Three best trails near The Mill Casino, on Coos Bay, Oregon
By Adam Sawyer, Author, Travel Writer
Even though there’s plenty to keep you entertained and occupied at The Mill Casino, it’s nice to take a fresh-air break on occasion. Taking a walk in the woods is one of the best things you can do for the mind, body, and soul. The hiking paths on the Southern Oregon Coast are among the best in the state, and a big reason many of us visit. In fact, the trails in and around Coos Bay can provide more than just a healthy diversion during your stay at The Mill; they’re remarkable enough to be the reason for a trip—with The Mill as the perfectly located home base for hiking adventure. Here are just a few of the highlights:
1. South Slough National Estuarine Research Reserve
The phrases “under-the-radar” and “hidden-gem” are somewhat overused, and often less than accurate. That is not the case with what locals simply refer to as the “South Slough.” A mix of traditional trails and boardwalks wind through a wildly diverse landscape with eye-widening scenery and a few surprises.
There are a handful of trailheads located around South Slough National Estuarine Research Reserve, located just south in Charleston, but perhaps the best place to start is at the Interpretive Center. The trails are customizable, with a number of loop or out and back options. Everything is family-friendly, and some paths are also dog-friendly.
A great way to get a sampling of what the Reserve has to offer is by taking a roughly 3-mile loop that starts from the Interpretive Center. Beginning on the Ten-Minute Loop Trail, walk a short distance and make a right onto the Middle Creek Trail. The densely forested path descends in scenic fashion to a junction with the Hidden Creek Trail. The Hidden Creek Trail soon transitions into a boardwalk that explores the lower marshlands populated by massive, primordial skunk cabbage, before arriving at an observation deck.
You now have a decision to make—take the Big Cedar Trail to the Railroad Trail, or take the Tunnel Trail. There’s no wrong answer here, but this time take the Tunnel Trail through a literal tunnel of trees that engulfs hikers for most of the way before meeting up with the North Creek Trail. Follow this wide-open path through marshlands, stoic stands of spruce, and creek-carved ravines, for 1 ½ miles to a junction with the Ten-Minute Loop, returning to the Interpretive Center.
2. Cape Arago / Shore Acres
Perhaps the premier spot on the Oregon Coast for storm watching, the Cape Arago / Shore Acres State Park area has a lot more going for it than crashing waves, a scenic coastline, and a top-tier botanical garden. As if that weren’t enough: hiking trails. They showcase all of the above perks as well as some gorgeous coastal forest.
For a short but jaw-droppingly beautiful loop hike, park at the Sunset Bay pullout, about ¼ mile after the entrance to Sunset Bay State Park. The path leads directly to a cliff-edge view of the bay before bending back into the forest. The trail meanders toward Shore Acres, delivering a number of life-affirming views en route. Next, the trail skirts around some of what remains from the old Louis Simpson mansion, along a very explorable piece of waterfront. Before arriving at the observation building at Shore Acres State Park, you’ll find the magnificent Shore Acres Gardens. If you’re up for more exploring, the Oregon Coast trail continues from the far end of the garden, eventually meeting up with the Pack Trail that visits an old WWII bunker, with an easy route back to the car.
3. Golden and Silver Falls
Sure, it’s about a 45 minute drive from The Mill, but the combination of two distinctive waterfalls and a one-of-a-kind historic trail makes the trek to Golden and Silver Falls a destination hike in the Coast Range. And the best way to get there is through Coos Bay, via the Coos River Highway—unless you own a helicopter.
If you have the time, you’ll want to hike all of the trails in the park. But if all 3 miles of trail aren’t an option and you just want the best views of each cascade, the optimal route starts with a .3-mile spur trail that leads to an excellent, front-facing view of Silver Falls. For Golden Falls, start from the north end of the parking area, and cross a small footbridge before forking right and enjoying a stroll through an impressive grove of myrtlewood trees to the base of the falls.
If you’re feeling inspired to see both falls, backtrack from Golden Falls to the junction near the footbridge and follow the signs leading toward Silver Falls. The trail parallels the creek through a forest of old-growth Douglas fir and bigleaf maple trees. After .4 miles, the trail reaches a junction. Continue straight to the base of Silver Falls. The 130-foot Silver Falls spills over a rounded dome of bedrock in mesmerizing strands of water that dance through air to the rocks below.
If you want the full experience, continue the short distance back to the junction and begin the steady climb up to the top of Golden Falls. The trail that leads to the top of Golden Falls was once a harrowing road that connected a settlement above the cascade with the valley below. What was surely at one point a white-knuckle journey on wheels, now affords luxury box views of the falls as well as an encompassing perspective of the drainage that the creek carves.
After each hike, head back to The Mill to refresh and replenish.