Recently, I celebrated the official end of summer by hiking Soapstone Lake Trail. Located along the winding, twisting roller coaster that is Highway 53 (northeast of Nehalem), it requires an iron will and a bit of an iron stomach to reach.
I hadn’t hiked Soapstone Lake Trail in nearly 10 years. The last time I did, it took me nearly half a day to find it as it had been unmarked by anything resembling a sign, though I remembered that as part of its allure.
I was glad I made the effort then and was eager for a return visit, for it’s as quiet and pastoral a spot as I’ve ever been to in Oregon.
The gravel road entrance on the northeast end of Highway 53 is thankfully easy to spot, something that saved me a lot of the consternation of my previous endeavor. The parking lot lies below the highway and has room for just a few cars, maybe four or five tops. From there, the trail meanders through lush trees and ferns while paralleling Soapstone Creek in intervals.
As with most trails, dogs are welcome but required to be on leashes.
Strategically placed foot bridges keep booted feet from disturbing moss and wildflowers.
It’s a relatively easy hike with no major changes in elevation, just a nice sloping, wide path and lots of shady spots for resting or taking pictures.
Shortly, the trail opens onto a meadow that was the site of an old homestead once upon a time – the Lindgren Cabin. The silence of the spot made me wish I could build a retreat here and spend the rest of my days listening to gentle breezes swaying through the leaves. Barring that, it seemed the perfect place for a picnic.
After crossing the meadow, the trail eventually rises up two sets of railroad tie stairs which lead to a first glimpse of the lake itself. The main trail continues and narrows considerably at this point, circling the lake and offering fallen logs suitable for a trail snack or just a moment of observation. While there are a few sites for primitive camping, none looked used recently.
The trail around the lake is about half a mile and the terrain is a bit more up and down.
One feature to watch for is the constant presence of newts; the lake and much of the trail is alive with the little squirming buggers, especially near the lake shore itself.
Eventually, you’ll loop back around to where you began, climbing a short set of stairs and a little clearing along the way. There and back again, as it were, is roughly a mile and a half each way and hikers should plan on about 90 minutes to two hours to fully appreciate the trail and its abundant surroundings.
Soapstone Lake Trail is maintained by Oregon Department of Forestry. For details on this and other recreational sites in the Clatsop State Forest, visit www.oregon.gov/ODF.