Opal Creek Wilderness
Drive time: 2 hours
Hike: 7 miles (round trip)
OPAL CREEK epitomizes Oregon in the buff: an ancient Eden teeming with deep green pools, splashing waterfalls, and trees the size of buildings. Saved from the saw in 1998 after a years-long battle, the 20,800-acre preserve provides a rite of passage for local backpackers. On the quintessential trip to Opal Pool, you’ll trace the cascading flows of the Little North Santiam River, passing the pounding Cascada de los Niños (Waterfall of the Children) and Jawbone Flats, a still intact mining town that operated in the 1930s. A short jaunt from here, you can submerge yourself in the blessedly clear waters of Opal Pool—and undoubtedly be initiated into the ranks of those who make visiting this paradise an annual pilgrimage.
Vitals: Green Trails Map No. 521; dogs allowed; vault toilets along trail
Splurge! With a wood stove, a full kitchen, a tub, and a deck with superb views of Battle Ax Falls, Opal Creek Ancient Forest Center’s Cabin 1 hardly qualifies as roughing it. But after the three-mile trek to get here, you’ve earned it. opalcreek.org; $150 per night
Gold Butte Lookout
Drive time: 2 hours
Hike: 3 miles (RT)
BUNK A DAY OR TWO in Gold Butte Lookout, near Detroit Lake, and you’ll understand why writers like Jack Kerouac and Edward Abbey sought out similar fire-tower escapes. Easily accessed by a short trek up a Forest Service road, this storied woodland guardian sits atop the barren summit of 4,618-foot Gold Butte and provides 360-degree views of the Willamette National Forest, Mount Jefferson’s sky-cutting cinder cone, and the gnarled spires of Three Fingered Jack. Inside the cabin, there’s a stove and bed, but the star-choked sky will tempt you to sleep outside. And so you should, because come dawn, the sight of the sun’s first pink rays disappearing into the cobalt clouds in the valley below might just prove to be the inspiration you need to start penning your own Great American Novel.
Vitals: Green Trails Map No. 524; $65; firewood; vault toilets; dogs allowed; reservations available
Drive time: 2 hours
Hike: 13.5 miles (RT)
RESTING BENEATH Mount Adams’s lonely northeastern flank, Foggy Flat is a grab bag of alpine splendor. Punch your tent stakes down and observe the silhouette of the Goat Rocks Wilderness rising like a jagged fortress wall while Mount Rainier broods in the distance. Budding mountaineers frequent the area thanks to ready access to Adams’s wind-scoured glaciers, and hikers can tackle nearby Avalanche Valley or nibble off chunks of the Pacific Crest Trail snaking near the dormant volcano. That said, a fair number of Foggy Flat visitors come just to study the abundance of blue lupine and reeds of bear grass swaying in the breeze.
Vitals: US Forest Service Mount Adams Wilderness, Indian Heaven Wilderness, Trapper Creek Wilderness Map; dogs allowed
Drive time: 1.5 hours
Hike: 2.4 miles (RT)
LITTLE ONES often brim with enthusiasm at the start of a hike. But kids’ attention spans are notoriously short-lived. Keep their interest piqued on this bite-size, scenery-packed Coast Range excursion. Right out of the gate, gargantuan western hemlocks funnel you toward a pair of trickling creeks forded by wooden bridges. Next up, capture a few screensaver shots in a grassy meadow adorned with goldenrods, juicy blackberries, and the clear waters of Soapstone Creek. A few yards away lies Soapstone Lake, where the kids can busy themselves scouting for rough-skinned newts and belted kingfishers—at least until you get the s’mores going.
Vitals: Map available at oregon.gov/ODF; dogs allowed
Herman Creek Trail
Drive time: 1 hour
Hike: 14.6 miles (RT)
GRAND CANYON vets will tell you: to truly experience the park, you have to sidestep the masses. That’s easier said than done inside our own Big Ditch, the Columbia River Gorge. But the Herman Creek Trail, where the Gorge’s largest old-growth groves and a series of wispy, unnamed waterfalls hide, is an excellent staging ground for more solitary explorations. Make camp within the cathedral of trees found at Cedar Swamp, or add another five miles on a round-trip trek to Mud Lake, where your nearest neighbors will likely be pikas chirping from the talus hillsides.
Vitals: Green Trails Map No. 429; Northwest Forest Pass ($5 per day) required; dogs allowed
This article appeared in the June 2010 issue of Portland Monthly.