Current Issue Details

Buy Current Issue

Columns > John Zinkand - Improvise

Published: 2007/07/29
by John Zinkand

Oregon Hiking: Music for the Soul

Music, music, music! Thats all anyone ever talks about on this site. This band, that jam, this venue, that festival. Jeez! Well, theres more to life than just music. Ok, Ill admit not a heck of a lot more, but theres more for sure. One of my passions besides live music is backpacking and hiking in the Northwest. I live in the Northwest, so this is most convenient. We have so much natural beauty here and all within a short drive of our fair city of Portland. Theres the Gorge with its sheer cliffs, waterfalls, and strong winds which make it famous for its windsurfers and kite boarders. The Cascade mountain range including several snow capped volcanoes like Mt Hood, Mt St Helens, Mt Adams, and Mt Jefferson is only a short drive away. Also, a sprawling wine country known for delicious Pinot Noirs and a beautiful yet rugged coastline are relatively close by. And this is just the greater Portland area.
There are also the Steen Mountains in eastern Oregon, Mt Bachelor and Crater Lake in central Oregon, the mighty Deschutes River running north to south through the middle of the state, and many other natural wonders. Basically, Oregon is a nature lovers wonderland. So if you find yourself in Oregon for a concert, festival, or some other activity, it would be a crime not to get out to one of the many beautiful hiking spots available within close proximity of Portland.
Let me first steer your attention to a little hike in the Columbia River Gorge that is only about 35 minutes from the city, Angels Rest:

This hike is great because it is so close to the city, yet still provides an incredible view at the top. The trail head is in the middle of the Gorge, a major tourist attraction, so this trail can be crowded. I usually like to hike this one in the off season when its not as crowded, but one can still get a bit of solitude by arriving nice and early before the lot fills up. The hike is a 4.4 mile roundtrip that takes one up to the top of a viewpoint after gaining 1500 feet in elevation. There is plenty of beauty along the way with large trees, waterfalls, wildflowers and boulders. The higher you get on the trail, the more views of the Gorge spread out below you that come into view. As you get near the top, you can see the stands of burnt trees where a wildfire ravaged this area years ago. Once at the top, there is a large rocky outcropping that one can explore and take in views from all angles. There are little rocky nooks and crannies that are perfect for enjoying the view, having a snack, or whatever other activity might be enjoyable in such a serene spot.
For the more fit hiker, I suggest trying Silver Star Mountain in southern Washington. While in the state of Washington, this hike is only an hours drive from Portland. This hike is a 9.7 mile loop with an elevation gain of 2400 feet, so its pretty intense. But with a harder hike comes a better payoff in excellent views:

The hike starts on a rural gravel road and parking area that is never really that full. This hike is more out of the way than Angels Rest and much more difficult, so it doesnt attract the same crowds. Its also a loop hike, which is nice since you will not see the exact same scenery going out and back. The trail is steep and rocky in many places and can be quite intense. But if one can push through the pain and fatigue, they are rewarded with wildflower coated meadows, vast mountain views including Mt Hood, St Helens, and Mt Adams, and even the site of Native American Indian pits. These pits are large holes atop the summit dug into a huge rocky swath commonly thought to be vision quest sites for young Native American boys coming of age and testing their meddle. The hike itself is probably enough to test most peoples meddle, but the views at the top of this one are worth every effort.

One last hike Ill mention is in the Coast Mountain Range and is only about 12 miles from the actual coast line. This is a more difficult hike, but not quite as tough as Silver Star Mountain. Its a 5.5 mile roundtrip out and back with an elevation gain of about 1600 feet. So although this hike is no breeze, its a little more accessible as a challenging hike for the beginner. The hike is less than an hour drive from Portland and is well marked with a sign leading to the trailhead right off Rt. 26. After the turn off, drive on a narrow, curvy, bumpy road to the trailhead. This hike is usually pretty crowded as it is located on the tourist corridor to the coast, but the views from the top are worth dealing with any amount of crowds:

The hike is a pretty intense slog up the hill. The time moves along pretty quickly, however, as the hike takes one through very different zones. From the cool woods to the rocky outcroppings near the top, the hike is varied and sprinkled with a bevy of lovely wildflowers. It can get a bit sketchy near the top, especially on a windy day as the trail becomes steep, loose, and rocky. The final scramble is pretty intense, but once at the top the view is out of this world. There is the view of the nearby hill which serves as the other hitch in the saddle. Also, on a clear day one can see all the way up to Mt Rainier in Washington and all the way out to the Pacific Ocean. After taking on the hike, a short drive to Cannon Beach is in order to snack on some fresh Dungeness crab or smoked mussels. Yum!

The hiking in Oregon truly is first rate. Its great exercise, great fun, and perfect for some meditation and solitude while reconnecting with nature. Of course, these three hikes only scratch the surface of thousands of miles of backpacking and hiking trails. If you are coming to Oregon and would like to find more hikes, I highly recommend any of the Northwest hiking books by Mr. William L. Sullivan. The man knows his Northwest hikes and his descriptions and directions are more accurate than any of the other books Ive used. So while taking in some tunes this summer to feed your head, dont forget to also get some exercise and feed your soul with some great hiking. Happy trails!

Show 2 Comments