5 Close-to-Portland Hikes for Reveling in Fall Color
Local hikers know this: while spring brings flowers and summer a warm reprieve from rain, the very best time to hike in Oregon is fall. During this all-too-fleeting shoulder season, the air is crisp, not sweltering, wildlife busily makes hay (or gathers nuts) while the sun still shines, and determined late blooms still appear here and there, alongside trees newly ablaze with color.
Brian Barker—author of Take a Walk Portland and frequent contributor to Portland Monthly's Field Notes department—says he also loves fall hiking for the welcome decrease in trail traffic.
“It’s a refreshing change after the summer,“ he says. “The days that we have blue skies are a good time to soak it up before it gets too rainy.”
Here are five Barker-approved hikes.
Maple-Wildwood Loop Hike
Location: Forest Park
Distance from downtown Portland: 3 miles
Trail length: 8.4 miles
Even in summer, when Forest Park is crowded with Portlanders trying to escape city life, the centrally located Maple-Wildwood Loop tends to be less thronged. In fall, look for bunches of bluish-purple Oregon grapes, our state flower. Look, but don't taste; this native fruit is face-twistingly tart. (It's much sweeter cooked, or perhaps jellied.)
Location: Washington Park, near the Oregon Zoo
Distance from downtown Portland: 4 miles
Trail length: Varies
There is no one right way to explore Portland's living tree museum. Whether you want to relax or challenge yourself, there is a trail for everyone. Looking for some guidance? On Saturday, October 21, you can take the Fall Color Tour. But, if you want to wander by yourself, we recommend the southern urban terminus of the Wildwood Trail, where you can see the dramatic hues of the small but mighty Franklinia altamaha, or Franklin tree, decked out in fragrant white flowers.
Oaks to Wetlands Trail
Location: Ridgefield National Wildlife Refuge (Washington)
Distance from downtown Portland: 29 miles
Trail length: 2 miles
The refuge trail is a great place for viewing wildlife, particularly the many migratory birds that pass through this rich wetland ecosystem from September through December. (To quote the journals of one Captain William Clark, passing through here in 1805: "I slept but very little last night for the noise kept up during the whole of the night by the swans, geese...brant (and) ducks on a small sand island...they were immensely numerous and their noise horrid.") There are more tranquil attractions here, too—witness the refuge's numerous Oregon white oaks, whose fall leaves turn copper as their branches grow heavy full of acorns. If you’re lucky (and quiet), you might even spot a coyote or the adorable red fox.
Hamilton Mountain Loop
Location: Columbia River Gorge (Washington)
Distance from downtown Portland: 70 miles
Trail length: 9.4 miles
Desperate to get back to the Columbia River Gorge? There are a few trails that were left undamaged by the Eagle Creek Fire, including this challenging loop, which not only boasts three gorgeous waterfalls but also, during fall, a fringe of yellow maples bordered by huge green Douglas Firs. If you go before the weather gets too cold, you can also see wild roses lining the trail.
Indian Heaven Trail #33
Location: Indian Heaven Wilderness (Washington)
Distance from downtown Portland: 105 miles
Trail length: 3.3 miles
Warning: this trail is steep; you’ll climb 1,000 feet in two miles. But there’s a benefit to the climb: spectacular views of Mt. Rainier once you reach 5,100 feet. On the trail, look for plentiful larches, which in summer resemble regular evergreens; come fall, however, their needles turn a golden yellow. Also look for bushes filled with huckleberries—they can be picked until mid-November.