If you’ve never hiked in Oregon in winter, here’s what you’re missing: the drama of rain-flushed waterfalls; seabirds hanging on the updraft of a cliff’s edge; views of the ocean’s stormy moods; and elk and deer browsing on the wintery landscape. For sights like those, add these trails to your winter hiking list:
Cape Perpetua Scenic Area
Combine the Captain Cook Trail and Restless Waters Trail for a scenic hike between Cook’s Chasm and Devils Churn in the Cape Perpetua Scenic Area. This beautiful trail is partially paved (read: accessible for everyone and less mud) and bookended by two awesome ocean features — the Spouting Horn at one end and Devils Churn at the other — which are even more dramatic in winter. Extend this short, 1.7-mile hike with another Cape Perpetua Trail, like the out-and-back Giant Spruce Trail (2 miles round-trip).
Golden and Silver Falls State Natural Area
For serious waterfall drama, check out the Golden and Silver Falls State Natural Area about 24 miles inland from Coos Bay. Heavy winter rainfall adds to the power of these tumbling cascades. A 1.4-mile trail takes you to the top of Golden Falls for stunning views of the 100-foot plunge.
Find more winter waterfall beauty at Kentucky Falls about 30 miles inland from Reedsport in the Siuslaw National Forest. The 2.2-mile one-way trail into the Douglas fir forest leads first to Upper Kentucky Falls and then an observation deck above the 100-foot twin cascades of Lower Kentucky Falls. Extend your hike with any or all of the remote and rugged 6.5-mile North Fork Smith Trail.
Ladd Marsh Wildlife Area
In Eastern Oregon, Ladd Marsh Wildlife Area near La Grande offers rich opportunities for wildlife viewing along a 1-mile, ADA-accessible trail. Look for hawks and eagles as well as mule deer and Rocky Mountain Elk here in the largest hardstem bulrush marsh in northeast Oregon. Friends of Ladd Marsh offers regular guided walks.
The Willamette Valley’s Shellburg Falls is a hidden beauty often overlooked by hikers headed to Silver Falls State Park. The moderate 5.7-mile loop trail gains about 740 feet and leads to a 100-foot curtain of the falls (kids will love how the trail ducks behind the cascade). The trailhead is located about 22 miles east of Salem near Mahama.
You don’t have to leave the big city to take a big hike. At 5,157 acres, Portland’s Forest Park is one of the largest urban nature preserves in the U.S., with miles and miles of year-round trails. Top it off with the connecting Wildwood Trail, a National Recreation Trail, which weaves 30.2 miles from Portland’s Washington Park through the Tualatin Mountains.
Easy to access in the heart of Bend, the Deschutes River Trail can be as challenging as you like, with five distinct segments that range from residential and flat to rocky and steep. Walk or run through river parks, over foot bridges and into deep canyons on this classic (and expanding) Central Oregon trail.
If you go
Winter in Oregon can be chilly and wet with pockets of sunshine, so wear layers and sturdy shoes and come prepared by brushing up on tips at How to Winter Like an Oregonian. Before setting out, make sure you have purchased any necessary Forest Service recreation passes. Whatever your adventure entails, follow Leave No Trace principles, including packing in and out, leaving what you find where it’s at, and respecting wildlife and other visitors. It’s a good idea when hiking to carry plenty of water along with your 10 Essentials and know that cell service may be spotty, so download maps and trail directions. If you’re looking to beat the crowds, visit on a weekday or get to the trail early, and consider making a car-free trip to avoid often-crowded trailhead parking. Columbia Gorge Express offers up to eight round-trip shuttles daily to Portland, Multnomah Falls, Cascade Locks and Hood River with an additional connection to The Dalles.
If you are traveling by car, be sure to check road and weather conditions before heading out and carry snow chains or traction tires when advised.