The Elk Creek Trail is a quiet, steady climb in the middle of the Tillamook State Forest. It's about an 8 mi hike (out-and-back) if you turn around at the official end of the trail and don't tack on the extra 0.8 mi (an additional 1.6 mi round trip) of the back end of the Elk Mountain Trail. That additional bit is what makes the hike described in the Oregonhikers.org post a total of 9.6 mi. That post also mentions that this is a moderate difficulty hike, but I'd put it on the exhausting side of moderate! The elevation gain--about 1,500 ft if I'm counting lines correctly on the topo map further below--is rather constant and there aren't many switchbacks to break up the ascent. However, the trail is well-maintained and offers pretty solid footing.
The Oregonhikers.org post also mentions that this trail follows an old logging road, but it only looks road-like for a very short bit. It turns into a dirt walking trail with lots of plant life quite quickly, and remains such for the rest of the hike. The old logging road must be quite old; you don't really notice it. Note this trail is forested the whole way, so there are no sweeping views, but you can pick out some other pine-covered ridgelines between the trees along the way, and Elk Creek keeps the trail company along the bottom half. There are also some lovely, striking birch groves along the trail itself (more on that in a minute!).
Heading out, be careful to pick the right trailhead, as there are several that start from around the same location. I'll detail how we found the correct trail, though there may be a couple ways to get to it.
There are a series of dirt parking areas as you continue along the road off of US 6, each with a variety of trailhead welcome maps and individual trail signs. The first parking area is where we parked, and it has a couple composting toilet restrooms as well as a water pump.
If you continue to walk along the direction you came in, you'll encounter a big trailhead map sign. This one doesn't appear to be the one you want.
Keep walking farther along the dirt road, looking for smaller trailhead signs off to your left, and you will eventually see some that mention the Elk Creek trail.
The Elk Creek Trail begins with a peaceful walk along the creek for maybe about half a mile, then you'll begin to ascend pretty rapidly from it. Buckle in, you're about to get a solid workout for the next 3+ mi with only a couple brief, level breaks. The silver lining is that means the trail isn't crowded with people, however, once you begin the ascent. I'd say this trail is ok for dogs--we had a tiny one with us and we crossed paths with a couple others while on our hike. There are some points at which it would be not-quite-dangerous-but-still-annoying to encounter a big dog on the path, so keep a leash handy if you do bring your pup.
Despite this being a somewhat densely forested trail, there is still much to see within the forest! The lower portion of the trail that runs along the creek is covered with blackberries, some of which were just beginning to blossom. There are several gorgeous birch groves at various points along the hike. We also spotted some trillium and a banana slug!
It was a gray, misty late morning when we started out, so we were essentially walking up into a cloud. We could feel a significant temperature difference compared to the bottom of the trail, and there was still snow along the very top of the trail!
As for where to turn around--when you reach the end of the Elk Creek Trail, don't get fooled by the continuing path off to the right, you're not at the Elk Mountain / King Mountain Trail junction! (That junction is where you'd end up if you began hiking the first bit of the back end of the Elk Mountain trail.) At the end of the Elk Creek Trail you have the Elk Mountain Trail to the left and an unmarked thing off to your right. I suspect that path off to the right is simply a continuation of the old logging road. There isn't much place to sit for snacks here, but we made do by sitting on our raincoats.
It got gorgeous and sunny just as we were hiking out--we headed out the same way we came in, following the Elk Creek Trail descending. I'd like to try the Elk Mountain Trail loop (taking the Elk Mountain Trail ascending then Elk Creek Trail descending), but supposedly it's quite strenuous, so it'll have to wait until later this summer when I'm in better shape.
Since it was now so sunny out, we made a stop at Apolloni Vineyards on our way back to Portland! We were driving along and saw the sign and decided "eh, why the hell not". Turns out they are open from 11a - 5p every day. They have an airy and bright tasting room with a nice outdoor seating area overlooking some vines and a bocce area.
How to get to the trail:
We found the picture of the trailhead sign in the link below isn't quite the one you want. (You could start there and find your way over to Elk Creek, maybe?) The coordinates and directions will get you to the first parking lot anyway, where there are two compost toilet restrooms and a hand-pump water station. Continue along the road a bit farther to find the other trailhead signs I detail above.