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News / Northwest

Rockaway Beach boasts ‘Big Cedar’

Tree, among biggest in Oregon, can be visited by boardwalk

By Janay Wright, The Bulletin
Published: May 13, 2023, 7:39pm
2 Photos
Dylan Lipke walks the boardwalk toward The Big Cedar at Rockaway Beach in the Old Growth Cedar Preserve.
Dylan Lipke walks the boardwalk toward The Big Cedar at Rockaway Beach in the Old Growth Cedar Preserve. (Janay Wright/Bend Bulletin/TNS) (janay wright/Bend Bulletin) Photo Gallery

BEND, Ore. — I recently stole away to the coast for a weekend, landing at Rockaway Beach, a five-hour drive from Bend. The city is home to one of Oregon’s largest trees by circumference, which locals refer to as “The Big Cedar,” at 154 feet high and 50 feet in circumference.

AllTrails lists two hikes just past Rockaway Beach’s welcome sign through the Old Growth Cedar Preserve: Old Growth Cedar Preserve and Rockaway Big Tree Boardwalk.

After reading a warning posted on AllTrails by Bill Hassell, ambassador of the trail, I kept my expectations low. His comment informed visitors that a December coastal storm had caused four trees to fall, three of which damaged the boardwalk. In a recent update, Hassell noted that the boardwalk repairs were complete, which restored the Rockaway Big Tree Boardwalk.

The fallen trees were not cleared, however, along the dirt path of the lollipop loop, rendering a portion of the Old Growth Cedar Preserve impassible. Taking a closer look at the map, I realized the two hikes were nearly one and the same. The trails overlapped, except for a short dirt path that connected to the main trail.

Rain poured from the sky throughout my April visit and didn’t let up long enough for the ground to dry. It pooled along the path, reverting the earth to deep, sludgy mud and making the section of the trail with downed trees undesirable regardless of its condition.

So I stayed along the beautiful half-mile of wooden boardwalk, stretching from the trailhead along Highway 101 to the base of the mammoth tree. It wove through the old-growth coastal bog of the Saltair Creek Swamp, enshrined by shades of green from the Sitka spruce, deer fern and Western red cedar.

My eye was continually drawn to the Western skunk cabbage sprouting up on either side of the boardwalk. It is one of the first plants to emerge from the wetland during the spring and is sometimes referred to as a swamp lantern, with its flashy yellow leaves. Its name refers to the plant’s skunk-like odor and came as a surprise to me, as I found its scent sweet.

The most awe-inspiring moment of the rain-soaked hike was easily The Big Cedar, estimated to be 800 to 1,200 years old, according to the sign at its base. The imposing presence of the tree invited a sense of wonder and respect.

The boardwalk fully encircles the cedar, making the entirety of the 1.2-mile hike wheelchair accessible. It is also one of the hikes listed in “The Disabled Hiker’s Guide to Western Washington and Oregon,” by Syren Nagakyrie.