This past week the mercury fell and we looked head first into winter – and a winter that may be more wild than we think (let it snow, let it snow, let it snow!). But being a true northwest native is all about not letting the rain, sleet, ice, and cold wind slow you down, especially out on the hiking trails. You got to buck-up, gear-up, and get outside or otherwise you might go stir crazy.
To help you out this season, Franziska over at Hike Oregon and I joined forces again to bring you own favorite winter hikes around Oregon. Last month, we supplied you with the appropriate gear for your cold-weather hikes, and now its time to pull it all together in your backpack and get out there!
So here are my 5 favorite winter hikes near Portland:
1. Salmon River Trail
With powder dusting the limbs of Douglas Firs over head, walk along the banks of the Salmon River Trail and stand in awe at this beautiful winter wonderland of old growth forest. Wandering gradually along the cold, rushing river, this easy out-and-back hike can accommodate those looking for just a short family outing or those wanting to clock some miles along the southern flanks of Mt. Hood. Hike back into the forest for just a mile or do the full trail for 7.9 mile round-trip hike. With little elevation gain, the trail, which starts at only 2,490 feet, often is snow free until early winter and the protection of the evergreens helps to make the trail passable even with snow – just look out for ice or bring a pair of shoe chains for backup. While the Salmon River Trail doesn’t have any view points of the nearby Cascade peaks, the beauty of the river foliage in the winter is unmatched. Look for frozen ferns twirls up in pre-spring blooms, ice patterns in the shallow eddies of the river, and sun illuminating snow as it drifts from the trees.
Location: Mt. Hood National Forest – Zigzag
2. Dog Mountain
Best known for its spring and summer hiking, mountain biking, and wildflower viewing, Dog Mountain is also a wonderful trail in the winter – especially on those crisp, clear days. Topping out at 2800 feet, the 6.9 mile modified loop trail though is one hike that will get your lunges and calves burning. A mostly exposed trail, zip and zags up the mountain to wide sweeping views of the Columbia Gorge, Mount Defiance and Mt. Hood. Be weary though to pack warm clothing, extra layers and a good wind-breaker as it can be very cold at the top when the wind is blowing. Also be careful if the trail is icy.
Location: Columbia Gorge – Hood River
3. Tualatin River National Wildlife Refuge
Quietly walk along this 3.7 mile loop hike and listen for the clattering of birds, hunkering down for the winter, in the Tualatin River National Wildlife Refuge’s lush foliage. Follow this easy, mostly graded gravel trail through the park, pass several small bonds to wetland and raparian forest overlooks while spotting for birds and other animals that call the preserve home. One of only a handful of urban wildlife refuges, make this walk a winter tradition. Pack hot cocoa, a birding book, rain boots, and your binoculars and stop by the center to learn more about the flora and fauna of this unique haven.
Location: 14 miles southwest from Portland on US 99W.
4. Mirror Lake
A classic winter hike! Even with the weekend crowds, the hike down to Mirror Lake with its reflective glow and view of Mt. Hood is worth the friendly trail company. Once powder hits the ground, it is also a wonderful snowshoe hike. Not too hard for beginners, but still long enough to work up a sweat and feel like a hot (and strong) beverage when you get back to town is well deserved. Read about my New Year’s Day solo snowshoe hike at Mirror Lake back in 2013. Only a 2.9 mile round trip hike up to the lake and back or if you’d like to go for along day, continue up to Tom, Dick & Harry Mountain. Inside tip: Even with snow on the Mirror Lake trail, the trail is so heavily used that the snow is often hard packed on the weekends so you can hike without snowshoes!
Location: Mt. Hood – Government Camp
5. Cape Lookout
When there is too much snow in the mountains, head out to the Oregon Coast for a cool-weather hike to Cape Lookout. Even though you may get a little drizzle and fog along the way, the trail through a dense Sitka spruce forest open ups at times to breath taking views of the Pacific Ocean and coast line. Hiking down to start, the trail at times may be very muddy so make sure to wear shoes that you don’t mind getting dirty. An out-and-back, the hike pairs wonderfully with the south trail down to the beach and state park or an afternoon with a cup of clam chowder
Location: Oregon Coast – Cannon Beach
Now explore 5 more winter hikes on Franziska’s blog Hike Oregon!