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Marys Peak
Guest Author | 05/29/2023 | Biking, Hiking, Outdoor Recreation, Spring, Summer

5 Fun Things To Do at Marys Peak This Spring and Summer

Marys Peak, the tallest peak in the Oregon Coast Range and a landmark just outside Corvallis, has drawn the eye of locals and visitors alike for generations.

Since time immemorial, the native Kalapuya have seen the 4,097-foot peak as sacred; legend has it that the peak provided refuge during a great flood that washed over the Willamette Valley thousands of years ago. More recently, the peak has been home to a (long abandoned) ski area and military installations that kept getting blown off the mountaintop.

These days, Marys Peak is among the most popular outdoor destinations around Corvallis. When the weather warms up with the arrival of spring, the peak comes to life with colorful wildflower blooms, scenic hiking trails, a quiet campground, and other opportunities for enjoying its natural splendor.

So if you’re wondering about what all there is to do on the tallest peak in the Oregon Coast Range, here are five fun ideas for making the most of your time on Marys Peak this spring and summer.

Marys Peak, Philomath, Oregon, by Reed Lane Photography - A family enjoys a picnic at a picnic table on Marys PeakPicnicking at Marys Peak, by Reed Lane Photography

Just below the summit of Marys Peak sits Marys Peak Campground, offering a quiet home base for a weekend of fun and frolic on the forested mountain. In all, the campground comprises six tent-only sites, each available for $10 per night. All sites come with a campfire ring, picnic table, and plenty of room to pitch your tent; vault toilets are located on-site, but keep in mind that drinking water is not available.

If you’re making last-minute plans, note that all sites are available on a first-come, first-served basis—and tend to fill up on summer weekends. Consider a midweek outing, if possible, or arrive at the campground early in the day to secure your spot; there are few back-up campgrounds nearby, and an early arrival on Friday (or even Thursday) can help ensure a fun weekend.

Marys Peak, Philomath, Oregon, by Reed Lane Photography - Hikers walk a scenic trail on Marys PeakHiking Marys Peak, by Reed Lane Photography

Want to check “summiting the tallest peak in the Oregon Coast Range” off your bucket list? Good news: You can do that—and it may be easier than you think.

If you’d like to make a day of it, ascend via the East Ridge Trail, which begins from the Conners Camp parking area and climbs through a forest of Douglas fir and hemlock; from there, you’ll follow the Summit Trail and Summit Loop Trail to the top of the peak—all while hiking through a few meadows (covered in wildflowers each spring and summer) and patches of forest. From the summit, you can either retrace your route or follow the North Ridge Trail from the Day-use Area; the quiet path connects with the Tie Trail, which itself ends at the East Ridge Trail—creating a tidy loop. As described, the trail gains about 1,650 feet.

If that sounds like more work than you’d like to put in, drive to the Day-use Area just below the summit. There, an old roadbed ascends to the peak; from the Day-use Area, the one-mile (round-trip) trail gains about 325 feet.

However you get there, the summit views are some of the best in the Willamette Valley—if not Oregon. To the west, views on a clear day extend all the way to the Pacific Ocean; to the east, views encompass a number of peaks in the Cascade Range, as well as the expansive valley below.

Learn more with the U.S. Forest Service’s guide to hiking trails on Marys Peak (PDF).

Wildflowers and woodlands on Marys Peak, Philomath, Oregon, by Reed Lane PhotographyWildflowers and woodlands on Marys Peak, by Reed Lane Photography

Marys Peak is a federally designated Scenic Botanical Area, thanks to its unique scenery and curious geology. Thick bedrock actually sits just below a thin layer of soils on the slopes of Marys Peak, making it tough for plants to retain much moisture—conditions that lead to colorful wildflower displays in spring and summer, complete with species you don’t typically find elsewhere along the Oregon Coast Range.

Some of the most common species include purple penstemon, yellow glacier lily, blue-ish larkspur, and red Indian paintbrush. Watch for them alongside the old roadbed leading to the summit of Marys Peak, as well as in meadows on the mountain’s slopes. The first wildflowers may appear as early as April—and can bloom well into June and July.

And while you may want a closer look, be sure to stay on the trail at all times. “It’s so tempting to want to roam around in the wide-open space like it’s ‘The Sound of Music’—particularly when the flowers are blooming,” says Lisa Romano, public affairs staff officer for the Siuslaw National Forest. “But that is not recommended.”

According to Romano, even one set of footprints can leave imprints for others to follow—and the thin layer of soil makes it difficult for plants to regrow if they’ve been trampled.

Driving up Marys Peak, Philomath, Oregon, by Lainey MorseDriving up Marys Peak, by Lainey Morse

You can’t drive all the way to the summit of Marys Peak—but you can drive close. From Corvallis, it’s a 45-minute drive to the Marys Peak Day-use Area, a large parking area that sits just below the summit. (If you’d like to go the rest of the way, see our section on hiking above.)

From the Day-use Area, you can enjoy sublime views in every direction; to the west is the heart of the Oregon Coast Range, and to the east, you can peer into the Willamette Valley and toward the Cascade Range. A few interpretive panels around the parking area discuss the peak’s history and importance, and a handful of picnic tables offer the chance to enjoy a meal while really savoring the views.

In a way, those views may be even better at night. “People like to drive up there for astronomy and for watching special things like meteor showers,” Romano says. “You’re higher up, and it’s darker” than at lower elevations nearby.

That said, you may want to pack layers for a trip to (or near) the summit—as the weather can change quickly at that height. Romano says that a foggy day in the Willamette Valley may give way to clear skies at the summit—or that storm systems can move in rapidly, shrouding the summit in rain, fog, and even snow. “Be prepared for different conditions—sometimes better conditions, often worse conditions,” Romano recommends.

Marys Peak, Philomath, Oregon - A man raises his bike over his head after finishing a long bike ride up Marys Peak. By Dan Shryock.Biking Marys Peak, by Dan Shryock

Want to shred the trails at Marys Peak? Good news: Several of the park’s single-track trails are open to mountain bikers.

Specifically, the East Ridge Trail, North Ridge Trail, and Tie Trail are all open to mountain bikers May 15-Oct. 15 and offer the opportunity to cut through the forested slopes of Marys Peak. Along the way, riders may pedal through meadows covered in wildflowers and forests of noble fir—all while enjoying occasional vistas of the surrounding scenery.

Article by Matthew Wastradowski. Featured photo by Reed Lane Photography. Keep up with Corvallis news, events and happenings by signing up for our email newsletter.

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