Photo by William Sullivan
Neahkahnie Mountain - climb an oceanfront peak haunted by the legend
of a lost Spanish treasure.
About the Hike: The beach below this mountain might be where
Europeans first set foot in Oregon. Today a portion of the Oregon
Coast Trail crosses the mountain's summit to a breathtaking, aerial
view of the beach south to Tillamook Bay. If you like, you can continue
to Short Sand Beach and a walk-in campground at Oswald West State
Difficulty: A moderate but steep 3-mile climb to the summit,
gaining 900 feet of elevation. Add 2.1 miles and plan for a shuttle
car if you continue to the campground.
Season: Open all year.
Getting There: Drive Highway 101 south of Seaside 20 miles
(or north of Tillamook 28 miles) to a brown hiker-symbol sign opposite
the Neah-Kah-Nie subdivision, between mileposts 41 and 42. Turn
east on a gravel road 0.4 mile to a wide spot with a small "Trailhead
Parking" sign on the right.
Tips: The trail starts at a gray post on the left. Steep switchbacks
lead up through meadows 0.9 mile to a ridgetop junction. Continue
straight on a path that contours 0.6 mile around the wooded back of
the mountain before emerging at the summit meadow viewpoint. This
is the recommended turnaround point, although the trail does continue,
dropping for 2 miles to a Highway 101 crossing and then ambling along
sea bluffs 1.6 more miles to the Os West State Park campground parking
This peak is an inspiring place, where the Tillamook tribe believed
their most powerful god resided. In fact, the name Neahkahnie comes
from their words Ne ("place of") and Ekahnie ("supreme
deity"). For some hikers, there's additional inspiration in the
thought they might stumble over hidden gold.
Gold was in fact what brought the first European sailors to this Pacific
shore. In 1577, the swashbuckling Englishman Sir Francis Drake became
the first to venture north of California by sea. In those days, Spanish
conquistadors were shipping boatloads of Aztec and Incan gold to Spain.
England, virtually at war with Spain, allowed its merchant ships to
loot any Spanish treasure ships they could find. The daring Drake
took up the offer. He filled his hold with pirated gold off the Pacific
coast of South America. Then he realized that bringing his booty back
around Cape Horn would mean facing the entire Spanish fleet on the
desperation Drake struck north, hoping to discover a "Northwest
Passage"-a sea route to England around the unmapped shore of
North America. It's unclear how far north he sailed, or whether he
actually landed in Oregon, but he certainly didn't like the weather.
His log complains of "most vile, thicke, and stinking fogges."
When storms forced him to abandon hopes of a shortcut, he tried the
unthinkable: He sailed west, circling the globe via Africa. Drake
made it back to London the long way, and was hailed a hero.
years that followed, Spanish galleons routinely crossed the Pacific
between colonies in the Philippines and Mexico. Several treasure ships
were lost at sea-and several tribes along the Oregon Coast have legends
of ancient shipwrecks. But people didn't connect the two until the
1850s, when Gold Rush miners began spreading out from California,
snooping after rumors of gold.
photo by William Sullivan
Sullivan is a veteran Oregon journalist and
author with 12 published books on Oregon travel, history
hike is in the Oregon
The most widely circulated treasure story describes an early Spanish
wreck on the Nehalem spit at the base of Neahkahnie Mountain. Thirty
survivors made it to the beach, ferrying the ship's treasure ashore
in a longboat. The men dragged the treasure chest up onto the mountain's
slopes and dug a hole. Knowing that Indians feared disturbing the
graves of the dead, the captain shot his black Caribbean slave and
buried him on top of the treasure. Then the captain shot or drove
away the crew members who wouldn't fit in the ship's longboat, and
he ordered the remainder to row him back across the ocean toward Mexico.
Treasure hunters have ravaged the mountainside and beach here ever
since. In 1931, when the Depression fanned enthusiasm for quick wealth,
two overly eager diggers died in a collapsed excavation. Despite all
the efforts, the only treasure anyone has found on Neahkahnie Mountain
is the inspiring view from the summit trail.
Geology: Neahkahnie Mountain's basalt dates back 15 million
years, when lava flows from Eastern Oregon poured down the Columbia
River and fanned out into the ocean. All along the northern Oregon
Coast, tough remnants of these massive basalt floods have survived
to form headlands and islands.