Oregon is for hikers
Oregon has nearly 3,400 official hiking trails; and what better way is there to experience the forest than by breaking in a new pair of hiking boots? Hiking allows us to witness both the nuances of our forests and the diverse wildlife and plants that live within them. In state and national forests and parks, trails are carefully planned and laid to minimize disruption to wildlife habitats. While hiking, it’s important to remain on designated trails so fragile plants important to wildlife foraging on the sensitive forest floor won’t be destroyed.
Big tree hikes in Oregon:
- Big Ponderosa Pine
The largest girth of any known ponderosa pine, in La Pine State Park
- Champion Douglas-fir
The largest girth of any known Douglas-fir in Oregon, at Oregon Cave National Monument
- Giant Spruce at Cape Perpetua
An accessible hike to a 600-year-old tree
- Largest Black Cottonwood in the United States
250 years old in Willamette Mission Park
- Octopus Tree at Cape Meares State Park
A strange, mysteriously shaped 250-year-old Sitka spruce
- Old-Growth Trail in Oswald West State Park
Mammoth old trees on an easy walk between Arch Cape and Neah-Kah-Nie Mountain
- Opal Creek Wilderness and Scenic Recreation Area
Largest intact stand of old-growth forest in the western Cascades with 500+ year-old trees
- Sitka Spruce at Klootchy Creek
The largest tree in Oregon until it toppled in 2007 storm; an 80-foot snag remains
- Tub Springs Sugar Pine
One of the largest, oldest sugar pines in the state, on Highway 66
- Valley of the Giants
A hard-to-access but remarkable stand of Douglas-fir and hemlock at least 400 years old
10 great hikes within 50 miles of Portland:
- Banks-Vernonia State Trail
A multi-use trail paved over a decades-old railway bed, the Banks-Vernonia State Trail allows walkers, joggers, bicyclists and mounted riders the chance to catch a whiff of Oregon history. Besides great views and scenery, the 21-mile trail features 12 bridges, as well as Horseshoe and Buxton trestles – two 600-foot long, 80-foot high railroad trestles. A gentle grade with occasional hills, intermittent picnic areas and public restrooms makes this a great family ride or hike.
Between the 1920s and 1957, the railway served as a corridor for commerce, hauling timber from Vernonia mills to Portland. The transition to more nimble trucks diminished the need for rails, and the BVT became Oregon’s first rail-to-trail – handed over to nature, and outdoor enthusiasts.
You can access the BVT at any of six points – including trailheads at Manning, Buxton, Tophill and Beaver Creek, as well as at Banks and Vernonia at either end. From Portland, a favorite starting point is the Manning trailhead, about 28 miles west of downtown off Highway 26 on Pihl Road, where parking is available. Download a trail map.
- Columbia Gorge Trails – Multnomah Falls
According to Friends of the Columbia Gorge, a nonprofit group that protects the scenic, natural and other resources of the Columbia River Gorge, “There is no place on Earth for hiking like the Columbia River Gorge.” Use the search feature on their website to explore more than 100 Gorge hikes. But if you have time for just one, be sure to visit iconic Multnomah Falls, an easy 30-mile drive east of Portland. The tallest waterfall in Oregon, the two-tiered falls drop a total of 620 feet. An easy walk on the foot trail from the parking lot leads several hundred feet to the Benson Footbridge above the lower cascade. From there, older and more ambitious hikers can trek another mile up a very steep path to a platform at the top of the upper falls, where they can gain a bird’s-eye view of the Columbia Gorge.
From Portland, take I-84 eastbound for approximately 30 miles. Follow signs and take Exit 31 (an unusual left-side exit ramp) off I-84 to a parking area. Follow the path under the highway to reach the falls viewing area.
- Ecola State Park
If you’re searching for ocean views on your hike, Ecola State Park is a great choice. Located just north of Cannon Beach, the Clatsop Loop trail inside the park offers breathtaking views of the northern Oregon coast. The 2.5-mile trail guides you through a dense, old-growth Sitka spruce forest. Along the way you’ll find interpretive signage explaining the forest ecosystem and the historical significance of the trail to the Lewis and Clark Expedition and World War II.
This forest is dominated by Sitka spruce, a conifer that thrives in wet, cool conditions. This tree has a unique bark that resembles scales, and needles that are sharp to the touch. Much of this forest was logged 100 to 150 years ago, but many patches of towering old-growth remain.
Take Highway 26 west from Portland. Head south on Highway 101 toward Cannon Beach. Take the exit for Ecola State Park and follow the signs to the Indian Beach trailhead. There is a $5 entrance fee for the day
- Forest Park: Wildwood Trail
Forest Park is America’s largest forest natural area within a city. The nearest trailhead is literally a few minutes from downtown Portland, even accessible by light rail. Forest Park offers more than 80 miles of hiking trails, fire lanes and gravel roads. The most noted trail in the park is the Wildwood Trail. Recognized as a National Recreation Trail, it’s the longest trail in the park at just over 30 miles.
Forest Park is mostly a second-growth conifer forest, but contains a few patches of old-growth Douglas-fir. The forest is managed primarily for social and environmental values, stressing recreational access and the improvement of wildlife habitat. Trails are well maintained by city employees and volunteers. Forest Park is used heavily by the local community. Responsible usage is key to its long-term forest health.
