Portland Outdoors

What To Do
  |  Gorp.com
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People who have trouble sitting still make up an inordinate percentage of the Portland population. What isn't clear is whether these activity freaks are drawn to the city, or whether the wide choice of outdoor sports actually entices normal people into doing more than they might otherwise. For the impartial observer it is none-the-less a fascinating phenomenon to watch the caravan of sports utility vehicles, roof racks laden with snowboards, setting out for Mount Hood the morning after a big snow. Or the congestion on "secluded" trails near the city on any given summer weekend. Thankfully, there are plenty of places to leave behind the crowds on excursions near the city. What follows are GORP's favorite choices for regional fun? a roundup of activities that should keep any Portlander busy, at least through the next weekend.

So many trails, so little time? thus runs the typical complaint from hard-core hikers in Portland. One way to narrow the choices is to pick a direction. Heading west, towards the coast, is a good start. Just off Highway 26 is Saddle Mountain Trail, a steep, 5-mile round-trip trek to spectacular views of the Pacific. Further south, on Highway 101, is the surfing haven of Oswald West State Park and the trail through old-growth forests on Neahkahnie Mountain. Still further south is a finger of land jutting seaward near Tillamook, Cape Lookout, a prime place for spotting migrating Gray Whales.

Going east from Portland affords even more options. First is the Columbia River Gorge, where there are a number of Hikes which can accommodate any time-frame or experience level. Our favorite day hike is at Eagle Creek, a precipitous trail past lush forests and numerous waterfalls. For an overnight jaunt we suggest nearby Ruckle Ridge, which rises from the Columbia to the old-growth camping on Benson Plateau.

South of the Gorge is Mount Hood, which boasts over 1,000 miles of trails within the National Forest system. The wilderness areas around Hood are noteworthy for their pristine beauty, we recommend the Yokum Ridge Trail through the Mount Hood Wilderness, and the Tanner Butte Trail through the Columbia Wilderness. Further south, and more appropriate for overnight outings than day trips is the Willamette National Forest? which has over 1,400 miles of trails. For hikers seeking a real challenge, there are three great excursions that lead to high alpine meadows in the Mount Jefferson Wilderness. Another worthwhile trip is the peak at Bull of the Woods Wilderness, which marks the hub of a relatively challenging 68-mile trail system, with several loop opportunities for overnight or long weekend hikes.

Finally, northeast of Portland, in Washington state is the Gifford Pinchot National Forest, which features a long section of the Pacific Crest Trail and about 1,100 miles of trails which include access to Mount St. Helens and Mount Adams.

One advantage to the extensive logging that has taken place in the Pacific Northwest is the vast system of logging roads that criss-cross the forests surrounding Portland. These trails make ideal access routes for mountain bikers? often linking them with radical single tracks that plunge through mud and over logs. One of the best kept secrets among hard-core mountain bikers in this area is Three Corner Rock? a dizzying obstacle course of steep trails and infinite switchbacks about 18 miles up the Washougal River Road from Washougal, Washington.

Another worthwhile locations in Washington at Gifford Pinchot, which allows biking on a good portion of its 1,000+ miles of trails. Across the Columbia, in the Gorge, there are a number of excellent bike routes, for road bikers and mountain bikers alike.

The Clackamas River, running southwest of the city into the Willamette, is perhaps the most notorious of the numerous regional whitewater hotspots. This reputation comes largely from the popularity of Bob's Hole? a near-perfect surfing wave that caters to national kayaking talent in the annual Bob's Rodeo (generally in late May). Other popular kayaking rivers in the Class III-IV range are the Sandy, the Washougal, the lower White Salmon, Hood River and the Molalla. For those seeking a little more challenge (Class IV-V) try the Wind, the upper White Salmon, or Canyon Creek.

For flatwater adventures, you can do no better than the Columbia, which features the recently-completed Lewis and Clark Water Trail, running from Portland to the Coast. This five-day trip can also be appreciated in sections? one of the best stretches for wildlife spotting and seclusion is the 35,000 acre Lewis and Clark National Wildlife Refuge, about an hour west of Portland.

