I’m the author of two books on Portland hikes: 60 Hikes Within 60 Miles of Portland and Day and Section Hikes on the Oregon PCT. I try to get out there as much as I can, and I try to keep up with all the latest news and developments out on the trail. Check here for news, stories, and photographs from the great outdoors. And you can also follow me as the 60 Hikes guy on Facebook or Twitter.
Visiting Oregon’s Silver Falls State Park anytime is special; going there after a snowfall adds a whole different level of beauty and wonder.
For one thing, there just aren’t that many people around, especially during the week. We visited on a Wednesday and saw four other cars in the parking lot! It had just showed a couple of inches the day before, and the temps had remained cold. So the snow was still on the trees and much of the trail.
The combination of solitude and winter scenery made it a pretty special day on the Canyon Trail, aka “Trail of Ten Falls.” Enjoy the photo gallery below.
We’re all looking for a hike that’s close to home, within our abilities, and scenic without being swamped with people. Does such a place exist in Oregon?
Well, at certain times of year, absolutely. And if it isn’t the peak of summer on a weekend, the Little North Santiam Trail fits the bill perfectly. I think of it as “Opal Creek without the crowds.”
Little North Santiam Traihead is about a two-hour drive from Portland: down I-5 to OR 22, east towards Detroit Lake, then north (left) up the Little North Santiam Road for about 15 miles to Elkhorn Drive. Here’s the West Trailhead on Google Maps.
From there, it’s about 4.5 miles along the river to the East Trailhead farther up OR 22, near Shady Cove Campground. So you could do a shuttle, or some people stash bikes at the upper trailhead, do the hike, then bike back down the road. Or you can do an out-and-back for as much as you’d like, up to 9 miles.
Basically the hike has three sections: the lower 1.5 miles from the West Trailhead, the upper 2 from the East, and the hill in between. But even the hill isn’t too intense, a climb of about 500 feet in a little over half a mile. But the views up there are more than worth it: a deep, narrow forested canyon with mountains all around and a raging river below.
In early February 2019, we started at West Trailhead did the lower section, the hill, and a little bit of the upper, to an area called Three Pools, where there will definitely be a lot of people in the summer since you can also drive there on the other side from the trail. So you would see those people but not necessarily share the trail with many of them.
But on our Sunday? We saw three other hiking groups all day, and nobody on the river.
Here is a video of a waterfall on the lower section, barely a mile out from the trailhead we used.
A little ways beyond that waterfall, you start up the hill. It gets steep in places, and the trail is rocky with lots of roots. So even with only 500 feet of climbing, we were pretty winded when it was over.
In fact, when the trail is wet it’s what I would call “sneaky tough,” because it’s hard to get into Cruise Mode when you have to keep an eye out for footing all the time.
Beyond the viewpoint (right) you drop back down to the river and after another roly-poly mile arrive at the Three Pools, another spectacular series of waterfalls. There is also a dramatic rock pillar here, as well as a parking area on the far bank. So if it’s a warm summer day, especially a weekend, there will be folks swimming and hanging out here, but the great majority will be on the other side of the river.
Here is a video I shot from the Three Pools area, with the rock pillar in the trees to the right:
At that point, we headed back, but another mile up the river would have gotten us to the East Trailhead. So you could also start there and hit Three Pools just a mile downstream.
It’s not really possible to name the best hike at Mount Hood, but certainly the loop from Timberline Lodge to Paradise Park has to be on the short list.
For one thing, it’s not just one hike. You can just go wandering around above the lodge and hardly put in any effort at all, but still enjoy great views and wildflowers and trees and little canyons. If you go 2.4 miles you can stand at the top of a massive gash in the side of Mt. Hood with a lovely stream hundreds feet below you. You can climb down there and see the creek and a waterfall.
And then you can go for the whole thing, which is what I did in the first week of September.
Paradise Park Loop from Timberline Lodge
This is a 13.9-mile loop with 2,800 feet of ascent that took up nearly eight hours and most of my energy.
Starting from Timberline Lodge, which is worth a stop on its own, simply walk up the hill until you cross the Pacific Crest Trail, which stretches some 2,600 miles from Mexico to Canada. The mileages (left) are a bit humbling, and if it’s August or September you’ll probably meet some northbound “through-hikers” doing the whole thing. Turn left, and off you go.
After crossing under a few chairlifts and past a tower of cell phone antennas, you finally leave the ski area and enter Mount Hood Wilderness. It’s gradually downhill for 2,4 miles to the Zigzag overlook, where I shot this video:
A nice enough turn-around, but I kept going, down to the stream crossing and then back up the other side. This is the first hard part. The second, and real hard part is going back up from the creek to the viewpoint, then 2.4 miles back up to the lodge, at the end of the day when you already have about 9.5 miles under your belt. In the middle of the afternoon.
