Hike of the Month: Banks-Vernonia State Trail

Hikers, bikers, and horse riders can all enjoy this 21-mile path that winds its way along a former railroad bed through the scenic forested foothills of the Oregon Coast Range.

A hiker wearing a rain jacket walks along the Buxton Trussle, a 80-foot high bridge on the Banks-Vernonia State Trail. The bridge is level with trees and you can see a wooded January hillside in the background.

The 733-ft long, 80-ft high Buxton Trestle is one of 13 bridges along the Banks-Vernonia State Trail.

Photo by Ben McBee, PDXtoday staff

When it comes to the Banks-Vernonia State Trail, a more apt title might be “Bike of the Month,” thanks to the 21-mile stretch of pavement’s popularity with local cyclists.

However, the very feature that makes this path so wheel-friendly is what also makes it attractive for hiking... in January... when every other trail in the Portland area is a muddy mess.

Quick facts

  • Six trailheads: Banks, Manning, Buxton, Tophill, Beaver Creek, and Vernonia
  • Difficulty: Easy-Moderate
  • Distances between trailheads range from 3 miles to 5.2 miles
  • Route type: Out-and-back with a loop around Vernonia Lake
  • Elevation gain: ~1,000 ft
  • Trail surface: Pavement (main trail), gravel (equestrian trails)
  • Wheelchair accessible: Yes
  • Open: Year-round
  • Dog friendly: Yes, leashed

Brief overview

From the city of Banks at the southern end, all the way to Vernonia in the north, the trail follows an abandoned railroad bed — in fact, it was Oregon’s first “rails-to-trails” park. The original line was primarily used to haul timber and freight from 1913 until 1957. After the region’s lumber mills closed, the Vernonia, South Park, and Sunset Steam Railroad operated a tourist excursion train along the route from 1965 to 1969.

Why you should try it

If you’re not deterred by winter’s dampness, your reward is roaring streams, low clouds drifting among mossy trees, fun fungi finds, and ample opportunities to see wildlife. Did we mention not having to squish and slide in the muck?

From the Hilltop area in LL Stub Stewart State Park, miles of forested hills stretch to the distant mountains of the Oregon Coast Range where a light dusting of snow can be seen.

L.L. Stub Stewart State Park’s Hilltop Day-Use Area offers expansive vistas of the surrounding forest.

Photo by Ben McBee, PDXtoday staff

Pro tips

At the trail’s midpoint, take a detour into L.L. Stub Stewart State Park, a hillside property with camp sites and cabins, disc golf courses, an off-leash pet area, and mountain biking trails.

Let us know

Did you try this hike? Do you know of one we should check out? Send us your thoughts and recommendations — or check out our other monthly hiking guides.

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