The jewel of Pacific Northwest rock climbing is Smith Rock, located on the east side of the Cascades near the town of Madras. With over 1,000 routes covering the spectrum of difficulty, there is no lack of terrain here for even the most ambitious climbers. Closer to home, Lewis and Clark State Park offers a number of challenging routes with the added bonus of being just 20 minutes from the downtown. And for those seeking a backcountry climbing experience, the contorted rocks of the Menagerie Wilderness attract technical rock climbers from far and near.

At one point in the not-so-distant past, the Columbia watershed boasted the largest salmon runs of any river in the world. Unfortunately, due to dams and development those once-phenomenal flows have been reduces to a trickle, though there is still decent salmon and steelhead fishing on rivers like the Sandy, the Wind, and the Salmonberry. There is excellent trout fishing in Cascade's mountain streams, the Deschutes River, in particular, is a favorite for wading and driftboater fishermen alike. Anglers seeking a wilderness fishing experience have long been devoted to the Salmon Huckleberry's lively waters. And finally, what has been lost vis-a-vis salmon on the Columbia has been gained, to some extent, by the recent boom in sturgeon fishing. These prehistoric beasts occasionally measure 12 feet in length, and with jumping acrobatics when they're hooked there may be no more exciting freshwater gamefish.

Winter Sports
Mount Hood is the hub for regional winter sports activities, with four downhill resorts? Meadows, Timberline, Snow Bowl, Cooper Spur? and several Nordic ski centers serving the mountain. Mount Bachelor, which lies about three hours Southwest of Portland (near Bend), is also a favorite Oregon ski destination. For backcountry enthusiast, there are hundreds of miles of groomed trails between the Mount Hood and Gifford Pinchot National Forests. Other popular winter activities include ice climbing, climbing (and skiing) the volcanoes, surfing, paddling and hiking to natural hot springs? all described in depth in our Portland winter sports roundup.

Wind Surfing
The Columbia River Gorge and Hood River (a town in the middle of the scenic area), are internationally famous windsurfing destination. If you get a chance to sample the powerful winds that funnel through from the east, or the steep waves that stack up on the river it will become immediately clear where this reputation comes from.

Between the wilderness areas, National Forests, and State Parks there is no lack of opportunities for backcountry camping around Portland. But for groups seeking a rustic tent camping experience while staying close to their cars (families perhaps?) GORP has selected a few of its favorites. Beacon Rock State Park, on the Washington side of the Gorge, includes the world's second-largest monolith and features some wonderful hikes . Eagle Creek Campground, across the river, is a perfect base camp for hiking forays up Eagle Creek and Ruckle Ridge trails. For camping on the Coast, sample primeval coastal rain forest at Oswald West State Park, and for riverside camping just a short drive from the city visit Oxbow Park.

Scenic Driving
"Scenic Driving" is a redundant expression for travel around Portland, since there are few drives through the countryside that don't offer something scenic. That being said, there are two full-day drives leading from the city, that typify some of the classic scenery of this region. Heading east, The Columbia River Gorge Historic Highway passes some of the most spectacular waterfalls and overlooks along the river, and with a return trip up route 35 from hood River and back to Portland along route 26 the drive encompasses a loop around Mount Hood. Driving west, the Oregon Coast Drive, involves a long loop through the Willamette Valley and through the Coastal mountain range with the prime attraction being miles of winding road along the Pacific Ocean.

Wildlife Viewing
The Lower Columbia River is a major corridor for all modes of wildlife? birds, mammals, and aquatic species. There are a number of excellent wildlife refuges on and around the river that cater to the different species? from endangered elk and deer at Julie Butler Hansen National Wildlife Refuge to copious waterfowl at the Ridgefield National Wildlife Refuge. Choosing the ideal site depends only on your wildlife preference and mode of transport.

Published: 29 Apr 2002 | Last Updated: 15 Sep 2010
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication


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