You might be thinking that swimsuit season is just around the corner, but for me the warmer weather holds another promise: hiking boot season.
Here in Oregon we are surrounded by miles upon miles of protected forest lands; in fact, nearly half of the state itself. In my personal effort to explore as much of Oregon’s wild beauty as possible, I began a few years ago to hike as many different trails near Portland as I could find.
Now more than 20 hikes in, I have only begun to see the glorious scenery of this state.
Here is a list of my favorite day-hike trails near Portland (at least, of the ones I’ve trekked so far). Happy trails!
Angels Rest – The trailhead for Angels Rest is one of the closest to Portland. From downtown it only takes about 30 minutes to get there. In this sense, it’s a great hike to start with, especially if you’re new to the area or have visitors with you. The hike is just over four-and-a-half miles round-trip and will only use up two to three hours out of your day depending on pace.
This hike is a series of switchbacks that essentially takes you up the steep face of the Columbia River Gorge with an elevation gain of more than 1,400 feet. But once you make it to the top and venture toward the edge of Angels Rest’s rocky outcropping, the view will reward you for your climb. Here the Columbia River and the Gorge spread out before you in an unparalleled panoramic display.
Silver Falls – The Silver Falls State Park is a unique spot in the middle of the Willamette Valley about an hour and a half from Portland. As soon as you enter the park it feels as if you are walking through a magical forested canyon with waterfalls greeting you at every corner.
Over the course of a seven-mile loop through the park you have the chance to encounter 10 waterfalls, some of which you are able to walk behind. Although this is a long hike, it is fairly easy and therefore worth doing in its entirety.
I even know people who have proposed marriage here — once you see it, you’ll know why.
Saddle Mountain – This hike takes you up to the summit of Northwest Oregon’s highest peak west of the Cascades at 3,283 feet, and when on top you truly will feel as if you’ve conquered something big. A 1,600 foot elevation gain over the course of 2.6 (5.2 out-and-back) miles features strenuous, often-rocky terrain, so a hiking pole or at least a good walking stick is recommended.
Once to the summit you’ll find a roped-in mountaintop veranda with benches from which to take in the scenery that stretches along the coast of the Pacific Ocean and offers a bird’s eye view of the mouth of the Columbia River. The hike back down is certainly a lot quicker and affords you time to linger and enjoy the copious wildflowers dotting the mountain.
Tom Dick and Harry Mountain – Most hikers who access the popular Mirror Lake trailhead near Mount Hood will stop and finish their hike at the lake itself. While this is an easy and lovely little jaunt where you can view Mount Hood in the placid reflection of Mirror Lake and camp or picnic, you really owe it to yourself to continue the hike up to the top of Tom Dick and Harry Mountain just above the lake. The summit is about two miles up the trail past the lake, making this a 5.8-mile hike round trip.
Tom Dick and Harry is actually a mountain with three separate peaks (hence the name), but you will visit only one of them at the top. From this nest of rocky slabs you can make a stone chair for yourself and relax with an up-close view of Mount Hood literally right across from where you sit, as well as a view of the lake down below.
Afterwards I recommend the Ice Axe Grill in nearby Government Camp for post-hike sweet potato fries and a nice, cold IPA.
Wahkeena Falls to Multnomah Falls – Any visitor to Portland is invariably told to visit Multnomah Falls, which makes it a bit of a tourist trap, although an admittedly worthwhile one. I suggest, however, discovering the Falls in a whole new way by actually hiking to it.
Hikers are able to truly experience the varying terrains, features and views of the Columbia River Gorge by starting out an eventual 4.9-mile loop at Wahkeena Falls, just west of Multnomah Falls. Of all the hikes I’ve done, this one is possibly the most all-encompassing, with old-growth forest, waterfalls, streams, river views and even a bubbling underground spring.
Eventually you meet up with the trail that takes you to the top of Oregon’s highest waterfall, Multnomah Falls, where you might feel that you’ve experienced something special that all the throngs of tourists hiking up just to see the waterfall have not. It is for this reason that I suggest starting at the Wahkeena Falls trailhead and ending your hike with a visit to the Multnomah Falls Lodge.