Trek #36: Neahkahnie Mountain

If mountain summit views are magical, then mountain summit views by the ocean are doubly magical. This idea is what led me to drive the two hours out to the coastal area just south of Cannon Beach this past weekend.

And then I decided to fire my “Day Hiking: Oregon Coast” trailbook, because it tried to kill me. I should preface by saying, I’ve never been very impressed with this book. The author is a woman who doesn’t live on the coast and can’t write a guided hike to save her life. All trail descriptions are either vague or incorrect, and the maps are laughably useless. The book has served me well in giving me ideas for hikes, but in no way should one use it as their sole trail guide. And that brings us to why my book is fired because I’d like to survive any and all trails.

I had also brought with me to the coast my hefty yet trusty”Pacific Northwest Hiking” trailbook. Because this mammoth guide packs in nearly 1,000 hikes in OR and WA, it’s not the most detailed, but it has never steered me wrong. And it wasn’t until I had hiked up, and up, and up, and up the mountain and found myself at a 3-way fork that both books had conflicting information on which way to head to the summit. “Pacific Northwest Hiking” suggested I continue on the path that crossed the forks to an open viewpoint. It didn’t say how far this viewpoint was, but I took the direction and continued on. After a while, I thought it might have put me on the path to a longer 9 mile one-way route the scales the ridge (making an 18 mile hike I hadn’t planned). I looked out ahead and only saw endless ridgeline, so I decided to consult “Day Hiking: Oregon Coast.” She said that at the 3-way fork, to take the left fork up to a telecommunication station, and cross under the power wires out to a “knobby summit.” It didn’t sound very pretty, but I backtracked and did as guided. I took the left fork up and up to a freaky looking power station with warning signs posted everywhere that even getting near the wires without proper suited protection would result in death.

Oh hi death!

And my trailbook actually advocated crossing under these death wires? Believe it or not guys, I did. Maybe it was the elevation getting to my head, maybe it’s my blind trust of trailguide authors, but I actually walked through that jazz. And you know what I found on the other side of it? Nothing. A dead end into trees on a cliff. I was pissed. I had just hiked all the way up a steep mountain to run smack into a power station that doesn’t welcome anyone near it. And I had to gingerly walk back beneath the scary wires and warning signs of doom. “Day Hiking: Oregon Coast”, you are so fired.

The hike wasn’t a complete wash though. After all, I freaking made it to the top of that mountain, even if I didn’t get the views. And on my way back down, I was able to sneak a few in, like these:

After I got home and read online trip reports from others who had hiked Neahkahnie Mountain, it turns out the direction “Pacific Northwest Hiking” pointed me in was right: if I had continued on just a half mile further from where I turned around on the ridge, I would have come to a side trail (which PNW Hiking failed to mention) that led out to a tree-less viewpoint. Ah well. Something to file away for next time. The important thing is, I didn’t die. Sometimes, that’s all the success you can ask for in an unfamiliar hike.

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Treks Down: 36, Treks to Go: 16

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Trek #35: Wahkeena Falls

Wahkeena Falls, sibling to Multnomah Falls, is a classic waterfall hike in the Columbia River Gorge. I had paid a visit to this waterfall before twice: Once before my year of hiking when I was far more out of shape and unable to fully enjoy it, and again this past summer when I decided to do a solo Multnomah to Wahkeena Falls loop. I decided I wanted to see this gem in its full late-autumn splendor when it would be full and thriving. Wahkeena Falls did not disappoint.

I’m a firm believer that the best time of year to take waterfall hikes are well after the first few months of rain have replenished them, and they are bursting to the brim with life. As you hike up the waterfall, the loud rush of the creek accompanies you until you hit the top. I don’t remember it being such a crashing sound over the summer. It’s truly a unique winter roar. And of course, the view does not disappoint.

For bonus gorge views, be sure to take the quick side trail off to the right on your way up at Lemmons Viewpoint for a peek at the mountains and buttes across the river.

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Treks Down, 35, Treks to Go: 17

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Trek #34: Wauna Viewpoint

There are some hikes one desires to take to feel above the world and look out onto it. Wauna Viewpoint is one of those hikes.  This 4 mile out and back trek up a mountain to a stunning gorge viewpoint is good for both the calves and the soul.

Majestic.

