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6 Uncrowded Day Hikes Near Portland

Skip the crowds and seek the shade with our picks for day-trip leg stretchers.

By Riley Bass July 14, 2021

Turquoise blue water against an emerald-green backdrop at Spirit Falls—what's not to love?

Most Oregon outdoors lovers have probably already hit the area's greatest hits—Silver Falls State Park, Neahkahnie Mountain on the Oregon Coast, or Angels Rest in the Columbia River Gorge. Great as those classics are, there are days when you’d prefer your hike to be more solitary, to leave the overwhelming crowds far, far behind. Here’s a handful of day-hikes within a two-hour drive of Portland where you should be able to peacefully commune with nature to your heart’s content. Grab your sunscreen, your water bottle, a friend, and some reliable shoes, and head out to these head-clearing locations.

Bald Butte Trail

If you like to hike Dog Mountain, but don’t feel like queueing up for a permit, this is the trail for you. Overlooking the quieter, eastern side of the Mt Hood Wilderness area, this more strenuous trail will lead you to views of multiple peaks, including Hood, St. Helens, Rainier and Adams. Depending on the season, you’ll pass through abundant wildflowers during your climb, but don't expect much shade. Hikers need to know that they’ll be sharing this trail with mountain bikers, that they’ll have to navigate some loose scree on the way down, and that the top portion of the trail passes under some intrusive power lines, but it’s tough to beat the panoramic views from the summit. Round Trip: 8.5 miles. Elevation gain: 2,600 feet. Nearest town: Parkdale and Hood River. Distance from downtown Portland: 1.5 hours.

Spirit Falls

If you want a grand waterfall that’s not Latourell or Wahclella, head across the Bridge of the Gods (don't forget you'll need cash to pay the $2 toll) to the fairly secluded Spirit Falls on the Washington side of the Columbia Gorge. Some map apps might try to direct you to the Little White Salmon National Fish Hatchery down the street, so make sure you end up on Cook-Underwood Road, which will lead you to a pull-off parking area on your right. The trai slopes down, but don’t let that fool you: it's steep, so walking sticks and good shoes are recommended. On your way, you’ll have a beautiful bird’s eye view of the Columbia and its surrounding hills, with some opportunities to explore lookout points. After that, it’s forest until you reach the falls, which will stop you in your tracks because of their turquoise color and turbulent character. You might just feel like you took a trip to Hawaii if you go on a sunny day, between the bright green backdrop and the shimmering water.  Round trip: 0.8 miles. Elevation gain: 505 feet. Nearest town: Underwood, Washington.  Distance from downtown Portland: 1 hour 18 minutes

Iron Mountain Trail

Switch up your evening stroll and walk through Lake Oswego’s cool greenery, which doesn’t feel too different from Forest Park’s. Shade is abundant. The is well groomed, family friendly, and dogs are allowed on leash. It ends with an overlook platform with a picnic table. Keep an eye out for some horses in a pasture along the way. Round trip: 2.1 miles. Elevation gain: 285 feet. Nearest town: Lake Oswego. Distance from downtown Portland: 30 minutes.

Tumala Mountain-East Trail

If you are drawn to especially quiet, not heavily trafficked trails, this might be one of your favorites. You’ll start in dense forest and gain views all the way until you hit the summit. Once you reach the top, on a clear day, you’ll get to see Mount Jefferson and Mount Hood, and odds are you’ll have the view all to yourself. In addition to the mountains, you can stare at unending hills, covered with evergreens, with little to no sign of civilization. Make sure to bring bug spray, and don’t expect much cell service. Round trip: 4.1 miles. Elevation gain: 1,384 feet. Nearest town: Estacada. Distance from downtown Portland: 1 hour 54 minutes.

Beaver Falls

This is a nice short one that lets you get good and sweaty on the way up to the falls. A good trail for dogs and young hikers, it makes an excellent stopover on family trips to Astoria. You can climb behind Beaver Falls to feel like you’re in a National Geographic film with the spray of the cascading water on your face, but be careful, it's slippery! Last time we were there, there was some noticeable litter along the trail, so do your part and make sure to clean up after yourself, and if you can, after others as well. Round trip: 0.6 miles. Elevation gain: 78 feet. Nearest town: Clatskanie Distance from downtown Portland: 1 hour 10 minutes.

Laurance Lake High Ridge Hike

While this hike falls on the longer side (it's still shorter than Bald Butte), hikers know that the reward is worth every mile. You’ll walk through a gorgeous, elevated forest to the view of Mt Hood perched picture-perfectly above turquoise Laurance Lake. Feel free to take your dog (on a leash) and maybe even plan to camp at the base of the lake when you return from the summit. You’ll see people at the lake, but not nearly as many on the trail. Make sure you’ve got bug spray for this one too. If you plan it right, you might get to walk alongside some wildflowers. Round trip: 6.6 miles. Elevation gain: 1,207 feet. Nearest town: Parkdale, Mount Hood. Distance from downtown Portland: 1 hour 45 minutes.

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