Hike the Elk Flats Trail to Devil’s Cauldron on the Oregon Coast

Less than 15 minutes of driving from Cannon Beach, you’ll find a short trail packed with scenery – with cliffs that plunge into the ocean, sweeping seaside views, and dramatic coastal landscapes. The Elk Flats trail will take you to the swirling waters of Devil’s Caldron, and to the top of a cliff peering over the waves.

Located in Oswald West State Park on the Oregon Coast, the trail takes you through a fauna-covered valley before opening up to sweeping views of the coast, with rugged cliffs and crashing waves below. 

In this guide, I’ll talk about hiking the Elk Flats trail to Devil’s Cauldron – getting to the trailhead, the best time to hike, what to bring, and more!

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About the Elk Flats Trail to Devil's Cauldron

Before we begin the Elk Flats hike, here are some things to know about the trail!

Elk Flats Trail: At a Glance

Length: 2.9 miles roundtrip
Elevation Gain: 616 feet
Difficulty: moderate (easy if you don’t go all the way to Short Sands Beach)

The Best Time to Hike the elk Flats Trail

Summer is the most popular time to hike on the Oregon coast, and that includes the Elk Flats trail at Oswald West State Park. This time of year is dry and typically sunny. 

However, my favorite time for hiking on the Oregon coast, and for the Elk Flats trail is fall! I hiked it in October – and while this did mean I had to deal with a little bit of drizzle (nothing a rain jacket can’t handle), it also meant way less people on the trail. I hiked at sunrise to ensure I’d get the view all to myself.

Leave No Trace at Elk Flats

I truly believe that everyone deserves to be able to get outside, and that exploring the outdoors is good for us! But, when sharing these locations with you, I have to be mindful of the fact that the more visitors a place sees, the more damage it sees as well.  

Most of the time, people don’t show up with bad intentions, but we humans often just aren’t aware of how much of an impact we have on the outdoors. The best thing you can do to protect these outdoors spaces is to educate yourself, and others, about Leave No Trace (LNT)

Leave No Trace means enjoying the outdoors without disrupting nature. Here are the 7 principles of LNT, and how they apply on the Elk Flats trail on the Oregon Coast!

  • Plan ahead and prepare – read this guide, check recent trail conditions, and be ready for muddy conditions. 
  • Travel and camp on durable surfaces – stay on the trail, stay off the cliff edges, and avoid trampling the plants! There are barriers at the overlook to Devil’s Cauldron – stay back, away from the edge of the cliffs.
  • Dispose of waste properly – don’t leave trash of any kind behind. Pack it out! 
  • Leave what you find – I know it can be tempting to take a rock or a cool leaf, but leave these things where they belong!
  • Minimize campfire impacts – fires are not allowed at Elk Flats.
  • Respect wildlife – elk and deer frequent the area. give them plenty of space – for their safety and yours. This is their home, so be respectful!
  • Be considerate of other visitors – the trail is narrow in spots. Yield to uphill hikers, and be respectful – no speakers or loud music.

Things to Bring to Hike the Elk Flats Trail to Devil's Cauldron

To help you pack for your hike at Elk Flats to Devil’s Cauldron, here are some things to bring with you!

Waterproof Hiking Shoes

After it rains, the trails on the Oregon coast get really muddy! So waterproof shoes are a must if you’re planning on hiking anywhere on the coast. 

My favorite hiking boots are my Danner boots – they’re cute, comfortable, and waterproof! I also love hiking in my Chacos, but I would only recommend sandals in the summer on the Oregon coast – any other time of year is just too muddy! Rain boots are another great option for muddy trails, and are definitely the easiest to clean.

Bonus Tip: A lot of these links are for my favorite place to buy outdoor gear – Backcountry. If you install the free Lolli extension on your browser, you can earn free Bitcoin when you shop online at certain retailers, including Backcountry & ChacosDownload Lolli here!

Rain Jacket or Windbreaker

The Oregon Coast is known for moody weather. It rains often, but even if rain isn’t in the forecast, I recommend bringing a windbreaker any time you’re going to be by the water. Even in the summer, the ocean “breeze” is more like a strong wind, and even on a sunny day you’ll get chilly fast!

The Marmot Minimalist Jacket is a great lightweight, waterproof option for hiking in the rain. For windbreakers, the RVCA Meyer Packable Anorack Jacket is cute, and folds up nice and small! For added warmth and layering, add a a Patagonia fleece.

Backpack

You need somewhere to put your snacks! And your hiking gear, of course.

When I’m bringing my camera gear, my favorite backpack is the Alex Strohl Mountain Light. It’s definitely the best camera bag out there for hiking with photo gear. If you don’t need storage for camera stuff, I recommend an Osprey Hikelite. For day trips or short hikes when I don’t need to pack too much, I love my Topo Designs Y-Pack!

Hydration!

Especially when you’re hiking or exploring outdoors, it’s important to stay hydrated! Single use water bottles are, of course, terrible for the environment, so avoid that and bring a reusable one!