The trailhead is nestled just off to the left shortly before the Eagle Creek trailhead. Crossing a suspension bridge over a gushing creek, you’ll immediately begin your ascent up a mountain via a long series of switchbacks. In late autumn the trail was incredibly lush with a few surprise mini-falls trickling off the basalt walls lining the climb. But the real prize is reaching the summit. For it is at the top that you’re treated to a fantastic 280 degree view of the gorge below and the mountains and buttes across the way in Washington.

For an optimal hiking experience, I recommend this one on a clear day. The endless views from the top were exquisite and very well worth the climb.

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Treks Down: 34, Treks to Go: 18

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Trek #33: Clackamas River Trail to Pup Creek

This trail was full of goodies and surprises nearly the entire way. Nestled in the woods along the Clackamas River just outside of Oregon City, this trail was just bursting to the brim with fall colors at nearly every turn. It seems early November is the perfect time to hike here if autumn leaves are your desire.

The main reason why I came out here was to view the lush Pup Creek Falls 3.5 miles into the trail. Instead, I was completely unable to find the side trail I was to take. My trailbook was of no use, and even after casing Pup Creek nearly half a mile beyond it and before it, I was unsuccessful. It frustrated me because this popular spot (though there wasn’t a soul there when I hiked it) hasn’t seemed to elude anyone else. This was my first trek in which I was unable to locate the main event. However, it wasn’t a total loss: the trail itself is gorgeous, and it was refreshing to be surrounded in so much fall beauty.

The main surprises came from the terrain. Usually when I think of a river hike, I think of a relatively flat forest stroll. This was anything but. The Clackamas River Trail has continuous bursts of ascents and descents, hundreds of feet at a time. And since I chose an out and back hike (turning around at Pup Creek), every hill I descended getting there meant ascending it on the way back. This trail was definitely a satisfying work-out it’s entire 7.5 miles.

The river itself was so lovely, and so full this time of year. I was getting used to the low-lying and subdued summer rivers, that to hike along a roaring river was fantastic. The rains have definitely helped to perk up these bodies of water.

Overall, despite my Pup Creek Falls snafu, this has definitely been my favorite autumn hike to date. I caught it at the perfect time.

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Treks Down: 33, Treks to Go: 19

 

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Trek #32: Forest Park – Maple Trail (partial)

I was drawn to hiking Forest Park’s Maple Trail in autumn at the suggestion of my friend Adam who wrote an article about about this trail several years ago. Maple trees are a staple of my New England upbringing, and not as much in abundance out here in Portland, so I was excited to see the full splendor of turning leaves all along a single trail.

However, I encountered two snafus on my hike: 1) The trail was closed off just a little over a mile in due to a downed bridge, and 2) I either came to the trail too early or too late in autumn, as most of the trail was lush green and most of the colorful, turned leaves were in my path on the ground, long fallen from their branches. However, this trail is very beautiful and because it starts off the beaten path, very serene.

I did end up taking a side trail at Fire Lane 4, which led me up to a viewpoint of the Willamette River, a partial view of downtown Portland, eastern, industrial Portland, Mt. Hood and Mt. Adams. I was also taken up past powerlines and electrical towers which emitted an eerie buzzing sound that I did my best to ignore as I passed underneath them. It was on this side trail that I caught the best glimpses of autumn leaves.

I plan to return next autumn to the Maple Trail, in hopes that by then the downed bridge will be repaired and I can hike the full loop, enjoying turned maple leaves in all their splendor for miles at a stretch.

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Treks Down: 32, Treks to Go: 20

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Trek #31: South Fork Mountain

Hiking up South Fork Mountain was an experience in which I encountered two firsts: 1) It was the first time I ever traversed an “unmaintained trail” (as it was from Memaloose Lake to the South Fork Mountain summit), and 2) The first time on all of my treks thus far this year in which I did not encounter a single soul, from the trailhead and back. I was the only car there when I arrived and the only car when I returned. It was as eerie as it was peaceful.

My lone, trusty steed Sylvia at the trailhead. She’s a city car that I’ve molded into a backcountry beast.

The drive to the trail itself was an experience in itself.  The final road to the trailhead, Memaloose Road, is a 12 mile exercise in patience and caution. This road is extremely narrow and curvy, many points in which you can’t see further than immediately in front of your car as you navigate some of the sharpest turns. I spent the entire 12 miles worrying whether or not another car was going to come down in the opposite direction, and how in the world we were going to navigate around each other (which is almost impossible, as there is a mountain wall on one side of the shoulder, and a steep drop off on the other side). Fortunately, no cars came down and my worry never came to fruition.

