Oregon currently has a statewide mask mandate. Click here for details.
Guest Author | 10/13/2021 | Biking, Hiking, History, Outdoor Recreation

Stops Along the Marys Peak to Pacific Coast Scenic Byway: Marys Peak

Driving the Marys Peak to Pacific Coast Scenic Byway will take you right past the turnoff for Marys Peak. Just keep an eye out for a brown Forest Service sign that reads, "Marys Peak Recreational Site," which indicates the turnoff.

The trip up Marys Peak is a nine-and-a-half-mile drive followed by a half-mile walk to reach its 4,097-foot (1250-m) summit. Marys Peak is the highest peak in the Oregon Coast Range. From the alpine meadows at its summit, you have 360-degree views of the Pacific Ocean, the Willamette Valley, and the Cascade Mountain Range.

Marys Peak, Philomath, Oregon - A man enjoys the view on Marys Peak, by Reed Lane PhotographyMarys Peak, Philomath, Oregon - A man enjoys the view on Marys Peak, by Reed Lane Photography.

So, where does Marys Peak get its name? Some local families claim it was named after an individual named Mary. Another story reflects the peak’s cultural importance to the indigenous Kalapuya people who long predated white settlers in this region. The Kalapuya’s name for the peak includes the word "manwi," which means spirit. In the early 19th century, French-Canadian fur trappers renamed the peak "Saint Marie." Scholars speculate the fur trappers took "Marie" from the similar-sounding Kalapuya word, "manwi." When English-speaking Oregon Trail pioneers arrived, they translated "Saint Marie" into "Marys," giving us the name "Marys Peak."

Dr. Robert Lillie’s book, Oregon’s Island in the Sky – Geology Road Guide to Marys Peak, tells the story of this mountain long before it had a name. Cataclysmic forces of two colliding tectonic plates created and continue to shape the Oregon Coast Range. The oceanic Juan de Fuca plate dives, or "subducts," beneath the edge of the North American plate. Through this process, layers of sandstone and lava flows were lifted out of the ocean to form the Coast Range. This ongoing geologic collision creates the Cascadia subduction zone and is visible from the summit of Marys Peak. A layer of very hard granite-like rock, called gabbro, at the summit contributes to Marys Peak standing tall above the rest of the Coast Range. Dr. Lillie calls this rock "stubborn" because it erodes very slowly, making Marys Peak an "island in the sky."

The over 100 inches of annual rainfall on Marys Peak quenches the thirst of surrounding communities. Creeks that run off the peak feed three watersheds that eventually drain into the Pacific Ocean. The Kalapuya, Wusi’n, and Yaqo’n cultures controlled territory on Marys Peak defined by the watersheds of the surrounding rivers. Recent efforts by the Confederated Tribes of Siletz Indians, the Confederated Tribes of the Grand Ronde and the Marys Peak Alliance have brought back the appropriate cultural names of many of these creeks.

Marys Peak, Philomath, Oregon - Hikers explore the trails on Marys Peak, by Reed Lane PhotographyMarys Peak, Philomath, Oregon - Hikers explore the trails on Marys Peak, by Reed Lane Photography. 

At the top of Marys Peak you're in a transition zone between alpine and sub-alpine ecosystems at 3,760 feet (1150 meters) above sea level. Once you reach the parking lot, there is a half-mile walk up the unpaved road, which leads to the summit and breathtaking views. On a clear day, you can see for more than 200 miles (320 km).

The top 1,000 feet (300 meters) of Marys Peak is a Scenic Botanical Special Interest Area. The U.S. Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management manage this area to protect its unique ecosystems, which include one of the most diverse lichen populations in the world. These ecosystems are remnants of plant communities from the Ice Age and are highly threatened by climate change and human impacts. A unique rock garden near the summit of Marys Peak might surprise you. It has desert-style plants, yet is a site that receives 100 inches of rain per year. This phenomenon is due to Marys Peak’s severe winter winds that blow away snow and prevent the area from receiving much water throughout the year.

