When you think of the best fall colors hikes near Portland, you might not think of Silver Star Mountain — but you should.
This little jewel of a hike, about 90 minutes’ drive from Portland in Southwest Washington, is a little short on forest. That’s why the idea of autumnal splendor up there might seem counter-intuitive. But here is what it does have: huckleberries, vine maple, and mountain ash, all of which turn red and/or gold towards the end of September.
There are three hikes to Silver Star, two of which are covered in my book, 60 Hikes Within 60 Miles of Portland. One is the Bluff Mountain Trail, a 13-mile roundtrip trek that’s one of the greats around here — but is a ton of work! The other is Ed’s Trail from the Silver Star Trailhead, which we will get to in a second.
A third option, and the most popular because the trailhead access is easiest, is via Ground Vista. You can read about that one over at the OregonHikers.org Field Guide.
I like to highlight this Ed’s Trail loop because it has the best variety of scenery with the least effort. The problem with it, as with Bluff Mountain, is that the road to the trailhead becomes more heinous every year. In this case, it’s only the last 2.7 miles, but I won’t lie: I have a four-wheel-drive 1998 Subaru Outback, and I had to pick my way through some of the mini-canyons in this road. I even saw a couple of cars parked along the way, and I assume people walked the rest of the way up. And I can dig it.
But you can get there; it just takes time. Some amount of clearance is highly recommended, though. The directions are in my book, or at OregonHikers (I use the L1100 Road option).
You’ll start out from a scenic trailhead, then wind up through vine maple and ash for half a mile to the beginning of Ed’s Trail. In late September, you’re already into the fall colors before you even start hiking. Ed’s Trail climbs gradually, in and out of meadows and patches of forest, until gaining the ridge crest and passing through a stone arch — a rare treat in these parts which is another reason to come this way.
There is a short section where you will have to scramble up a rock face, and a couple of places where a fear of heights might come into play, but I don’t consider any of it dangerous or particularly difficult.
After the bit of climbing, you go down and through some trees before emerging on a jeep road. Take this left and up for a quarter-mile to the summit, where the views are just outstanding.
You’ll see from Rainier to Hood and beyond, and if the sun is right you can catch a reflection off the Columbia River down near Portland. Look, also, for the Columbia Gorge, including the back side of Dog Mountain.
There have also been sightings of a mountain goat up here in recent years, so keep an eye out for moving white spots on the hillsides around. Some folks have even seen the goat right near the summit.
When you go back, just stick with the jeep road, and you’ll pass through fantastic open country with new views — since you’re now on the other side of the ridge from Ed’s Trail.
This area is so open, by the way, because a huge fire at the beginning of the 20th Century was so hot that many of the trees have never grown back. The whole place has the feel of being up in the high alpine country, but in fact the top of Silver Star is only 4,390 feet above sea level.
It’s a great hike in the late spring for wildflowers, but don’t forget it in the fall, either. If your car can handle getting to the trailhead, Ed’s Trail is an easy approach to Silver Star that brings great views, great variety, and — this time of year — some amazing fall colors.
Here is a photo gallery from my hike on September 28, 2017. Just click on the first image to scroll through them all. I was also there late in the afternoon, hiking from about 2:30 to 5:30, so the light was perfect, as well.