5 Spring Hikes for Soaking Up the Sun

These exposed treks, all within two hours of downtown Portland, help you replenish your inner reservoir of precious vitamin D.

By Sylvia Randall-Muñoz

You’ve scaled slippery boulders to Angel’s Rest and lapped up Dog Mountain’s views. Congratulations! You're a winter-hiking warrior. Now, in these seriously springlike times, consider re-upping your vitamin D supply. Read on for our roundup of five seriously sunny hikes day hikes in and around the Columbia River Gorge.

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Balsamroot blooms at the top of Mosier Plateau.

Image: Brian Barker

1. Mosier Plateau Trail
Let’s start with the newest trail on the list. Mosier Plateau is located in the Eastern Gorge and opened in 2013. It boasts a lower profile than some of the area's better-known hillside hikes (like Dog Mountain and Rowena Crest). It’s a hidden gem covered with wildflowers—a fine fit for families and low-impact hikers.

Distance from downtown Portland: 69 miles
Duration (round-trip): 3.5 miles
Difficulty: Moderate

2. Catherine Creek Arch Loop Trail
Perhaps the most family-friendly of this bunch, the Catherine Creek loop is an easy exposed hike that passes through varied terrain including oak woodlands and grassy meadows. In the spring, the manicured trail boasts more than 90 species of wildflowers that bloom from March through May.

Distance from downtown Portland: 72.6 miles
Duration: 1.9 miles
Difficulty: Easy

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Image: NW Hikers

3. Rowena Plateau Trail
This easy and decidedly non-shady hike, nestled in the lush Tom McCall Nature Preserve, offers expansive views of the Columbia River, the town of Lyle, Washington, and, last but not least, the craggy geological remains left by the ice age floods that first formed the Gorge. The winding trail crosses open meadows and grasslands speckled with wildflowers like lupine and Indian paintbrush—in full bloom in late spring.

Distance from downtown Portland: 74.5 miles
Duration: 2.5 miles
Difficulty: Easy

4. Cherry Orchard Trail
This sublime springtime trek along the Washington side of the Columbia River near Lyle is sprinkled with lush swathes of wild lupines and balsamroot. It’s a rather arduous 1,500-foot climb, but ends in an open meadow—an abandoned cherry orchard—that casts a meditative aura.

Distance from downtown Portland: 76 miles
Duration: 5 miles
Difficulty: Strenuous

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Penstemon overlooking Table Mountain.

Image: chubbyfm

5. Hardy Ridge Trail
Hardy Ridge is another good bet on the Washington side—the 8-mile loop is less traveled than surrounding hikes, and passes through a lush forest and expansive meadows that reveal vistas of Mount Adams along with hills of candy-colored wildflowers.

Distance from downtown Portland: 54 miles
Duration: 9 miles
Difficulty: Moderate

Looking for more options to connect directly with Ra? Find a new(ish) resource on bookshelves in Don Scarmuzzi's Day Hikes in the Columbia River Gorge, published this past fall. “It was originally a resource guide for my friends," Scarmuzzi says. "Then I wanted to share my knowledge and experiences with other people so they could enjoy the hikes, too.”

So, who says April has to be the cruelest month? Take advantage of scattered sun days and hit the trails, drinking in the wildflowers and views still unobscured by, you know, leaves. After all, it's Cascadia, and it's blooming beautiful out here.