As avid hikers know, getting outside on the trail in Oregon is a balm for the soul, a chance to unplug and de-stress. With little ones in tow, these hours are priceless — it’s a way to teach your kids about sustainability and how to be a better outdoors person. If you have eager young campers who can trek a few miles, why not plan your first overnighter?
Start with one or two nights, choose a well-established trail, pick up a guide book and read up on tips or talk to experts at an outfitter such as REI about packing the right gear and food — whether it’s freeze-dried packets (such as Oregon-based Mountain House) or nonperishable foods to cook with a lightweight stove.
Whenever you’re in the wilderness, remember to follow Leave No Trace practices to keep these areas pristine and yourself safe — pack out all trash, respect wildlife, stay on trails, minimize campfire impacts and more. Also, make sure to check wildfire conditions around the state before you set out. Here are some great starter trails around Oregon to explore.
If you’ve ever dreamed of hiking to the 10,358-foot summit of South Sister, Oregon’s third tallest peak, know that it’s an epic trek (and crowded) for a reason: You gain nearly 5,000 feet of elevation in 5.5 miles, then start the steep descent back. There’s another way to tackle the mountain, just outside of Bend, that’s suitable for older children or more experienced hikers. Gear up for a backpacking trip to Moraine Lake, nearly halfway up the mountain, with the same stunning views of the peak but much less pain. You don’t have to be a mountaineer to enjoy this part of the Three Sisters Wilderness; and autumn is the perfect time to visit, after the last season’s snow has melted and before the next snow fall. Dogs may be off leash before July 15 and after September 15; an annual Northwest Forest Pass or $5 for parking is required.
You may have heard of Waldo Lake, about 30 miles southeast of Oakridge, in the Willamette National Forest. It’s one of the largest lakes in Oregon and one of the purest lakes in the world. You can make this your basecamp for hiking by starting here and trekking 3.3 miles on kid-friendly terrain through a hemlock forest down to Bobby Lake, one of the many tiny lakes in the surrounding area. A section of the Pacific Crest Trail runs along the north side of the lake, so say hello to thru-hikers. Make sure to camp in designated backcountry areas away from the lake. You can pitch a tent at any of the 50 primitive dispersed campsites around Waldo Lake, which are free to stay at and rarely crowded in the fall, as well as three developed campgrounds around the lake.
For more experienced hiking families looking for an off-the-grid glamping experience, the 8.5-mile hike to Minam River Lodge in the Eagle Cap Wilderness is definitely a bucket list adventure. The beautiful Moss Springs Trail follows the Little Minam River to the lodge — which, by the way, is accessible only by hike, charter plane or horseback. Crews can take your luggage so it’s essentially a backpacking trip with a much lighter load. Once at the lodge, kids will love staying in a wall tent on a raised platform, a cabin or a room in the lodge, then sit down to a farm-fresh family-style meal prepared by the in-house chef. The property (pet-friendly in all rooms except for the lodge) makes a great basecamp for fishing, hiking and other activities in the Eagle Cap Wilderness. Book now for reservations through October.
Interested in a shorter trip that’s more camping than glamping? The Hurricane Creek Trailhead is a major access point to the epic Eagle Cap Wilderness, just south of Enterprise. Families will appreciate the super-scenic trail featuring a 50-foot waterfall, plus views of the massive Sacajawea Peak — the highest summit in the Wallowas and sixth highest in Oregon. There are several spots to pitch a tent along the way to Slick Rock Creek, for a round-trip journey of 5.7 miles.