Once at the Memaloose Lake trailhead, you will immediately begin your ascent to Memaloose Lake, switchbacking about half the way up to the lake for about a mile and a half. Memaloose Lake itself is very idyllic, small, and free of frills such as benches, picnic areas, or a dock. It’s almost refreshingly untouched aside from one or two fire pits at the fork heading up to South Fork Mountain. My trailbook says this is the perfect swimming spot for summer, and I believe it, though I didn’t walk around it to find an opening where people could easily get in and out of the lake.

Autumn at Memaloose Lake. I love that burst of color amidst the green!

To make the ascent to South Fork Mountain, take the trail to your right. After crossing a creek and making your way through the forest, you’ll soon come to the sign designating the South Fork Mountain trail, with the disclaimer that it is an unmaintained trail. The good news is, 95% of the trail is visible and easy to follow. The bad news is, you’re going to be climbing over a lot of downed trees that, because the trail isn’t maintained, have been left there in the middle of the trail in nearly a dozen or so places. There was only one spot in which the trail got a little dodgy and vague, but some kind soul marked this section of trail in two places with neon pink ribbon indicating the right path to follow.

The summit of South Fork Mountain itself is… rather anti-climactic. It turns out you can actually drive up there, and it shows, as evidenced by all the tire tracks, a beer can laden fire pit, and a good deal of other miscellaneous discarded trash. However, there are some really great spots in which you can peek out to see some mountain views, including Mt. Hood and Mt. Adams.

The always photogenic Mt. Hood.

I was just slightly too short to get more than a couple of good shots, but I imagine in winter after the leaves have fallen off the trees here, the look outs are better. As this is an out and back (or rather, up and down) hike, you’ll then turn around and go back the exact route in which you ascended back to the parking area.

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Treks Down: 31, Treks to Go: 21

 

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Trek #30: Larch Mountain Crater

Hiking the Larch Mountain Crater was an interesting experience: fun, navigationally challenging, and beautiful. While I never did get lost on this 7 mile hike, there were plenty of times I questioned whether or not I was on the right path, as there are countless junctures and forks, many of which were unnervingly unsigned. The trailbook that I used for navigation was “Pacific Northwest Hiking,” a guide to over 900 trails, which as one would guess means they aren’t as detailed and comprehensive as they could be on individual trails. However to its credit, it never led me astray. I found my way from the trailhead, deep into the belly of the crater, and back up around to the road that leads to the parking area. I consider this hike my most successful navigational challenge yet.

That said, this hike hold many, many treasures. Starting from the trailhead, before beginning your hike into the crater, you simply must make the climb to Sherrard Point, a lookout at over 4,000 feet in elevation. It is here that on a clear day you are afforded stunning views of Mt. Hood, Mt. Rainier, Mt. Adams, and Mt. St. Helens. Though a bit hazy, it was clear and the views were fantastic:


Mt. Hood

Mt. Adams

Mt. Rainier
(the little snowcapped guy in the far
distance)
Mt. St. Helens
(far distance… closest my camera could zoom)

After you get your fill of the views (and catch your breath, the climb is a lung-buster), head back down and start your hike on the Larch Mountain trail. After a couple of miles of mildly descending through the forest, you’ll come into the crater. It’s a fascinating place to be.

The crater, which was once the belly of an active volcano many, many centuries ago, is now overgrown with abundant forest life and boggy meadows. I’ve never seen terrain quite like it, like a miniature valley forest. The best view you’re going to get of this crater wonderland is when you first enter into it, because you spend the next 2.5 miles circumnavigating it, and the trail takes you away from the belly of the crater itself. I made the mistake of taking only one photo when first entering it, thinking I was going to get a better shot as I hiked around it, and I was wrong. Here’s my one good shot of the crater itself from standing right in it:

Larch Mountain Crater from ground level

My trailbook says that in spring, the crater is covered with Avalanche Lilies, which after perusing a quick google image search, I imagine would be a very beautiful scene.

After navigating around the crater, the final miles of the hike are spent ascending up a ridge and out to the outer part of Larch Mountain. This section of trail, at which point is the Oneonta Trail, is deep in the forest, very lush and abundant with old growth. Afterwards you’ll make your way out to Larch Mountain Road, and walk a third of a mile uphill back to the parking area.

