For the past 14 summers, Paul Gerald has returned to the same trails that circle roughly 60 miles around Portland. But he isn’t really hiking. He’s researching.
Summer is when Gerald takes notes for his popular book 60 Hikes Within 60 Miles of Portland. He has sold more than 44,000 copies of the book’s editions throughout the years. This May, the fifth edition of the iconic Oregon hiking guide was published. For a former newspaperman, making money from writing and hiking is a dream job. But it has its drawbacks.
“Sometimes, I wish I could go somewhere else,” says Gerald. Yet coming back to the same trails over time gives him a unique perspective. “To see how things change — areas grow in or fires go through or trails move around — kind of gives you a different relationship with the trails.”
Given the book’s new edition, and the approach of summer, Arts & Life asked Gerald to share six special hikes within 60 miles of Portland. As Gerald points out, it’s 60 miles as the bird flies.
Where To Go Right Now: Dog Mountain
This is prime season for Dog Mountain, a beautiful, challenging hike on the Washington side of the Columbia Gorge. If you’re ever in the mood for pretty much 3 straight miles uphill — now is the time to go.
“It’s worth it because at the top is a huge meadow, about 3,000 feet above the Columbia River, that’s just full of flowers.”
The wildflowers are blooming in abundance until the beginning weeks of June. If you can’t make it out this weekend, don’t worry — you still have time.
“Anything in the Gorge well into June is going to have some wildflowers. There are over 7,000 species of wildflowers that bloom in the Gorge throughout the year. Mainly in spring and early summer,” says Gerald.
A Chance To See Amazing, Rare Butterflies: Cascade Head
There are two ways to get to a beautiful meadow 1,600 feet above the Pacific Ocean. The lower trail is a longer uphill hike open year-round. The upper trail is an easier hike that opens July 15.
The lower trail offers a Northwest variety of scenery: the Salmon River, lush forest and a beautiful seaside meadow. And if you’re lucky, a one-of-a-kind butterfly.
The threatened Oregon silverspot butterfly lives in the meadow at Cascade Head. In 60 Hikes, Gerald writes about the meadow at the top of the hill:
Now also designated as a United Nations Biosphere Reserve, it’s protected as the home of the Oregon silverspot butterfly, whose caterpillar eats only a rare violet that lives in these meadows. That’s why FR 1861 and the upper part of the trail are closed January 1–July 15. The silverspots emerge in late August and hang out here for about a month.
Take Unique Photos: Salmonberry River
For years, Salmonberry River was a 16-mile-long canyon route for trains and hikers. The Port of Tillamook Bay allowed people to walk through as long as they were mindful. But in December 2007, a flood wiped out a lot of the railroad. In its wake, this trail now offers an adventurous hike.
There is still grade and in many cases railroad. Along the route there are high bridges, tunnels and even abandoned train equipment. Gerald describes the hike in his book:
This hike has a decaying-industry feel about it, with train cars left behind, tracks twisted around or suspended in the air, trestles still standing—oh, and a beautiful Coast Range forest and a clear-running river. And with a grade of something like 100 feet per mile, you can’t imagine a hike that is any closer to being truly flat.
“If you want to do the whole hike you can. But it’s a long car shuttle,” says Gerald. “The lower end has better access to the river, while the upper end has the high bridges.”
Easy Breezy Coast Hike: Cape Trail
There are several good hikes in Cape Lookout State Park, but Gerald recommends Cape Trail.
It’s 2.5 miles and almost all flat. It’s a straightforward hike through an old-growth forest. The end of Cape Lookout is a cliff top about 500 feet above the ocean. From here there’s an opportunity to see grey whales. Gerald writes:
Thousands of them make the trip each year from the Bering Sea in Alaska to Baja California in Mexico, a swim of some 6,000 miles … In March and April, they’re on their way back north with newborn calves, so they go slower and stay closer to shore. At these times of year, bring binoculars (and a raincoat), and you might see dozens of whales in a day. For the best viewing, go early in the day, when the sun will be behind you as you look out.
Lots of big trees, breathtaking views, whales, an easy hike — there ya go.
Mt. St. Helen’s Blast Zone: South Fork Toutle River
This hike was just reintroduced in the new edition of Gerald’s book. It starts in an old forest, passes a pretty lake, and without too much effort winds up at the base of Mount St. Helen’s volcano around tree line.
From there, you can get to a point looking overlooking the destruction of the edge of the Mount St. Helen’s eruption in 1980.
“You’re standing in a forest that was not affected by the eruption. And you’re looking out at all the blast zone and the valley of the Toutle River, which got completely filled with mudflow and debris,” says Gerald.
Take The Kids On Their First Backpacking Trip: Siouxon Creek
This hike is perfect for the first-time backpacker. It’s an easy hike through an old-growth forest with beautiful streams and great camping. You can walk a mile and be able to sit underneath massive trees, next to a beautiful creek.
Gerald describes it best in his book:
An easy, pleasant stroll along a mountain stream, with old-growth forest and waterfalls all around, plus options that include a stream crossing and rugged climbing—what more could you want?
What are we missing? Are there any hikes on your must-do list?
On July 9, Paul Gerald will be giving a talk about his book and trails at the Portland REI. The event is free.