Located inside the "Welcome Center" (ranger station) at the entrance to Stub Stewart State Park, the Discovery Depot contains a mixture of educational materials about the wildlife in the park and the logging history of the surrounding hillsides.
You will find a stuffed cougar, two living Northwest Aligator Lizards, and an entire wall covered in history and historical artifacts.
Be sure to also visit the "Discovery Table: Please Touch" towards the center of the room, which is covered in items that people are allowed to touch.
There are also a number of brochures available here about varous state parks nearby, the Oregon Coast, and various other tourist information.
While the history and wildlife information on display here isn't extremely extensive, it is free of charge to come in and take a look.
The Discovery Depot also includes a number of items for sale, but I have covered those items in a %Lhttp://members.virtualtourist.com/m/tp/20091d/]shopping tip. This includes a number of local artworks and some locally made food items.
There are over 20 miles of trails in "Stub" Stewart State Park. Some of these are suitable for hiking only, while others are open to horse riding or mountain biking. All of the trails I have run into in the park are very well marked, except for one trail that was still under construction at the time of my most recent visit.
Some of the hills are quite steep, but in most places gradual slopes have been followed, where possible.
Trail maps are located on the back page of the park brochure (available on the web site, below, or at the ranger station) and at the Hilltop Day Use Area. Each of the trails are numbered and a section to the left of the map describes each trail in more detail, including length.
This is the Coast Range, and that means that the weather is wet much of the time. The natural result, unfortunately, is that some of the places where horses, mountain bikes and hikers share the trail are quite a murky muddy mess due to the trail surface not being able to withstand high stress concentrations produced by horses hooves or bike tires.
Many of the trails pass through second growth forest, but one trail climbs up to the top of the hill at the highest point in the park - "Unfit for Settlement Viewpoint", so named because an explorer in 1879 remarked on his survey map remarked "Mountainous, Unfit for Settlement".
The Banks-Vernonia Trail passes through the park. Both uphill to Tophill and downhill to Manning are nice sections of this paved trail.
The primary parking location and starting point for activities in Stub Stewart State Park is the Hilltop Day Use Area. The bad news is that this means that if you go out on the hiking trails or take a trip on the Banks-Vernonia Trail, you have an uphill climb to get back to your car. While there is a parking area at the ranger station closer to the bottom of the hill, that area is specifically reserved for those in the station, and visitors using the rest of the park are requested to use the Hilltop Day Use Area if they are not in the ranger station.
The good news is that from the Hilltop Day Use Area there is an extensive view to the west.
The bad news about that view is that it is mostly ex-forest land. Logging has been extensive, and the resulting clearcuts and scarred landscape look more like something from some textbook on poor land use practices than they do a "forest". But, the view is there at least.
There is a covered shelter that is available on a first-come first served basis. This is equipped with sinks and other features that make it a slight step up from many city park covered picnic areas.
There are a large number of picnic tables scattered through the cleared area. Only one or two of these near the picnic shelter have cooking stands, but there are several picnic tables that have complete water and electrical hookup.
There is an off-leash pet area near the north end of the day use area, and flush toilets are available at the south end of the day use area, near the picnic shelter.
Several hiking trails start from this location, including trails at both the south and north ends of the area.
The cabin village is located at the north end of the Day Use area, so please try to have some respect for the people spending the night there.
From the community of Manning up the hill to LL "Stub" Stewart State Park, the Banks-Vernonia State Trail is mostly separated from traffic noise, as the railroad climbed the area along the side of the hill. Highway 47, on the other hand, sticks to the valley floor as much as possible. The section is approximately 5.5 miles (9 km) in length, though that distance depends a little bit on where in LL "Stub" Stewart State Park is used as the start of the measurement. The main trail is paved for the entire distance between these points.
It is a continuous uphill climb over the whole distance, but none of the trail is very steep at all. The only exception to this is where the trail crosses Mendenhall Creek. The railroad bridge is a bit high for some horses here, and therefore there is an alternate trail that drops steeply down to a lower level and crosses the creek on a bridge at this lower level. However, many bicyclists and hikers may prefer to simply use the much higher bridge.
Mendenhall Creek also is the location of a significant trailhead (Bacona Road) including a significant parking area, a vault (concrete lined pit) toilet, and a fair amount of facilities aimed at horse riders.
There is very little parking available at the Stewart State Park end near the trail. You will most likely wind up parking in the Hilltop Day Use Area and coming back down the hill to the trail if you select the state park as your starting point.
The vast majority of this section of the trail is in mixed forest, though the section near Manning does go near some farm lands. There are a few places with a view of surrounding hillsides, but none are extremely remarkable. Perhaps the best view anywhere along this segment of the trail is on the Mendenhall Creek Bridge.
The Banks to Vernonia state trail (biking, hiking and horse back riding) has several distinct segments with different features. This section covers the section from LL Stewart Sate Park northward to the Hilltop Trailhead.
The trail crosses the paved road up the hill into LL Stub Stewart State Park just down hill from the ranger station. If you decide to do the trail while camped at the park, remember to leave enough energy and time to climb that last hill from the trail crossing to the various camp grounds.
Northward from the park entrance road, the trail climbs uphill, and is initially paved, while a small saft surface area for horses. Approximately 1 mile (1.7 km) from the park entrance road, the trail crosses over Highway 47 on a narrow bridge with only chain link fence for guard rails. This seems like it would be quite spooky for a horse, and there doesn't seem to be an alternative trail for crossing the road on foot rather than on the bridge.
On the uphill side of highway 47, the trail continues climbing, but this time the surface is a mixture of dirt and gravel. It may not be suitable for some bikes during some seasons, but it is reasonably compacted and may therefore work reasonably well for bikes that are not mountain bikes.
After about another mile of continuous elevation gain, much of it through a cut, the trail starts to head back down the hill.
Just before the impressive but closed U shaped trestle at Hilltop, the trail dives down a very steep hill that was once part of the railroad embankment. As there is no budget to replace the damaged sections of the bridge, and since horses are unlikely to want to cross at this very high bridge anyway, most likely the bridge will never be repaired. However, the bridge is still a spectacular site to see, and there is a good chance it will eventually be taken down so now is the time to see this bridge. The bridge may be viewed from the top by continuing on the old railroad right of way past the steep drop in the trail. When the trail arrives at the bridge, there is a fence that announces the end of the trail at the end of the bridge, but you can still see through the fence to the end of the bridge. However, the bridge is much more spectacular when viewed from the road under it.
The steep downhill trail segment brings you to the Tophill trailhead. Here you must cross the road on foot due to the closed spectacular bridge.
While this segment of the trail runs near highway 47, the highway is quite distant from the road for the entire length of this segment of the trail, except where it crosses the highway. Therefore, almost the entire length of trail is fairly pleasant in terms of not having traffic noise, except in the distance.
There are no benches or other rest points along this segment of the trail. While restrooms are available in LL Stub Stewart State Park, it is a bit of an uphill climb to get to them. There are pit toilets at the Tophill trailhead.
See web site for a link to the trail map.
The trail distance from LL Stub Stewart State Park to Tophill is approximately 2.2 miles (3.5 km).
April is a bit late for trillium in the Willamette Valley, but up here in the forest in the coast range it is possible to find them in bloom even at this late date.