Overall I found this hike to be full of surprises, mostly wonderful ones. I didn’t expect the view from Sherrard Point to be so spectacular, and I hadn’t even planned on making it a part of this hike until my trailbook insisted. I didn’t quite know what to expect when hiking the crater itself, and was amazed at how lush it is considering there was a period in history when I was probably a barren, hardened lava flow and the mountain itself was covered entirely in ash. It just proves how the earth can heal itself so beautifully after a natural upheaval.

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Treks Down: 30, Treks to Go: 22

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Trek #29: Trillium Lake

Trillium Lake in early autumn is gorgeous, soothing, and incredibly peaceful. I was met with crisp air, clear blue skies, a calm lake and one of the most stunning views of Mt. Hood yet.  The entire area was populated with just a few friendly fishermen (who were very eager and kind to take my photo), a couple out on the lake in a rowboat, and a family of three who were up there for a photo op. That was it. On the trail itself, I ran into absolutely no one. It my most peaceful Mt. Hood area hike yet.

Just gorgeous!

After pulling into the Day Use area at the lake (and paying the requisite fee, which was $5 at my visit), you’ll immediately be hit with the grand view of Mt. Hood. As I was visiting in early autumn, the snow on Mt. Hood was rather sparse, so if you’re seeking a more fully snow-capped view of Mt. Hood, I imagine late winter/early spring is ideal. After snapping your fill of photos, you can begin the trail in either direction, and I chose to begin my hike by taking the trail to the left.

The trail terrain varies from packed dirt to gravel to boardwalk. While the trail itself goes around the lake fully, a large portion of the trail fully immerses itself in the forest, allowing you to enjoy plenty of pine trees and old growth. The boardwalk itself, as mentioned by many trail reviewers, has definitely seen better days. There are portions where boards have been broken or creak underneath you rather treacherously, but I definitely wasn’t worried or scared that at any point it wasn’t going to remain intact while I walked over it. It could definitely use a little repair and reinforcing.

Overall the Trillium Lake loop is just two miles over very even ground. It’s not an intense work out by any means, but if you’re looking for fresh air, a stunning view of Mt. Hood, and a peaceful place to go on a lakeside walk, this is for sure the spot.

In both my trailbooks and various websites there are no clear directions on how to arrive at Trillium Lake except for the road to take, so to get there, take US 26 from Portland, all the way to mile-marker 55.5. The turn-off for the trail will be on your right just past mile-marker 55.5.

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Treks Down: 29, Treks to Go: 23

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Trek #28: Oxbow Regional Park

Oxbow Regional Park is another one of Portland’s little treasures. You can get there via public transit, and while it has nearly 15 miles of trails, there are multiple uses throughout the park, from picnicking to boating,  swimming and fishing.

Upon my visit, I only traversed a few miles of the parks trails, spending more time to linger by the Sandy River, which in late summer, was at a very low level. I also found it very peaceful. I ran into almost no one, and felt as though I has much of the park to myself. If you’re looking for solitude yet not wanting to stray from Portland, this is definitely the place to be on a weekday post-Labor Day.

On the trails you’ll find plenty of old growth as you weave in and out of forest by the Sandy River shoreline and beyond. Quite a lovely, relaxing, and scenic place to stroll rather than a lung-busting hike. In hot summer I imagine the Sandy River is a welcome refuge to splash around in.

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Treks Down: 28, Treks to Go: 24

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Trek #27: Latourell Falls (Partial)

Latourell Falls was one of the gorge hikes I’ve been wanting to hike since I started my year of treks, but seems this is just not the year to hike it. I’ve attempted it before and been thwarted at the parking area, and this time when I heard the trail was open, I jumped at the chance to hike it.

Only to find out that by “open”, most of the trail was in fact closed. So instead of making the 2.3 mile loop through the full trail, I was only able to get in a one mile total out and back trek to Latourell Falls itself, where beyond that point a barricade told us the trail was closed off.

The good news is, the waterfall is just beautiful:

I can’t give this trek a fair assessment as I wasn’t able to complete it. According to the Columbia Gorge trail service website, the trail should be re-opened to its full use in November. I had tried calling ahead of time before I left to hike it to confirm that it was in fact open, but I ended up leaving a message and no one got back to me. I will definitely revisit Latourell Falls again later in the year so I can see its full splendor.

Treks Down: 27, Treks to Go: 25

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