Back in the winter of 1997-98, a series of storms hit the central Oregon coastal town of Neskowin. The turbulent weather unearthed what is known today as the Neskowin Ghost Forest, the remnants of an ancient sitka spruce forest. The stumps of the Ghost Forest have been estimated at approximately 2000 years old, and when they were alive, the trees are thought to have stood 150-200 feet high. Scientists believe that the forest was ultimately destroyed as a result of an earthquake or tsunami, and the remains eventually buried deep. The event that destroyed the forest also helped to save the stumps by burying the remains, thus being preserved rather than eroding them away over time.
The Ghost Forest stumps all still rest in their original soil, deep beneath the sands. The sea levels were believed to be very similar back then to what they are today, which helps to explain why they have now been exposed and not reburied over the past 14 years. Before the big storms of 97-98, locals would sometimes witness a few of these stumps exposed during particularly harsh storms, every 20 years or so, but they would always be reburied in a few days. This did not happen after the big unearthing that winter.
The unearthing of the Ghost Forest results in a mysterious and beautiful sightseer’s dream. When the tide is out, some 100 ancient stumps can be seen rising out of the beach and incoming waves. They are covered in barnacles, mussels, and other sea life. The center of some of the particularly large stumps have been eroded away, creating shallow pools in which sea life gets trapped when the tide is out. You can sometimes see small fish or crabs in these little pools, waiting for the tide to come back in and release them back into the ocean.
Just north of the Ghost Forest is Proposal Rock, named for the turn of the century marriage proposal of Charles Gage to Della Page. Proposal Rock is an island just at the edge of the ocean. When the tide is completely out, you can reach the island and climb a short trail to the top, where you will find a small, secluded forest, and at the westernmost point, an amazing view of the open Pacific Ocean and the Ghost Forest below. While the beautiful views make a trip to the top of Proposal Rock worthwhile, be very careful as there is no guardrail and make sure to keep an eye on the tides.
The dramatic, mysterious area can be seen year round and is fairly easy to access. The quiet community of Neskowin is about 15 miles north of Lincoln City on Hwy 101, at milepost 98. You can often wander among the beaches of Neskowin Beach State Recreation Site and stumps of the Ghost Forest alone, with only the sounds of the ocean waves, wind and sea birds to accompany you as you stroll. The properties on the dunes to the east of the Ghost Forest are all private, so the best way to get to the forest is by parking in the public lot at the Neskowin turnoff and entering onto the pristine beach directly in front of Proposal Rock. If the timing is right, you will be able to see the stumps to the south of you, beyond Slab Creek, which runs through the beach towards Proposal Rock and dumps into the ocean. You will need to navigate across the creek (it is shallow, but cold) to reach this southern portion of coastline.