The top of Marys Peak is one of the best places on Earth to see plate tectonics in action, with a view of the entire Cascadia subduction zone. Start by looking for the town of Newport, Oregon at the edge of the blue Pacific Ocean; move east to see the Willamette Valley, which is home to the majority of Oregon’s population; beyond that there are the Cascade Mountains as the backdrop to the Valley. Within the Cascades there are at least fourteen active volcanoes, including Mt. Rainier in Washington State, Crater Lake in southern Oregon, and Mt. McLoughlin along the California border, all visible from the top of Marys Peak on a clear day.

Beginning with the indigenous Kalapuya, Wusi’n, and Yaqo’n people more than 10,000 years ago, Marys Peak has been a place for people to go to restore their souls. In 1946, the Shriners Club started the Marys Peak Trek to appreciate Marys Peak and to raise money for the Children’s Hospital in Portland. By 1957 the Trek was billed as the largest picnic in the West. It was so successful that by 1961, 12,000 people, and 3,000 motor vehicles covered the meadows near the summit. The Marys Peak Trek ended in 1984, but the meadows are still recovering! The meadows are now federally protected, so please walk lightly, and stay on the approved trails. Everything in this delicate ecosystem – the plants, flowers, lichens, moss, fungi and even the rocks - need to remain undisturbed so people for another 10,000 years can enjoy remnantsof the Ice Age on this "island in the sky."

Marys Peak, Philomath, Oregon - A family sets up a picnic at a picnic table on Marys Peak, by Reed Lane PhotographyMarys Peak, Philomath, Oregon - A family sets up a picnic at a picnic table on Marys Peak, by Reed Lane Photography.

Hiking is popular throughout the Coast Range, with some of the most popular hikes being on Marys Peak. The Marys Peak Summit Loop is a great option for extending your exploration of the summit beyond a drive and short walk. The East Ridge and North Ridge loop features beautiful wildflowers, a variety of forest types, and year-round access. The North Ridge is a difficult 9-mile (14.6-km) loop recommended only for experienced hikers, while the East Ridge trail from Connor’s Camp is more moderate.

You're in luck if you're traveling the Scenic Byway with your mountain bike. Marys Peak - and the Alsea Falls Recreational Area, also located along the Scenic Byway - offers many multi-use trails.

When out hiking or biking, always take the necessary precautions. Please follow road and trail closure notices; be prepared for all types of weather, including high winds, sleet, and snow. Be respectful of wildlife and help protect sensitive meadow habitats by staying on the official trails.

The Marys Peak campground is accessible from Marys Peak Road. Here you'll find a quaint campground with only 6 campsites, nestled among Douglas fir, noble fir, and western red cedar trees. Each site is equipped with a picnic table and campfire ring. A vault toilet is provided, but there's no drinking water. It's located just down the road from the Marys Peak Day Use Area, which has awe-inspiring views from the land to the sea.

Marys Peak to Pacific Coast Scenic Byway Driving Tour App

A Driving Tour from City to Sea: Willamette Valley, Alsea River Valley & More

Come with us on a driving tour of one of Oregon’s newest scenic and historic byways. From the highest point in the Coast Range to the broad, sandy beaches of the Central Coast, follow the Alsea River on a delightfully meandering 72-mile driving tour from Corvallis to Waldport.

Get the app.

Article via TravelStorys.com. Featured Photo: One of the many gorgeous views on Marys Peak, by Peter K. Ziminski. Keep up with Corvallis news, events and happening by signing up for our email newsletter.

Winter Mushroom Hunting in Corvallis
You may think mushroom hunting is a spring/fall activity, but it's easy…
Read More
Winter Fishing in Corvallis
Corvallis offers many winter fishing opportunities, but the Alsea Hatchery and the…
Read More
Stops Along the Marys Peak to Pacific Coast Scenic Byway: Marys Peak
On your way out to the coast, be sure to visit Marys…
Read More
Please Note: All Oregonians and visitors over the age of five, regardless of vaccination status, are required to wear masks in indoor public settings and in outdoor settings in which individuals from different households are unable to consistently maintain physical distance. Click here to learn more.
113 SW 3rd Street, Alley Suite 101
Corvallis, OR 97333
(Entrance facing 2nd St public parking lot)
800-334-8118 | 541-757-1544
Monday - Friday 9:00am - 5:00pm
Closed Saturdays and Sundays