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Oregon is home to some of the United States’ most treasured and unique ecosystems, and the best way to experience them is by foot. Just a stone’s throw away from Oregon’s most popular cities are national and state parks that will redefine your notion of ‘green.’ Rainforests dripping in moss and lichen, birds singing, creeks and waterfalls are in full flow. If you’ve never experienced the Pacific Northwest and you’re in dire need of some crisp mountain air, Oregon is the place to be. Here’s our list of the Beaver State’s best hikes.
Silver Creek Falls, Silverton
The sheer number of trails in Oregon named “falls” is staggering. The state has enough waterfalls to occupy any nature-lover for a lifetime. The Silver Creek Falls State Park, in particular, located outside Salem, boasts an impressive 10 waterfalls and 24 cumulative miles of hiking trails. With half the waterfalls over 100 feet, it’s hard to bypass this gem. The South Falls loop is the easiest and most popular in the park. At just about 1 mile in length, it’s super accessible for families and even those traveling with a stroller. The best hike in the area is the Five Falls Tour, a 2.6-mile loop best visited during the rainy season when the waterfalls are in full effect.
Angel’s Rest, Columbia River Gorge
Cutting through the Cascade mountains in northern Oregon is the Columbia River Gorge. A massive valley with expansive views of Washington to the north and Oregon to the south, it’s a place with rich cultural history and astounding biodiversity. You can’t really go wrong by visiting the Gorge, but we recommend the Angel’s Rest hike. This hike is one that offers beautiful views of some distant countrysides, so maybe save it for a spring or summer day with clear skies. The hike itself can be done in under two hours and the Angel’s Rest trailhead is only 35 minutes from Portland.
Eagle Creek Fire Update, August 2018: Due to the 2017 Eagle Creek Fire, the Angel’s Rest hike is still closed. However, the forest service has noted that it should be open by the end of 2018. Check back for new updates.
Ecola State Park
There’s nothing quite like the coastlines of the Pacific Northwest. Ecola State Park is a place that boasts all the gems of a quintessential coastal hike. Starting out at the Ecola trailhead, head south along the bluffs and witness a place where rugged seas jut up against dense northwestern rainforest. Run your fingers through prehistoric ferns, gawk at massive evergreens, and stumble across a thriving ecosystem of slugs, snails, and mushrooms. Keep your eyes peeled for the Tillamook Rock Lighthouse, a historic building constructed on a small patch of rocks a mile offshore. Other highlights include the views of Indian Beach and the Cannon Beach sea stacks. Ecola is an easy/moderate 5.7-mile hike that takes about 3-4 hours and is open all year round.
Columbia Hills State Park
In what seems like a geographical anomaly in Oregon, this spot is a wide-open countryside of rolling hills and tall grasses. Columbia Hills especially beckons wildflower enthusiasts and photographers in April when spring begins to bloom. Whereas before the region’s trail system was pretty sparse and poorly maintained, today it’s an impressive network of paths leading throughout the park. Start out at the Crawford Oaks Trailhead and follow the trail up and over a waterfall, alongside blue lupines and balsamroot, and soak in the gorgeous views of the countryside. In total the trek is 6.6 miles and can get a bit crowded, especially when the lighting is stunning at sunrise or sunset.
Opal Creek probably takes the cake for the hike that best embodies Oregon. It’s a lush rainforest trail that leads hikers alongside a babbling brook for 10.5 miles. There’s waterfalls, little bright blue eddies where you can dip in au naturel, and an astounding amount of wildlife. It’s also probably the most remote hike on this list, so be sure to bring enough food and gear for your journey. If you struggle with navigation, consider downloading a hiking app that works even when your phone is in airplane mode.
Elk Meadows, Mt. Hood
Mt. Hood is undeniably one of the best places to hike in the state of Oregon. Because of this, it’s not the most remote. If you’re looking to escape the crowds, head to the east side of the mountain and begin your trek at the Elk Meadows trailhead. It’s a beautiful path that leads through mixed firs, hemlocks, and a handful of creeks. The best part of the hike is the destination: the 100-foot Sahalie Falls, a powerful waterfall that makes for a great spot to set up and have a picnic or relax for a few hours.
Abiqua Falls is an incredible little getaway, a hidden patch of natural solace that is often considered the greatest hike in Oregon. It’s 5.2 miles and heavily trafficked, but well worth it. Getting to the trailhead requires some off-roading and finding the turn can be tricky, so don’t rely on your GPS. Abiqua Falls itself is a big swimming area with plenty of room to hang out for the afternoon. Feel free to swim right up underneath the falls and enjoy the powerful waterfall hitting your back.