It’s no secret: Fall just might be the best time to explore Oregon’s great outdoors. And we’re not the only ones who love exploring in autumn. We asked some of the state’s best-known guide companies and trail enthusiasts where to hike for excellent fall fun. Here are the top picks for hiking this season.
Raz Rasmussen, co-owner of Wallowa Llamas in Halfway at the foot of the Wallowa Mountains, has been exploring the Eagle Cap Wilderness for more than 30 years. He takes visitors on supported hikes with his sure-footed and friendly team of llamas. They do all the heavy lifting so you can enjoy the stunning views of Oregon’s “Little Switzerland.”
Best fall backpacking trips: Eagle Creek Meadows, on the main Eagle Creek Trail, can be found just 4.4 miles out of the Boulder Park Trailhead. Rasmussen recommends camping in the meadow and taking day hikes to nearby Eagle, Culver and Looking Glass lakes. On the northeast side of the Eagle Cap Wilderness, Bonny Lakes is another great seasonal hike, with trips of varying lengths out of the Tenderfoot Trailhead and beautiful mountain vistas. Look for the bright gold hues of changing tamarack trees along these trails.
Why go: Both trails are good trips for families because they are at relatively low altitudes with shorter miles. While they don’t offer guided trips in the fall, Wallowa Llamas rents its llamas and will deliver them to the trailhead. “They are so curious about everything that is going on. They are very easy to work with and incredibly good at packing.”
Good for: Mountain views, golden tamarack and family camping
Chaney Swiney is a Bend-based naturalist, photographer and recreation guide with Wanderlust Tours, which leads interpretive tours of all types in Central Oregon: canoe and kayak tours, underground lava tube and cave tours, hikes, snowshoe tours and tours of breweries, wineries, cideries and distilleries.
Best fall hikes: The Deschutes River Trail, just upstream from Bend, “runs through a series of rapids interspersed with sections of flatwater, flanked by lava flows and some gorgeous stands of aspen and willow,” Swiney describes. “For fall color in the area, it’s tough to do better than this area. I got to know it best on Wanderlust’s river canoe and kayak tours, enjoying the reflections of the aspen leaves in the waters of the Deschutes. The trail itself runs along the riverbank with great views of the forest, the falls, and the lava flow.”Another of Swiney’s favorite, in the Three Sisters Wilderness, is the Wickiup Plains area. “You start from the same trailhead as everyone else heading for the summit of South Sister, but walk west instead of north out into a far less-traveled section of the forest. A handful of trails converge around Wickiup Plains, providing options for a loop around Kaleetan Butte, a long but gradual approach to Moraine Lake, or even just a hike to and from LeConte Crater with sweeping views of South Sister before you. It’s a great place to be in the fall when the days turn cooler and the snow starts returning to the high volcanic peaks.”
Why go: Fall color, mountain views, volcanic features
Good for: All ages, natural history
Lanessa Pierce is owner and social media manager of What to Do in Southern Oregon, and content writer and social media manager for Travel Southern Oregon. She is also the ambassador for the Southern Oregon chapter of Girls Who Hike, and hits the trail frequently with her hiking group, solo or with her two young children.
Best fall hikes: Pierce recommends Roxy Ann Peak at Prescott Park in Medford, 10 minutes from the center of town. “It’s kid-friendly, and you can take a stroller on the hike. There are amazing fall colors, and they continually expand the trails around there.”
For a more challenging hike, Pierce suggests the Grizzly Peak Trail in Ashland. “It’s also kid-friendly but a longer distance, 4.6 miles, with more incline and better views. You can see a lot of the Rogue Valley, including Emigrant Lake. It’s good in the fall, but catch it before the snow in November.”
For expert hikers, Pierce recommends the Wagner Butte Trail — a beautiful, difficult, 10-mile hike. “It’s definitely seasonal because the elevation is high, and you do get caught in snow. But it’s intense, with beautiful fall colors if people want that big ‘wow.’
Why go: Check wildfire conditions before you go, but fall often brings clearer skies to much of Southern Oregon.
Good for: All ages, photography buffs, bucket list hikers
In the Mt. Hood area, the Milo McIver Riverbend Loop is stunning in the fall, with trees displaying golden yellow leaves along the Clackamas River. At higher elevations, the 2.2-mile jaunt from Timberline Lodge to Zigzag Canyon, along the Pacific Crest Trail, rewards hikers with unbelievable views of the volcanic ridgeline before it’s soon covered in snow.
For Willamette Valley explorers, the Trail of Ten Falls in Silver Falls State Park really shines in autumn, when rains make bigger waterfalls and fall foliage reaches its peak. The world-famous McKenzie River National Recreation Trail isn’t just for mountain bikers; hikers take the scenic trail to see Sahalie and Koosah Falls framed by brilliant fall colors.
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. Be a steward of the land when you’re adventuring in Oregon’s natural areas and remember to stay on marked trails, pick up after pets (if allowed), respect all trail users and leave the site cleaner than you found it for future generations to enjoy. 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.