The Banks-Vernonia State Trail stretches through the hills (east of the Coast Mountains) between its two namesake towns. The former railroad corridor—once part of the Spokane, Portland & Seattle Railway—hauled timber from mills in Vernonia and Keasey to Portland beginning in the 1920s until 1957. For five years during the 1960s, the line was used for passenger excursions. Oregon Parks and Recreation gained official ownership of the right-of-way in 1990.
Thirteen bridges, as well as two 700-foot-long, 80-foot-high railroad trestles at Buxton and Horseshoe, offer amazing views. The gentle grade (in all but one area) provides beautiful scenes of the Coast Range from forested hills, as well as access to side trails displaying railroad relics and to a number of rivers and creeks. A variety of flora and fauna also populates the trail.
Most of the route consists of an 8-foot-wide hiking and bicycling trail paralleled by a 4-foot-wide horse trail. The trail rises from Banks to Vernonia on an average 2% to 5% grade. One exception is the Horseshoe Trestle bypass, which switchbacks up 700 feet and descends 300 feet at Tophill.
Equestrians will find ADA-accessible loading platforms and hitching posts at several trailheads. Please use caution cycling on any speedy downhill shots. Yield to horses, and be visible or audible when approaching.
From Banks, enjoy a gentle 5-mile incline—good for families—through pastoral farmland. The grade steepens a bit on mostly wide and sweeping switchbacks as you approach the Buxton trailhead in a canopy of trees. The Horseshoe Trestle was half-destroyed by fire, but bikers and hikers can cross the curving 700 feet of the restored Buxton Trestle at about mile 6. A ground-level equestrian bypass crosses Mendenhall Creek.
The route continues to the Buxton trailhead, where you can picnic and wander interpretive trails. You'll then pass through L. L. Stub Stewart State Park, a 1,700-acre full-service state park and campground. Just before reaching the Tophill trailhead at mile 12, the route descends into short, steep switchbacks across Nehalem Highway, bypassing the Horseshoe Trestle, and then climbs back to the trailhead.
After the Beaver Creek trailhead at mile 17, the path emerges from the woods and hugs the highway for a gentle descent into Vernonia. Prepare for a few bumpy spots and tight turns near Vernonia. The route goes through Anderson Park, just blocks from downtown Vernonia, and continues for a couple more miles to Mill Pond/Vernonia Lake. Vernonia offers shops, galleries, and a museum.
You can access the trail in Vernonia, Buxton, Manning, or Banks. The route passes through L. L. Stub Stewart State Park; however, day-use parking is not easily accessible from here, aside from a loading zone at the trail crossing of the park road.
The Banks trailhead provides the best parking, as well as restrooms and drinking water. From Portland, drive west on US 26 for about 21 miles. Go about 0.5 mile past State Route 6 (NW Wilson River Highway), and turn left onto NW Banks Road. In 1.7 miles, look for the lot at the bottom of a steep hill near NW Sellers Road.
To reach the Vernonia trailhead, from Portland, drive west on US 26 about 28 miles. Make a slight right onto SR 47 N (Nehalem Highway), and go 14.4 miles, looking for signs for Vernonia/Clatskanie. Turn right onto Bridge Street. Go 0.2 mile, and turn right (the third right) onto Jefferson Avenue. The trailhead will be on the left after 0.2 mile.