Elk Creek Campground.

Bathrooms: One porta potty at the second (larger/upper) trailhead lot, two vault toilets (non-flushing outhouse) at the campground.

Parking: Two lots, both just past the campground parking lot. The first/lower lot is on the right. Drive past it and you’ll drive into the larger/upper lot.

Cell service: Mostly none. I have Verizon and I lost service just past the Shell station on Route 6/Wilson River Highway. Heading west on 6, the Shell is on your left, just after a pond, which is also on the left. I had no service for most of the hike. I briefly regained service just before we reached the rope, and lost it again almost immediately.

Because of the lack of cell service, and the exposure and terrain, I suggest not hiking this one alone if you’re not an expert hiker, especially in inclement weather and/or with limited visibility.

Water source: If you take Elk Creek Trail and go counterclockwise, you’re parallel to the river for a bit in the beginning (and again at the end if you turn around and go back the way you came instead of finishing the loop). Probably best to bring your own.

Summit: There are two along this loop, and we missed them both! Oops! I imagine the views are amazing though, because the few we got at lower elevation along the way were.

Dogs: Lol, no? I wouldn’t call this one kid-friendly, either.

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