For hiking, the CamelBak water reservoirs are convenient and easy – they can fit in your hiking backpack for water on the go. Nalgene water bottles are great for day to day, and if you want an insulated water bottle to keep your water cold and refreshing, Hydro Flasks are the best!

Where to Stay When You Hike the Elk Flats Trail to Devil's Cauldron

If the Elk Flats trail is a stop on your road trip, or you want to turn this into a fun getaway, there are plenty of places to stay nearby! Oswald West State Park is just a few minutes south of Cannon Beach – a town with plenty of cute accommodations. Here are some of the best places to stay close to the Elk Flats to Devil’s Cauldron hike.

An Adorable Cabin

For a unique place to stay during your trip, check out Hipcamp! It’s like Airbnb for campsites – and you can find yurts, cabins, glamping sites, and more.  There are several cute cabins to stay in near Oswald West Park, adding a fun experience to your trip, and a great place to relax after a hike!

You can even get $10 off your first booking here!

A Camper van

With a camper van, you get a vehicle and a place to sleep, all in one! This is my favorite way to travel, and you can rent a fully decked out van with Escape Campervans.

Whether you car camp, tent camp, or rent a tiny home on wheels, The Dyrt is the best way to find campsites!

A Beachfront Inn

Close to the Elk Flats trail, you’ll find the town of Cannon Beach – with incredible getaways and places to stay for a relaxing trip! Here are a few of the best places to stay.

Tolovana Inn – a beachfront inn with an indoor saltwater pool, hot tub, and sauna!
Webb’s Scenic Surf – just steps from the beach and the iconic Haystack Rock
Puffin Place Cabana – a fully outfitted vacation home for a private stay right on the water

Equally close, but to the south, is Manzanita, Oregon – a smaller town, offering some quiet, beachfront accommodations! Here are the best places to stay in Manzanita.

Cabin on the Coast – a cute, private cabin with a balcony
Edgecliff – mountain views, ocean views, and a hot tub! Just 1.5 miles from Short Sands Beach.
Cottage by the Sea – an adorable, private cottage just a few steps from the ocean

On this map, the little hiker icon will show you the exact location of the Elk Flats trailhead,  and the orange bed icons are places to stay!

Elk Flats to Devil's Cauldron Trailhead

The Elk Flats to Devil’s Cauldron trailhead is actually pretty easy to miss. It’s a small gravel pullout, with room for a few cars.

The trailhead coordinates are 45.76312, -123.95607.

This sign will let you know that you’re in the right place! The parking lot is pretty small, so if you’re planning to hike Elk Flats during the summer, or on a weekend, I recommend getting there early – or later in the evening. 

Hiking the Elk Flats Trail to Devil's Cauldron

At the trailhead, you can already see the ocean in the distance – but the views only get better. You’ll begin with a steep descent down on the narrow trail. You’ll have the option to go left, or right.

The best views are to the left – but Devil’s Cauldron (a cove carved in the cliffside, where the pool of ocean water is turbulent, creating a dramatic whirlpool) is to the right.

I went right first – saving the best views for last.

You’ll walk for just a few minutes through the valley – in October, the fall colors were absolutely gorgeous! But, you’ll arrive at this fork, and the sign will point you to the Devil’s Cauldron Overlook. 

Once you reach the top of the cliff, you’ll get to see Devil’s Cauldron down below! There are barriers up, keeping visitors away form the cliff edges. I know it’s tempting to climb over, but remember, they’re there for a reason. The cliff sides are fragile, and you don’t want to risk your life – or destroy the scenery.

There’s a bench here as well, so you can take a little break and enjoy a snack while you listen to the sounds of the ocean crashing dramatically against the cliffs. 

From here, you can get back on the Elk Flats trail and keep going – there is another overlook, but the path there is very overgrown and hard to find, and honestly, I didn’t think it was worth bushwhacking through spider webs. If you continue even further, you’ll end up at Short Sands Beach. The trail is pretty, taking you through old growth forest and tall trees – but it’s steep, and there’s an easier way to get to the beach! I recommend taking another hike and doing the Short Sands Beach trail instead.

After enjoying the views of Devil’s Cauldron for a bit, I got back on the Elk Flats trail and headed back the way I came.

Walking past the trailhead, continue on the Elk Flats trail – taking the left turn we saved for later. This path was extra muddy, so hiking boots with good traction are a must! Confession – I fell on my butt twice.

After a short walk on the narrow trail through the shrubbery, you’ll emerge to an incredible view of the ocean.

The view from this grassy, green cliff was my favorite one from all the hikes I did at Oswald State Park! Be careful – the final few feet down the hill are slippery, and steep.

Around you, you’ll see the towering cliffs that plunge into the ocean, and the rock formations sprinkled in the water. It’s a really unbelievable view – I sat here for a little while with some baby carrots, just enjoying the scenery and the ocean air.

More Hikes Near the Elk Flats Trail

 

Have you hiked the Elk Flats trail at Oswald West State Park, or any of these other hikes on the Oregon coast? Let me know in the comments below! 

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