It was cool, drizzly, foggy day near the end of January. Instead of driving to the Columbia River Gorge, I decided to revel in the rain by hiking along the Banks–Vernonia State Trail, a rail-trail and linear state park. And just to make it interesting, I would add a loop on trails to the east.
The Banks–Vernonia rail trail runs for 21 miles, primarily north-south, between towns on an abandoned railroad bed. The entire eight-foot wide trail is paved and is paralleled by a four-foot wide bark-dust path for horses. This is the first example of a “rails-to-trails” project in Oregon, where an abandoned railroad right-of-way is redeveloped into a recreational-use trail. The original railway line was built in the 1920s to move logs and lumber from a company mill in Vernonia as well as freight and passengers to Portland. The railroad line was abandoned in 1973. One year later Oregon bought the right-of-way. In 2007 the L.L. “Stub” Stewart Memorial State Park opened adjacent to a segment of the rail-trail.
My starting point was a rest area by the old Buxton Railroad Trestle, which is 600 feet long and 80 feet high. I began by taking a short detour to the south so that I could enjoy walking across the planked trestle. Continuing north, I followed the paved rail-trail for several miles before entering the Stub Stewart Park. Soon afterwards the Hares Canyon Trail took off to the northeast. For the next three miles I meandered mostly uphill, using my route-finding ability to sort through a variety of side trails and old logging roads. Few folks had been on the trail recently, but elk had been crossing the area frequently.
Finally the Clayhill Horse Staging Area was reached. A good place for a rest break and a snack. Then it was a steep downhill through the mud to the rail-trail, passing several beaver ponds along the way.
The remaining 3 ½ mile return hike to the Buxton Trestle was uneventful, and honestly a little boring. All in all the hike was 11 miles in length with 1,300 feet of elevation gain.