Gales Creek Trail is among the best trails in Tillamook State Forest. This long, challenging hike can provide a real sense of accomplishment, but it can also break the spirits of those less prepared.
It's a good idea to think of the trail as being split into two parts, divided by the summit at the Bell Camp Road Trailhead. The southern portion is a longer, more gradual climb up to the summit and the better part to hike. The northern section is much shorter, but also substantially steeper.
Starting from the southern trailhead at Gales Creek Campground, the trail follows its namesake for a number of miles up the valley. After only about three-quarters of a mile, the trail crosses a bridge and immediately T's at a junction. Heading left would start the steep, sinewy climb up the Storey Burn Trail
Turning right continues on Gales Creek Trail. The trail is often within sight or earshot of the creek as the singletrack winds along the ravines and gulleys that drain into Gales Creek. It makes for a lot of short, intermittent climbs and brief flat stretches, giving your legs relief from any one stretch of a sustained grade. It can feel rewarding nonetheless. Although not very technical for the most part, the ever-changing direction of the trail will keep you on your toes.
At about five-and-a-half miles, a short but super fun reroute of the trail brings some obvious MTB-inspired flow to the trail and is a beautiful section to explore, keeping an eye and ear toward fellow trail users on two wheels. The last half-mile is the steepest climb yet, but seeing the small parking lot for the Bell Camp Road Trailhead lets you know you're at the summit. This marks the end of the southern section of the trail.
Continuing north on the trail begins a very steep downhill as the trail loses all of the elevation it just gained in about half the distance. Much of the upper mile is almost straight down with few switchbacks. It begins to mellow out eventually and the bottom mile or so feels more like the first part of the trail.
The Triple C Trail
and Step Creek Trail
loops can be found at the northern end of this trail, but only the strongest hikers will want to add these to their day because that intense downhill must now be conquered in the opposite direction to get back. It's exhausting and brutal and might rob you of any sense of accomplishment for the hike. Many hikers should consider just doing the Gales Creek - Southern Climb. There's no shame in it.
The trail is well signed and easy to follow.