Beyond the canyon, you climb to the intersection with the Paradise Park Loop Trail (turn right) and then the Paradise Park Trail. Confusing, I know. At the second one, in a beautiful meadow where I took the photo at the top of this post, go up a little farther. I went 0.4 miles up to some rocks, where I had a nice break and shot this video:
The main trail — here a combination of the PCT and the Timberline Trail around Mount Hood — continues over to the site of the old Paradise Park Shelter, a great lunch spot, then wanders through Paradise Park on a nearly three-mile loop, passing meadows and views and forests and flowers and waterfalls. It’s really pretty magical.
Then you come back to the Zigzag Canyon, go down it, cross the creek again, and then you pay your dues. The last 3.5 miles gain 1,400 feet of elevation, half of it in the first mile or so. Good times.
But it is some kind of worth it, if you’re up for the effort. Paradise Park is a beautiful spot indeed, and Timberline Lodge is a terrific place to wind up a hike. I mean, pizza and beer anyone?
Here is my Gaia track from the day:
You can get more details in my guidebook, 60 Hikes Within 60 Miles of Portland, which is for sale (signed as you like) right here.
And here is a photo gallery with some more details from the day:
Cascade Head is part national forest, part county park, and part Nature Conservancy. It offers beach and river access as well as two rarities: coastal meadows, high above the sea, filled with flowers and grasses and butterflies. And it’s not too much work to reach these treasures.
To get there, you head for US 101 like you’re going to Lincoln City, but turn north from where Oregon Highway 18 comes in near Otis. A short distance up, you’ll see Three Rocks Road to the left; that leads to Knight Park and the trailhead #for hike #1 below. Keep going on 101 and, just before the crest of the hill, look for a road leading left into the woods; that leads to the trailheads for hikes #2 and #3, but it will be closed between January 1 and July 15 each year.
Let’s take a quick look at these three hikes at Cascade Head.
Hike #1: Knight Park to Cascade Head
This one starts from the parking lot at Knight Park, by the mouth of the Salmon River. Follow a trail through the trees and along the road, then keep following signs until the trail goes into the woods and starts climbing a bit.
It gets brushy and crosses a few creeks, but it isn’t much work. After just over a mile, you’ll pop out into the open in the meadows, with a decent shot at spotting elk grazing or a bald eagle flying overhead. From here, the trail will keep climbing as much as another 1,000 feet or so. Just do as much as you want and head back.
If you take the second road off 101 described above, you’ll first come to a trailhead at a right-hand turn in the road. This is for the upper access to the meadows, and it’s a very straightforward affair: You just walk out through the woods on an old road for 1.3 miles, and there you are — at the top of the meadows. You can then go down towards Knight Park if you’d like or just hang out.
You could also, if you were feeling up for a slightly bigger challenge physically and logistically, do a cool shuttle: Leave one car here, take another to start at Knight Park, then walk up here on hike #1 and take the car down to hike #3.
Hike #3: Hart’s Cove
The hike with the best variety at Cascade Head starts at the end of the upper road. This one leads about three miles out to more meadows with views of Hart’s Cove, and it starts out in an unusual way: downhill.
The first mile or so loses about 500 feet of elevation, then it levels and goes in and out of a few creek drainages before popping out into the meadows. Especially early in the hiking season (which starts July 15), this meadow can be really grassy and brushy, as no hikers have been in to trample down trails.
If you head for a clump of trees off to the left, you’ll have a nice place to sit with a view of Hart’s Cove and a waterfall that drops into the ocean. Throughout the second half of the hike you’ll often hear sea lions barking, as well. And if you’d like, there’s a little adventure trail down to the ocean from beyond the trees. Just be careful!
Burnt Lake and Zigzag Mountain is a little Mount Hood hike that has it all: trees, waterfall, lake, exercise, and a great big view of Mount Hood.
I took a couple of out-of-town guests up there on June 24, and we had perfect conditions. It was sunny, warm, a little breeze, no bugs, and we somehow had the whole summit to ourselves. There were a lot of people around the lake, but it was a fun and relaxed scene. There’s great camping there, but we were just up for the day.
The first little bit is super easy, through the woods, crossing a couple of small creeks, and passing a nice waterfall. Then you climb steadily for a but to Burnt Lake (right), where you can stop or just rest, have a snack, and continue on to the viewpoint up on Zigzag (top of this post).
It’s a little over nine miles to do the whole thing, but the lake alone is six miles. And it’s all about an hour and 15 minutes from central Portland, from a trailhead very near Ramona Falls.
It’s all in my book, 60 Hikes Within 60 Miles of Portland; you can buy your very own signed copy of it directly from me, along with several other titles of mine, right here.