6 Off-the-Radar Treks to Pull You Out of Your Work-a-Day Rut
Travel Time from Portland: 1 hr / Trip Length: 15.8 miles / Difficulty: Hard / Best Month: May
We won’t sugarcoat it—with its imposing, sheer basalt south face and 4,500 feet of elevation gain, this Washington Gorge trail is more of a Mount Hood conditioning crucible than a hike. (A landslide from the massive landmark is responsible for the original Bridge of the Gods of Native lore.) But the summit views, we promise, are worth the pain. Start at the Bonneville Trailhead (the only option since 2017) and link with the Pacific Crest Trail to meander past clear-cut views of Table Mountain and mossy woods. At mile 6, climb quad-busting Heartbreak Ridge: 1,700 feet in a little over a mile. Just beyond, Table’s namesake picnic-perfect summit offers some of the most legendary views in the Gorge and to the Cascades beyond. —TA
Travel Time: 2 hrs / Trip Length: 11 miles / Difficulty: Hard in one day, moderate in two / Best Month: August
Opal Creek—the Willamette National Forest wilderness best known for its icy, turquoise swimming holes—gets crazy in the summer. Leave the masses behind on this full-day trek through 700-year-old Doug firs, western red cedars, and hemlocks. Company thins just past tumbling Gold Creek Falls; four miles of gentle switchbacks slice through steep slopes choked with huckleberry, rhododendron, and bear grass. Whetstone’s domed summit once housed a fire lookout, but now only a few stubborn silver firs block the wide, clear views of Hood, Jefferson, and the Three Sisters. Got a night? Continue on to camp just past Battle Axe Creek, turning this into a loop hike with a shot at dipping into breath-stealing Opal Pool before or after crowds show up. —TA
Travel Time: 2 hrs 15 min / Trip Length: 2.6 miles / Difficulty: Moderate / Best Month: June
Deep in a heavily logged area of Washington’s Gifford Pinchot National Forest, Sleeping Beauty gives you the most bang for your buck in 1.3 short, steep miles. You’ll climb 1,400 feet shaded by a canopy of vine maples and western hemlock before winding around the tight spire of rock below the summit. (Keep an eye out for cautious mountain goats peering over boulders.) Up top, the platform of an old fire lookout tower gives you an up-close view of Mount Adams, which looms just 11 miles away, with the green valleys of Indian Heaven Wilderness stretching in all directions. —BT
Travel Time: 3 hrs 15 min / Trip Length: 10 miles / Difficulty: Hard in one day, moderate in two / Best Month: September
Without a cozy lodge and ample parking, relatively few hikers visit Mount Adams’s Timberline Trail equivalent, the Highline Trail (which can’t be fully completed without a shuttle). This long day hike or multiday trip on the mountain’s north side is an excellent snapshot, no shuttling required. Start at Muddy Meadows, which immediately offers stunning mountain views (and wildflowers in July and August). You’ll slide in and out of alpine forests, crossing streams and passing tucked-away campsites on your way to Foggy Flat, an epic expanse so close to the mountain you can count the cracks in Adams’s Lyman Glacier. Turn around here or set up camp and explore farther up the peak to the volcanic Devil’s Garden, perched at 7,750 feet. —BT
Travel Time: 4 hrs / Trip Length: 4 miles / Difficulty: Easy / Best Month: September
In summer, an empty Oregon beach is hard to find. Try this craggy, off-the-beaten-path stunner 23 miles south of Bandon on US 101; turn just past mile marker 293 at a green airport sign to access the trailhead. After a short jaunt, misty, fern-filled woods open to a wild headland where Pacific breakers smack into black cliffs and sea stacks. The Cape Blanco lighthouse (Oregon’s oldest) punctuates the horizon to the south, and the Floras Lake trail north leads to a second bluff with views of 80-foot high yellow cliffs towering over black sand beaches. Bonus: To access those beaches, head to Boice Cope State Park at low tide, where they stretch two miles back to Floras Lake. —TA
While you’re here: Make Blacklock Point a weekend by camping at Cape Blanco State Park and hiking more coastal highlights like Port Orford Heads, Humbug Mountain, and Battle Rock parks. Fuel up on world-class fish and chips at The Crazy Norwegians in Port Orford.
Black Canyon/Heart of Darkness Loop
Travel Time: 5 hrs / Trip Length: 39 miles / Difficulty: Hard / Best Month: June
If you can’t stomach another summer in Bend’s overcrowded backyard, look east to the Ochoco National Forest, with its abundant wildlife and extreme solitude. See the best this forest has to offer over the four-day, unofficial “Heart of Darkness” loop, which leaves from the Rock Creek trailhead. Trace elk tracks on a faint trail through wildflower meadows and larch, ponderosa, and mahogany groves. It’s possible you won’t see another human. (Deer, bobcats, and coyotes are another story.) Take a dip in any of the cool, clear streams that bubble along this loop before reaching the Boeing Field trailhead and a dusty 4.3-mile road walk back to the car. —TA
While you’re here: After Heart of Darkness, stick around to climb 350-foot-tall Steins Pillar and fish for redband trout in the North Fork Crooked River, or jet to Ochoco Brewing in Prineville for a Double Dam IPA and a burger.