To reach one of the Wildwood trailheads: Head west on NW Lovejoy out of Portland’s Pearl District, adjacent to downtown. Just past 25th Avenue, veer onto Cornell Road. Drive 2 miles to NW 53rd Drive and turn right. Drive one mile until you see signs for the trailhead. Street parking is available on both sides of the road
- Mirror Lake
Here’s a family-friendly hike to a beautiful lake, and a great view of Mt. Hood. It’s about 2.5 miles round-trip to the lake, with just 700 feet of elevation change. The trailhead is right on Highway 26, so it’s easily accessed. Arrive early to avoid the crowds, and take water and a picnic lunch, plus a towel to dry your feet after dipping your toes in the lake. Just below the lake, you can take the loop trail in either direction. Go right and connect to another trail up Tom, Dick and Harry Mountain. Even a short trek up this trail will afford excellent views.
From Portland, travel 27 miles east of Sandy on Highway 26 and turn right (south) into the gravel parking area where a footbridge crosses Camp Creek (between mileposts 51 and 52). A Northwest Forest Pass (available online) is required May 15 through Oct. 1.
- Oxbow Park
Oxbow Park has 12 miles of trails that will expose you to diverse wildlife habitat, volcanic ridges and ravines, and ancient forests with colossal old-growth trees. Oxbow offers frequent opportunities to spot wildlife in their natural habitat, with deer, beaver, fox, osprey, elk, salmon and songbirds all residing within the park.
The park also offers a forested campground, reservable shelters, playgrounds, horse trails and more. So whether you’re looking for a group getaway or a solitary adventure, Oxbow’s 1,000-acre natural area park is sure to have something for everyone.
From Portland, head east on I-84 until you reach Exit 17. Go past the truck stop to the light and turn right on 257th. Go 3 miles to Division Street and turn left. Continue east for 5 miles, following the signs. Turn left on Oxbow Parkway and drive 1.6 miles to the park entrance.
- Saddle Mountain
Saddle Mountain State Natural Area is cherished for its hiking trails, wildflowers and breathtaking scenery. The main trail is steep and difficult in spots, with a 1,603-foot rise in elevation over 2.5 miles. The hike to the taller of the two peaks is about 6 miles round-trip. It’s recommended for experienced hikers wearing proper footwear and clothing. Portions of the trail can be slick in wet conditions. The 3,283-foot basalt summit affords panoramic views of the Columbia River, miles of Pacific shoreline – and on the eastern horizon, the Cascade Mountains. For a less strenuous climb, try the short, 10-minute Humbug Mountain viewpoint trail that shoots off from the main trail a quarter-mile from the trailhead.
Take Highway 26 west from Portland. About 64 miles west of downtown Portland, turn right before milepost 10 onto Saddle Mountain Road. The 7-mile, paved but bumpy access road ends at the trailhead. The area contains dense forests of spruce and hemlock, and some ancient lava flows.
- Silver Falls State Park
The Trail of Ten Falls within Silver Falls State Park is one of the most photogenic hikes in Oregon. This is a moderate hike with 800 feet of elevation change that can be up to an 8.7 mile loop, but you may enter and exit at multiple trailheads along the way. As the name implies, there are plenty of waterfalls to see on your journey, including a spectacular 177-foot waterfall. A well-constructed trail actually takes you behind the waterfall to see it, close up, from a vantage point few ever get to enjoy.
During your exploration of the park you’ll find a wide range of forest types, and patches of old, towering trees. You’ll find younger stands affected by weather and landslides. There are even patches that have been thinned as part of active forest management.
From downtown Portland, head south on I-5 to Salem. Take Exit 253 and head east on Highway 22. Proceed 7 miles east to Exit 7. Take the off-ramp, turn, left and go under the highway. It’s 16 miles to the park from here, with good directional signs.
- L.L. “Stub” Stewart State Park
Named for a former Oregon Parks commissioner, this park lies just 34 miles west of Portland. The newest of Oregon’s famed state parks, it features 1,800 acres of rolling hills, forest glades, gleaming streams and wildflowers, crisscrossed with more than 25 miles of trails. Trek in deep canyons or picnic in the shade. Embark on a journey from either of two trailheads – Hilltop or Clayhill. These trails are multi-use, open to horse and hiker. There’s also 6 miles of cross-country and free-ride mountain bike trails, from easy and forgiving to robust and challenging. For overnighters, there are full-hookup sites and walk-in tent sites.
Take Highway 26 west from Portland. About 30 miles west of downtown Portland, take a slight right onto Highway 47/Nehalem Highway. Proceed about 4 miles. The entrance road to the park will be on your right.
- Tryon Creek State Natural Area
Located just 7 miles south of Portland’s city center, this is another of the city’s “wilderness gems.” A series of trails lines both sides of a lush ravine featuring one of the few creeks in the metro area that has a returning run of steelhead trout. At 658 acres, this forest offers an array of forest types and habitat to explore. The public is encouraged to do so, either on a self-guided hike or during one of the numerous educational and interpretive tours given by the park staff.
Dominant plants in the Tryon Creek watershed are Douglas-fir, red alder, big leaf maple and western red cedar. Along the trails you’ll find trillium, more than 90 species of wildflower, and enough mud to make any kid happy.
From downtown Portland, head south on I-5. Take Exit 297 and head south on Terwilliger Blvd. At the traffic circle, continue straight until you see the entry sign for the park.
Other hiking links: