20 Jaw-Dropping Trails to Hike in Oregon in 2020

Lava River Cave / Amanda Gatlin via the Seattle Times

Whether you’re young or old, fit or self-described couch-potato, hiking is one of those diversely perfect activities that can cost little to no money but be a richly rewarding experience. From easy jaunts to find a hidden waterfall, to 750-mile excursions through the high desert, here are 20 of my favorite Oregon hikes for you to try in 2020.

Please keep in mind that many of these areas require a pass or day-use fee. The rule of thumb is “Know Before You Go”. Always practice “Leave No Trace”.

1. Starvation Ridge / Starvation Ridge Cuttoff Loop Hike

This hidden gem of a hike begins at the Starvation Creek Rest Area and Starvation Creek Falls (only accessible from eastbound I-84) and a thigh-burning 600 ft. switchback elevation gain in the first half-mile. Your struggles are rewarded, however, by an unsullied meadow at the top with stunning views of the Columbia River, before descending a goat-trail back into lush forest. A leisurely creek hike and three waterfalls await your final mile; Lancaster, Hole-in-the-Wall, and Cabin Creek. We cooled our feet in the latter before heading back to the parking lot. The spur trail to Mt. Defiance can also be taken for an 8.8 mile loop hike.

Starvation Creek Trailhead / via Danielle Denham
Starvation Creek Trail / via Danielle Denham
Wild Sedum spathulifolium at Cabin Creek Falls, Starvation Ridge Trailhead / via Danielle Denham
Starvation Creek Falls / via thePDXphotographer

Region: NW / Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area

Length: 2.5-4.1 miles, depending on spurs taken

Difficulty: Moderate-Strenuous

Season to Visit: May-October

Contact: Gorge Friends

 

2. God’s Thumb

This is a wonderful journey, from Road’s End in Lincoln City to a jutting promontory over the ocean with sweeping views of the city and Devil’s Lake. The hike itself follows an old roadbed under red alder and old-growth Sitka spruce with thickets of blackberry, salmonberry, and elderberry. Take a picnic lunch to eat while you whale-watch from “The Thumb”.

God’s Thumb / Zach Urness via the Statesman Journal
God’s Thumb / via oregoncoast.org

Region: Coast / Siuslaw National Forest

Length: 4.4 miles out-and-back, 1025 elevation gain

Difficulty: Moderate

Season to Visit: any

Contact (click link): Oregon Hikers

 

 

3. Drift Creek Falls Trailhead

The most famous feature of this hike is perhaps more so the suspension bridge over the falls, rather than Drift Creek Falls itself. You’ll be making your way through 50-year-old forest regrowth, so in a way, you’re experiencing an interesting study in how a forest heals itself. Gentle descents down to the creek loop back over delightful footbridges before ascending to a walk across the 240 ft. bridge, 100 ft. above the basalt canyon with spectacular views of the 80 ft. falls below.

Drift Creek Falls / via thePDXphotographer
Drift Creek Falls Suspension Bridge / via thePDXphotographer

Region: North-Central Coast Range

Length: 3 miles roundtrip

Difficulty: Easy-Moderate, 490′ elevation gain

Season to Visit: best viewed in the Spring

Contact: Oregon Hikers

 

4. Lava River Cave

Deep in the Central Oregon forest is a one-mile-long cave surrounded by Juniper Trees, Ponderosa Pines and the landscape of a secret volcanic underground world. The cave itself is one of many hidden in The Arnold Ice Cave System near Bend (for extra spelunking experience you can check out nearby Hidden Forest Cave and Arnold Ice Cave; Charcoal Cave is also nearby but closed to the public) and was created by a basalt lava flow roughly 80,000-90,000 years ago. Today you can make the short hike through the cave system, but remember to bring extra warm gear. The caves can range anywhere between 35-50°F, even during hot summer months.

Lava River Cave / via Bend Vacation Rentals
Lava River Cave / Amanda Gatlin via the Seattle Times

Region: Central / Deschutes National Forest

Length: 1.9 miles roundtrip

Difficulty: Easy

Season to Visit: June-September

Contact: USDA

 

5. Historic Columbia River Highway State Trail

Since 1987, the Oregon Department of Transportation has been charged with working with Oregon Parks and Recreation Department, the State Historic Preservation Office and Travel Oregon to preserve, enhance and reconnect the Historic Columbia River Highway. The original highway was destroyed when I-84 was built and to date, 68 of 73 miles have been restored and reconnected. The last five are expected to be completed sometime in 2020, which will connect Cascade Locks to Mosier for hiking and cycling.

Proposed Historic Columbia River Highway State Trail Map / via ODOT
Hikers on the Columbia River Gorge State Trail / via lacamasmagazine.com

Region: NW / Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area

Length: varies between segments

Difficulty: Easy-Moderate

Season to Visit: March-October

Contact: ODOT

 

6. Jordan Craters

The 27-square-mile ovaline lava flow of Jordan Craters is one of the most recent volcanic flows in Oregon — so much so that locals claim that you can still see bootprints in places. The origin of the flow is Coffeepot Crater, a deep cavity at the far northeast of the flow. Walking in and around Coffeepot and exploring its side pits, tubes and caves makes for a great journey on a landscape like the surface of the moon. From where you parked your car, a straightforward loop around the rim and down the red cinder path into the heart of the crater is about 1 mile (but you’ll no doubt find trenches and tubes to explore on your way). The path down into the crater descends about 150 feet. You’ll need a 4×4 to get here, and the roads are impassable in rainy conditions.

Jordan Craters Landscape / The Oregon Encyclopedia via William K. Hart
Jordan Craters / via Bureau of Land Management
Jordan Craters / via Bureau of Land Management

Region: SE / Owyhee Canyonlands

Length: variable

Difficulty: Easy

Season to Visit: Spring or Fall (Summers are incredibly hot)

Contact: BLM

 

7. Warrior Point Trailhead

Take a quiet, flat stroll out to the northern tip of Sauvie Island. You will be traveling through a state wildlife refuge and visiting the small Warrior Rock Light. In winter, both on the hike and the drive in, there’s an excellent chance of seeing bald eagles, sandhill cranes, Canada and cackling geese, snow geese, and tundra swans. Sea lions frequent the Columbia River and feast on the runs of chinook, steelhead, and smelt. In late summer and early fall, river levels are way down and you may be able to walk a long stretch on the beach and hard mudflats. Make sure you pick up your refuge day pass before you park at the trailhead.

Warrior Point Light / Jamie Hale via The Oregonian
Warrior Point Hike / Jamie Hale via The Oregonian

Region: NW / Portland / Sauvie Island

Length: 7.0 miles roundtrip

Difficulty: Easy-Moderate

Season to Visit: Any

Contact: All Trails

 

8. Grizzly Peak Loop Trail

Grizzly Peak is located on Bureau of Land Management (BLM) lands just east of Ashland. The easy loop hike through forest and wildfire remnants affords views of the Crater Lake Rim and Mount Thielsen to the north, Mount McLoughlin to the northeast, Mount Shasta, Pilot Rock, and Mount Ashland to the south, and west to Wagner Butte and Grayback Mountain. The meadows here are laden with wildflowers in June and July.

View from Grizzly Peak / Bruce Hope via Hiking Project
View from Grizzly Peak / Bruce Hope via Hiking Project

Region: SW / Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument

Length: 5.1 miles roundtrip

Difficulty: Moderate

Season to Visit: Spring, Summer, and Fall

Contact: BLM

9. The Oregon Desert Trail (ODT)

An Oregon Natural Desert Association initiative since 2011, the 750-mile Oregon Desert Trail traverses some of the most spectacular natural areas of the state’s Eastern side, including Hart Mountain National Antelope Refuge, Steens Mountain, and the Owyhee Canyonlands. You will experience sagebrush seas, fault-block mountains, lava beds, canyonlands, pinyon-juniper forests, deserts, and hot springs. Star-viewing is also spectacular here, as the area is one of the darkest in the entire US.

Sections of the unmarked trail can be explored on foot or on horseback, or by boat, bike, or even skis in the winter. Some sections offer easy walks along well-marked paths. Other areas require GPS skills, significant outdoor experience, and serious preparation, particularly for water sources (which can be spread out for 40 miles).

Oregon Desert Trail / via Katie Gerber thetrek.co
Oregon Desert Trail / via ONDA

Region: SE

Length: 750 miles, section-section

Difficulty: Moderate/Outdoor Experience Needed

Season to Visit: Spring or Fall (Summer months are oppressively hot)

Contact (click link): ONDA

 

10. Opal Creek / Jawbone Flats

This hike is completely unique in the fact that you can see the remnants of a ghost town, and old mining and mill operations, all while hiking to beautiful Opal Pool (where there are natural rock water-slides!) and Opal Falls. This particular hike is the Opal Pool-Cedar Flats hike which will show you all the sights, but the hike can be shortened (or lengthened for a primitive camping adventure).

Jawbone Flats was established in 1929 by Jim Hewitt to service mines along Battle Ax Creek and the Little North Santiam River. Lead, zinc, copper, and silver were extracted from the area, with the mining heyday lasting from the 1920s to the early 1950s. Mining activity continued in the area until 1992 when the Shiny Rock Mining Company donated land in the area to the fledgling Friends of Opal Creek. In 1996, the area surrounding the town became part of the Opal Creek Wilderness and Opal Creek Scenic Recreation Area.

Today the town is run by the same group, now renamed the Opal Creek Ancient Forest Center. The town is being restored as a historic center and outdoor museum of the mining era. The cabins here can be rented.

Opal Falls / Bobcat via Oregon Hikers
Opal Pool / via oregonstate.edu
Jawbone Flats Shed / via Wikipedia
Old Rusted Cars at Jawbone Flats / via @pacificnwhiker at Twenty20.com

Region: North Central Cascades / Willamette National Forest

Length: 10.5 miles roundtrip

Difficulty: Moderate, 1240′ elevation gain

Season to Visit: Anytime, but winter conditions can be hazardous

Contact: USDA

 

11. Spencer Butte

Spencer Butte is not just an iconic backdrop to Eugene – hiking to the top is one of the most popular city hikes. The trail has steep switchbacks through beautiful thick forest, meadows and a treeless, rocky butte. Starting at the South Willamette Trailhead, this moderate to difficult 1.7 mile loop trail climbs 784 ft. before reaching the summit of Spencer Butte at approximately 2,000 ft. — the highest peak in the surrounding valley. The 360-degree view from the summit makes this short but challenging trail worth the effort for hikers of all ages. On a clear day, look for views of the Three Sisters to the east and Fern Ridge Reservoir to the west. Hikers can connect this trail with other sections of the Ridgeline Trail System for a longer hike. Watch for poison oak and rattlesnakes along the trail, although I’ve personally never seen a rattler on multiple trips here, only the friendly ground-squirrels that make their home at the summit.

Hikers at the top of Spencer Butte / via Eugene Cascades Coast
Spencer Butte Hike / via Danielle Denham
The Summit of Spencer Butte in the Snow / via Danielle Denham

Region: Willamette Valley / Eugene

Length: 1.7 mile loop, 741′ elevation gain

Difficulty: Moderate-Strenuous

Season to Visit: Any

Contact: Eugene Outdoors

 

12. Blue Basin Overlook Trail

There isn’t any other place in Oregon like the Blue Basin, and I can’t imagine there’s any place quite like it in the world. Tucked away in the John Day Fossil Beds National Monument, Blue Basin is a wondrous location with sandstone walls that are different shades of vibrant blue, from cerulean to aquamarine.

Some 44 million years ago, the land that is now central Oregon was a lush subtropical paradise, wiped out by a volcanic eruption near Burns about 7 million years ago. Plants and animals were trapped under a load of hot ash, eventually preserving them in fossil-form. The Blue Basin is full of them, and you will see many interpretive signs and specimens along your hike. Be sure to stop at the Thomas Condon Paleontology Center on your way — it’s well worth the trip.

Sheep Rock Unit, John Day Fossil Beds / via Envato Stock
Blue Basin Rock Formations / Julie Mae Shank @redheadedjules3 via Instagram

Region: Central / John Day Fossil Beds National Monument

Length: 4.0 mile loop, 898′ elevation gain

Difficulty: Moderate

Season to Visit: Spring and Fall

Contact: National Park Service

 

13. Mount Howard Summit Hike

Mt. Howard is a peak on the northwestern edge of the Wallowa Mountains. At over 8000 feet (2500 meters) in elevation, the summit hosts open subalpine grassland, intermixed with whitebark pine and subalpine fir communities. The broad summit of Mt. Howard provides a wonderful opportunity to view alpine and subalpine wildflowers as well as treat the visitor to truly spectacular panoramic views of the Wallowa Mountains and Wallowa Valley.

The easiest (and most awesome) way to get to the trailhead is via the Wallowa Lake Tramway located at the base of Mt. Howard. Your 15-minute ride in a gondola rises 3700 ft. over the forest to drop you off at an otherwise inaccessible stop on the mountain. Wildflowers grow profusely here in July and August.

Wallowa Lake Tramway / Ellen Bishop via Wallowa County Chamber
Mt Howard Summit / via Wallowa Lake Tramway
Mount Howard Summit and Wildflowers / Karen Nycz Borman via Trover

Region: NE / Wallowa-Whitman National Forest

Length: 1.1 mile loop

Difficulty: Easy

Season to Visit: July-September

Contact: USDA

 

14. John Dellenback Dunes Trail

Beginning in a conifer forest setting, this trail leads hikers through the sand-dunes and the deflation plain and ends at the ocean beach. Choose from a difficult trek to the beach or an easy self-guided interpretive loop through a tunnel of salal, evergreen huckleberry, and rhododendron with Douglas Fir and Pacific madrone. You’ll cross a swamp and end up in an otherworldly sandscape of shifting dunes for a truly unique hiking experience.

John Dellenback Dunes Trail / daveynin via Flickr
John Dellenback Dunes Trail / Deborah Corson via All Trails

Region: Coast / Siuslaw National Forest / William M. Tugman State Park

Length: 4.0-5.5 miles, 220′-311′ elevation gain

Difficulty: Moderate

Season to Visit: Any

Contact: USDA

 

15. Tamolitch Falls / Blue Pool Trailhead

This is easily one of the most beautiful hikes I’ve ever experienced, and a That Oregon Life favorite. One of the first things you’ll notice is the color of the water. The topaz blue color is almost iridescent – like a blue Otter Pop (and almost as cold). The water is so clear that some might assume it to be only about 5 ft deep – yet closer inspection will reveal that in many spots it’s over 30 ft deep. So pure in fact that you’d swear the water wasn’t moving – yet at the end of this glass-like pond – a huge volume of water rushes out as the McKenzie River is reborn.

While there is rarely a falls here anymore due to the damming of the McKenzie, the native-American name Tamolitch Falls still persists. The hike to get there is serene; climbing atop mossy lava fields, through emerald green forest, and along the beautiful river.

Tamolitch has two access points – the main one is at Trail bridge Reservoir – about midway on the McKenzie River Trail.  From this trailhead, it’s a 2-mile hike to Blue Pool.

The upper access point is at Carmen Reservoir.  From here it is a 3-mile hike down.  This is the harder trailhead to find, and we recommend you access the lower trailhead.

Blue Pool Willamette National Forest Oregon
Tamolitch Blue Pool / via Bend Oregon Stock
The McKenzie River on the Hike to Blue Pool / via thePDXphotographer
Tamolitch Blue Pool / via Eugene Cascades Coast

Region: Central Cascades / Willamette National Forest

Length: 4.2 miles roundtrip

Difficulty: Moderate

Season to Visit: Spring-Fall

Contact: USDA

 

16. Wilderness Overlook Hike

Hike along a canyon through stands of Lodgepole and Ponderosa Pine with gorgeous panoramic vistas of Greenhorn Ridge and the Indian Rock-Vinegar Hill Scenic Area to the west along the skyline. There are also stands of pure Western Larch, Oregon’s only deciduous conifer. It’s a beautiful tree, with needles that turn a vibrant golden yellow in the fall.

Wilderness Overlook Hike / via lesstravelednorthwest.com
Wilderness Overlook Trail Map

Region: NE / Blue Mountains

Length: 5.0 miles roundtrip, 300′ elevation gain

Difficulty: Easy

Season to Visit: July-September

Contact: Umatilla National Forest, North Fork John Day District, (541) 427-3231

 

17. Eagle Cap Wilderness Loop

This wonderful, yet difficult loop wanders through the glacial valleys of East Eagle, over three rugged passes, and visits ten moraine lakes in the process. As do many routes in the Wallowas, this hike has significant elevation gain/loss throughout, and there is little/no access to water for the final six miles or so. Go in July to see breathtaking wildflower meadows, and plan for three-four days of camping and backpacking.

Eagle Cap Wilderness / Lisa Bratton/Baker City Herald via the AP
Eagle Cap Wilderness / EO Media Group File Photo via East Oregonian

Region: NE / Wallowa-Whitman National Forest

Length: 40.3 miles roundtrip, 7000′ elevation gain

Difficulty: Difficult-Challenging

Season to Visit: July-November

Contact: USDA

 

18. Barlow Trail #601A

This trail was once a part of the Historic Barlow Road, one of the last legs of the Historic Oregon Trail. Where the trail meets the Still Creek Campground, there is the site of a former historic resort called Swim, which was most active during the 1920s. Various foundations from the facility, including an old pool, can still be found.

The Barlow Trail connects Still Creek Campground with Government Camp. Due to its historic value as part of the Barlow Road, it is a bit more primitive than most trails in the area to preserve its historic characteristics. Its rocky terrain and ditch like appearance is representative of how it likely looked when wagons and stock were on it in the 1850s, making this a perfect hike for history buffs.

Barlow Trail Marker / Mt. Hood Territory via Flickr
Barlow Road Hiking / Bobcat via oregonhikers.org

Region: NW / Mount Hood National Forest

Length: 1.2 miles roundtrip

Difficulty: Moderate-Difficult

Season to Visit: Year-round, but only snow-free May-Nov.

Contact: USDA

 

19. Brown Mountain Trail #1005

This section of the Brown Mountain Trail is a delightful hike, mountain bike, or horseback ride along the southern flanks of Brown Mountain. Passing through shaded old-growth forest and lava-fields, the trail offers opportunities for Morel mushroom hunting in the late spring. Wildflowers such as orchids and trilliums blanket the forest floor in early summer. You can find good seasonal huckleberry picking here, as well as brilliant fall colors.

Brown Mountain Trailhead / Michael McCullough via Flickr
Views from the Brown Mountain Trailhead / Francie Skinner via All Trails

Region: South / Fremont-Winema and Rogue River-Siskiyou National Forests

Length: 6.8 miles

Difficulty: Easy-Moderate

Season to Visit: May-October

Contact: USDA

 

20. Moon Falls Trailhead

This trailhead is a gorgeous one through the lush forest, leading to spectacular 100 ft. Moon Falls at the end. The Pinard and Spirit Falls trailheads can also easily be accessed in the area, rounding out your day of waterfall hikes.

Moon Falls / via thePDXphotographer
Moon Falls / Lessa Clayton via Flickr

Region: Central Cascades / Umpqua National Forest

Length: 2 miles out-and-back, 101′ elevation gain

Difficulty: Easy

Season to Visit: Early Spring-Late Fall

Contact: USDA

 

 

Do you have a favorite hiking area or trail we missed? Let us know in the comments.

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