What are the best places for easy trail hikes that are not too close to the city?

Thanks for the great question.  I am the Ask Oregon expert on outdoor recreation and the Assistant Manager of the Eugene, Cascades & Coast Adventure Center, and these are my recommendations for easy hikes in Oregon away from the city.  Since Oregon is so rich in variety, I’ve included hike suggestions for northern Oregon, central Oregon to the coast, and southern Oregon as a sort of sampler platter into what the state has to offer.  I assume that by easy you mean, easy to find, well-maintained and signed, and good for hikers of all skill levels from kids to seniors.

To the east of Portland you can find endless options for easy hikes.  One of my favorites is the Eagle Creek Trail where you will pass half a dozen waterfalls like picturesque Punchbowl Falls (4.2 miles roundtrip). From Punchbowl Falls you can keep on hiking, but it will get steeper as you go, around the six-mile mark you will come across Tunnel Falls, a 120 foot waterfall that has a tunnel built through it.  If you feel up for the longer hike and elevation gain, it’s well worth the effort.

Southeast of Eagle Creek, on the other side of Mt Hood, is another great hike (3 miles round trip) that leads to Bagby Hot Springs.  The trail follows along the Collawash River through an old-growth forest of douglas firs and cedars.  This is a great hike for viewing wildflowers in the spring and rich fall colors in October and November.  You can reward yourself with a soak in the rustic hot springs bath house where the tubs are carved out of cedar logs, but be aware, swimsuits are rare.

The first two hikes can be crowded when the weather is nice.  If you want to get away from the crowds, go to the Mount Jefferson Wilderness and Canyon Creek Meadows (4.5 miles to the lower meadow).  This is one of the best easy hikes to high cascades wildflower meadows.  Blue lupine and red paintbrush peak at the end of July.  This trail leads you to a scenic viewpoint of Three Fingered Jack (7.5 miles round trip).  On the way back to the trailhead you will pass beaver ponds and waterfalls.

Central Oregon offers hikes of a different color – reddish brown.  There are tons of great easy hikes away from the city in the central portion of the state.  I am always amazed with the beauty around Smith Rock State Park.  The trails around the park are relatively easy.  Don’t worry though, If you get tired, there are many benches along the way to rest your legs and while you’re resting look up at the rocky cliffs and you’re almost guaranteed to see thrill-seeking rock-climbers defying gravity, Smith Rock is a world renowned climbing destination.

The McKenzie River National Recreation Trail is an all-season favorite of mine.  Stretching 26.2 miles from Clear Lake to McKenzie Bridge, you can find a number of easy hikes along the way.  Sahalie & Koosah Falls are two spectacular waterfalls about half a mile apart.  You can park at either Sahalie Falls or Koosah Falls’ convenient trailheads right off Highway 126 and hike in a loop between the two falls (approximately 2.6 miles).  Continue west on highway 126 and take the turn-off for Trailbridge Reservoir.  From here, follow the McKenzie River National Recreation Trail 1.5 miles to Tamolitch Falls.  Old lava flows have shaped the landscape of the McKenzie River Valley and part of the river flows underground only to re-emerge at Tamolitch Falls.  It’s brilliant blue water will amaze you and beg you to linger before hiking back to your car.

If you continue west on Highway 126 you will reach the Oregon coast.  A great, easy hike along the way is Sweet Creek Falls, just outside of Mapleton.  This 2.2 mile trail passes a dozen small waterfalls and is a favorite among kids who can play in the shallow water when it’s warm and collect fallen leaves in autumn.

To really get away from the city, you have to go to the southeastern corner of the state.  A notable easy hike here is Steens Mountain Summit.  This is the ninth tallest mountain in Oregon and arguably the easiest to climb.  The landscape is unlike any of the previously mentioned hikes.

Oregon’s natural beauty shines on all of these hikes.  Get to know the landscape and what shaped it and you will enjoy each of these hikes even more because every trail tells a story.
Let me know if I can answer anymore questions for you.  Enjoy your hiking!

December 10th, 2012

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About Ask Oregon Expert Cari Soong

Cari Soong is the Assistant Manager of the Eugene, Cascades & Coast Adventure Center in Springfield, Oregon. When she isn't sending visitors out on adventures throughout the region, she is pursuing her passion for outdoor recreation. From bicycling and hiking to snowboarding, she is always in search of the next epic excursion. She has called Oregon home since 2004 and thrives on finding new favorites around the state. She's always eager to share her expert advice and help others plan their trips.

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