The Ghost Forest

By Ben Scott

fossil trees oregon
You’re on scenic drive down the Oregon coast, glancing out the window at the beautiful foggy shore when suddenly something strange catches your eye—mysterious sharp rocks jetting up out of the water, mere feet from the beach. As you stop your car and walk out to the sand to get a closer view, you notice something even stranger. Those aren’t rocks resting in the shallows of the North Pacific—they’re trees.

In Neskowin, Oregon, two hours west of Portland, a remarkable geological anomaly lies in plain sight to those who venture out to the coast. During low tide, in a small section of the beach, about a hundred large tree stumps emerge from the water. This remarkable natural wonder has been aptly named the Neskowin Ghost Forest.

But how could dozens of trees possibly have grown in the middle of a sandy ocean shore? Well, they didn’t. In January of 1700, a massive earthquake hit the Pacific Coast’s Cascadia fault. As a result, entire forests of Sitka Spruce trees across Oregon’s coast were lowered below water level and subsequently covered by mud and sand. These 2,000-year-old trees, which at one point stood up to 200 feet tall, suddenly disappeared beneath the waves.

That is, until 1997, when violent storms and tides wiped away the layers of sand that covered the trees at Neskowin, revealing the large, haunting stumps that are visible today. Though there are several ghost forests along the Pacific coastline, none of them are as large or pronounced as the forest of Neskowin.

map to newkowin oregon

The best time to see the forest is at low tide, especially during wintertime (when tides are lowest) so you can venture closer to the trees. Make your way north of Lincoln City on Highway 101 until you reach Neskowin. There’s ample public parking just next to the beach, right in front of Proposal Rock.

This article appeared in the Beachcombing Magazine May/June 2019 issue.

Learn more about beach fossils:

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