Once-secret hike to God's Thumb features dramatic views

    Eric Johnson follows a ridgeline to God's Thumb north of Lincoln City. [Zach Urness / Statesman Journal]

    SALEM (AP) — God's Thumb has been a Lincoln City secret for decades.

    The basalt peak juts above the ocean like a gigantic thumbs-up. But because it was surrounded by private land and "no trespassing" signs, it was a locals-only destination.

    Now, that's started to change.

    The spread of information online, combined with moves by the city to open the area, has pulled back the curtain on one of the Oregon Coast's most beautiful spots.

    Dramatic cliffs drop away from a summit meadow to secret beaches, while sweeping views take in Cascade Head on one side and Lincoln City on the other.

    "It really is the definition of a hidden hiking gem," said Eric Johnson, public relations coordinator for Lincoln City Visitor and Convention Bureau.

    Right now, there are two routes up God's Thumb. Both require following unmarked roads and trails, beginning at Road's End State Recreation Area.

    The most scenic option is a 4.4-mile loop that combines roads, forest, two dramatic vistas and beach. A shorter option is 3.4 miles out-and-back.

    The routes are entirely on public land but come close to private property. That's why officials have asked visitors to park at Road's End — not in neighborhoods — and not trespass, camp or stray from established trails.

    Finally, there are dizzying drop-offs near the top of God's Thumb, making the hike unsuitable for young children or anyone scared of heights.

    "All of that said, it's a gorgeous spot," Siuslaw National Forest spokeswoman Lisa Romano said.

    Two recent actions by Lincoln City have made access possible. A city purchase of private land in 2012, and an easement established in 2016, means hikers don't have to cross private land to reach The Knoll and God's Thumb.

    "The only downside is that the trail is mostly unmarked," Johnson said. "Hopefully, in the coming years, we will finally have signage and way-finding up there."

    Until then, here are the routes to God's Thumb:

    God's Thumb/The Knoll Loop

    This tour (4.4 miles, challenging) features one of the best collections of scenery on the Oregon Coast.

    That's not to say it's a perfect hike — far from it. There's a lot of road walking, confusing junctions and a disjointed feeling of being partly in the city, and partly in the wild.

    But in terms of raw beauty and photographic spots, this route can stand on its own.

    The hike has 1,400 feet of climb.

    1. Start in the parking lot at Road's End State Recreation Site. Look north to the headland above the beach, and the mound above it, to see your goal of God's Thumb.

    2. Walking away from the beach, cross over Logan Road and onto Sal La Sea Drive. Follow this gravel road uphill for 1 mile to a junction with NW Port Drive, and turn right. There may be signs pointing the way toward "The Knoll."

    3. Just down Port Drive, you'll reach a gate with a "no parking" sign. This is considered the "Upper Trailhead." Walk around the gate, onto a trail. The trail splits almost immediately. Go right, following a sign pointing to "The Knoll."

    4. You'll follow a forested path uphill 0.2 miles to a junction. Go left, and walk out to a stunning viewpoint from "The Knoll." Then, walk back to the junction and continue north.

    5. Follow a trail along a forested ridgeline, passing some big trees, for 0.5 mile to another unmarked junction. Go left at the junction.

    6. Follow the trail through a grassy meadow, where you'll sometimes see elk, and then back into the forest, then back into a meadow for 0.6 miles.

    You'll reach yet another junction. Go left here, toward a rise in the meadow and the ocean. (If you go right, you'll enter the private property of Camp Westwind).

    7. Over the next 0.3 mile, you'll reach the top of the meadow and get your first view of God's Thumb. Then you'll drop down, following a trail along the edge of a cliff, into the vast meadow that surrounds God's Thumb, jutting overhead. The upper trail links up with another trail, shooting up to the summit, and a lower trail.

    "It's important to stay on the trail," Romano said. "The meadows that make this area so special are also sensitive habitat. The vegetation is already starting to be trampled."

    8. The climb to the top of God's Thumb is very steep, and there's some exposure, but the views are incredible. At the top, to the north, hulking Cascade Head juts out into the ocean. Behind, to the south, steep cliffs, meadow and Lincoln City spread out below.

    9. Once you're done at the summit, hike downhill, and follow the lower trail through the meadow and into the forest. You'll follow a well traveled trail, across a creek and heavy vegetation, for 0.5 mile to a junction. Turn left, following a trail down to a dirt road. Follow the road to a gate and out onto Logan Road. This is considered the "Lower Trailhead."

    10. You can follow Logan Road 1.2 miles back to Road's End. But a better option is to follow the road to a beach access point (there are many). Drop down and follow the beach back to Road's End and your car.

    God's Thumb out and back )

    This route (3.4 miles, moderate) is more direct to God's Thumb following the lower trail.

    1. From Road's End, hike Logan Road (or the beach) for 1.2 miles to the end of Logan Road (before it makes a sharp swing right).

    2. Follow an unmarked gravel road to a gate with a "no parking" sign and the address "7975." Walk around the gate, up the road.

    3. In a short distance, go right onto a trail branching off the road. (If you pass this, you'll reach a private house).

    4. Follow a wide trail through the forest 0.5 mile to the meadow and God's Thumb. Return the way you came.

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