A Ramble in Oregon’s Fall Woods
It’d been awhile since Brad and I had laced up our hiking boots, and autumn is one of the best times to enjoy some great hikes, so off we went.
We decided to hit one of the Columbia Gorge hikes since it isn’t too far of a drive from our home in Portland. Selecting Herman Creek, a short drive about 50 minutes away, we packed up the dogs (who are always up for a good long walk) and pointed the car east.
Arriving at the campground sign set near the I-84 freeway, we parked outside the gated area. The trailhead is normally open during the summer (it is located up off the campground), but during the off-season the campground is closed.
A short ½ mile walk uphill on the paved roadway took us to our starting point.
However, along this short section, I was immediately reminded as to why I always wear long pants during the spring, summer and fall when hiking in the Columbia Gorge. Just an arm’s length away off the road was some prettily painted red fall foliage. Crimson poison oak dots most of the Columbia Gorge landscape, thriving in the drier meadow-like sunny spots. On a previous hike nearby, I recalled seeing poison oak bushes reaching upwards of five (yes 5) feet in height right next to the trail, and boy was I glad that I was wearing long pants and a long sleeve shirt!!
Once we hit the trailhead, the path itself started angling upwards (most trails in Oregon do) and we hunkered down for a longer hike. It had rained for a few days prior today, and the air itself was still and a bit muggy even though the temperature was cool (around 55 degrees). It immediately made me think of the cloud forest preserves in Costa Rica- muggy but cool, high altitudes.
Today’s hike had no particular end destination in mind –we were aiming just to stretch our legs. One stretch of the path skirted a large rock pile of boulders that faced the west side of the Columbia Gorge, and were drenched in moss softening their contours. It almost looked like a jungle. At one point, the jumbled mass had created small cave-like openings. I wondered briefly if there were any wild animals living in there and decided not to stick my head in to investigate!
Our trip took us up and up, and the trail forked a few times, but we kept with the Herman Creek trail. We did reach a small Herman Creek campground where we pulled off our packs, ate lunch and played fetch with the dogs, which they loved. It was a lovely flat spot and the trees around us were just starting to turn into their fall colors. On the way back down, the clouds were playing with the sun, and long trails of foggy vapors brought tantalizing views of surrounding ridgelines. At one point, we reached an open viewpoint and were there long enough to see the sun peek through.
The most striking thing about this hike was how ethereally quiet a forest can be. Without a sliver of wind, the air was completely still and I could just hear the sound of my footsteps and breathing. At one point, a raven flew over, croaking. I, a self-confessed bird nerd, croaked back. The bird circled back overhead. In the quiet, I could hear the ‘whuff whuff whuff’ of the air passing through wing feathers as it flapped fifty feet up. I smiled.
Every time I go hiking in Oregon, I feel like I bring a piece of solitude home with me. It is wonderful to know that the paths are just there waiting to be explored- you never know what you’ll find!
For more information on hiking in Oregon, please visit our Outdoor Recreation section.