Oregonians like to boast this truism about our weather: “Give it five minutes and it will change!”
That’s because winter in Oregon offers a roller coast ride of conditions in the great Oregon outdoors; days that may be dominated by wind and rain are often followed by stunning sunny days or snarly snowstorms and frigid icy times. It’s really true about Oregon’s winter climate that there’s never a dull moment this time of year.
It’s also true that the amount of fun that you have outdoors is directly related to the amount of preparation you take before you go – especially when it comes to clothing you choose to wear to keep you warm and dry. So it was on a recent stream-side stroll into a watershed where the rain is often measured in feet, not inches, and where a huge surprise awaited at the end of the trail.
Flanked by ferns, alder trees and vine maple, Drift Creek Trail winds through the rain-drenched Siuslaw National Forest. “You can come out and hike this trail pretty much all year as it’s a pretty gentle downhill with a lot of switchbacks,” noted USFS Manager George Buckingham. It’s a wonderful trail alongside a classic “pool and drop” Oregon stream. Flanked by ferns, alder trees and vine maple, it offers a payoff that takes your breath away at the 240-foot cable suspension bridge — the longest in any forest and a marvel to stroll.
“Just the feeling that you’re way above the ground,” said Buckingham. “You’re on a suspension bridge one hundred feet off the ground with a stream down below you and a waterfall coming from different sides – sort of triggers your auditory senses – really is quite a neat experience.”
Rain gear is a necessity this time of year. “Be sure to have it in your vehicle and then make the call about taking it when you get to the trailhead,” said Buckingham. “It can get really wet in here so you could need the gear.”
Outdoorsman Mike Codino, (manager of Fisherman’s Marine and Outdoor in Tigard,) said that if you like rainy day hikes it’s critical to match clothing to the climate: “You want something that’s breathable, waterproof and packable and doesn’t weigh a lot – something you’re free to move around in. Plus, if you let the weather get in your way, you’re never going to get out there and have any fun.”
At the top of Codino’s list for rain gear is the latest innovation from Oregon’s own Columbia Sportswear – new light, waterproof rain gear that keeps you warmer with new “reflective” technology. Codino added that the same holds true for hats and gloves: “We have a number of gloves that have wind stopper technology. That’s a light lining that goes over your hand and prevents the wind from getting through your glove.”
That’s important if you decide to hike at another popular destination: Oxbow Park of the Sandy River – a wilderness-like setting within 30 minutes of Portland. Oxbow Park offers one of the richest outdoor experiences in the entire metro region where you can walk through stands of 800 year old trees, watch big, brawny chinook salmon return every year and gaze at petrified trees that are seemingly frozen in place.
Dan Daly is the Oxbow Regional Park Naturalist and said that the park’s 1200-forested acres offer plenty of elbowroom. “Oh, there’s a beautiful 3-mile hiking trail that will take you through an ancient forest and also along the banks of the Sandy River. We have camping year round, fishing year round and then recreational opportunities with classes in photography and skills like wildlife tracking. There are a lot of diverse activities in this park,” he said.
Oxbow Park is a natural for hikers who would like to explore the Sandy River Gorge for surprises that are slowly revealing themselves – one winter storm at a time. You see, a stand of really old Douglas fir and cedar trees – covered by a mud flow that hit the Sandy River in the late 1700′s – is slowly revealing itself. “The stumps and snags have been excavated by recent high water events as the Sandy River bounces between the valley walls. The river is undercutting the banks, digs out the sand and leaves these ghostly looking trees standing straight up and down. They are at least 230 years old.
Back at Fisherman’s Marine and Outdoor, General Manager Robert Campbell said that seeing clearly with Oregon’s Leupold Binoculars can bring the great outdoors into focus. “Hikers, hunters, birders, fishermen – anyone with an outdoor pursuit that wants to see things up close and personal will enjoy good optics that are comfortable, powerful and affordable. They really can make a difference enjoying the wildlife shows,” he said.
That much is certain when you enjoy hiking destination number three at Portland’s’ Smith-Bybee Lakes Wildlife Area. Framed by industrial parks and development on all sides, the area is 2,000 acres of cottonwood forest and wetlands, making it the largest urban lake and marsh in the country.
Metro’s Urban Park Naturalist, James Davis, recently told me that it’s also a premier site for hiking and watching wildlife. “It’s is big enough – at 2,000 acres – a big solid chunk and not divided up into pieces by roads and such – so it’s not fragmented and that’s great for wildlife,” he said.
While human activity occurs all around, all the time, along an easy paved trail, the city hubbub seemed a million miles away. As Canada geese winged by and a Red-Tailed hawk soared past on its hunting foray, it was easy to see that waterfowl and raptors provide the best shows that you can watch in winter.
“It’s one of the things that makes Portland such a great place to live. The idea is that nature doesn’t have to be way away from people. We can have nature in the city, nature in the neighborhoods – we can have urban wildlife,” Davis said.