Neahkahnie Mountain: Or, This Seemed Like A Good Idea at the Time

“Which way do we go?”

There’s an obvious trail straight ahead, and an equally clear path switchbacking sharply to the left. I’ve stopped, considering, and my husband is asking the question behind me. We’ve divided most of the work in our partnership, and route-finding is up to me.

The correct answer is “up,” because we’re a long way from the summit of Neahkahnie Mountain. Both options fill the requirement, so I scout along the current track. It rounds a corner and starts rapidly losing tread and definition: the wrong choice. Returning, I find my husband pointing to the ground and laughing. What I’d taken for a tangle of spruce roots blocking the trail is actually a 2-foot-high word, formed from fallen branches: NO.

...Is this the right way?

Hikers are a helpful species. There are about two official signs on the Neahkahnie Mountain Trail, one at the north entrance and one at the south. In between, several spur trails, a confusing clearing with no obvious exit, and the summit ridge itself could use a little direction. But this is a popular hike, with many regular devotees happy to share the secret.

I rarely speak to other hikers except to ask or receive direction, or exchange the requisite commentary on the weather. Solitary or in groups, we’re absorbed in a private pursuit alongside everyone else, and we keep interruptions to a useful minimum. “Beautiful, isn’t it?” “Great day to be out!” Yet our brief conversations always feel complete: a pleasant duty fulfilled. I feel a flare of companionship with whoever left that sign.

Watch your stepActual root-tangles resume immediately as we pick up the correct path. The Sitka spruce here grow huge and dense. They’re joined by the slower-growing Western hemlock, which waits patiently in the deep shade of the spruces for its chance to reach the sky. Both trees send out shallow roots on the rain-soaked Cascadian coast, winding over and around each other in beautiful, boot-snagging patterns. On the north side of the mountain, they own the path. No smooth-packed ascents here: I’m taking an endless, uneven staircase two steps at a time.

It’s a relief, though, to be in the forest. It’s warm today on the exposed lower slopes, and besides, the trail already traversed has its own challenging character.

FULL OF SPIDERSThe meadow, for example, which lies on a bluff above the sea and below the northern trailhead. Today it’s a gorgeous russet field of end-of-summer ferns, with tall dried stalks of cow parsnip shaking off their last heart-shaped seeds.

It’s also completely full of spiders. Big ones – just minding their business, I know, but their business is strung directly across my path at chest-level. So I half-collapse one of my hiking poles and starting rhythmically scything the path in front of me. It’s very effective, for one person: my husband says I’m throwing up webs behind, so they float through the air and settle onto him instead.

The actual Neahkahnie Mountain Trail commences on the east side of Highway 101. Switchbacking up a steep slope with no tree cover, it’s narrow path threaded between head-high walls of shrub rose, salal, and thimbleberry. It’s lovely, and the fruit in season is a fine compensation, but it’s also overgrown. I’m always pushing aside spent berries and ducking around spiny branches.

All this riotous life does serve to keep us on the mountain: the path itself is constantly eroding. It’s like an Oregon Coast version of Chutes & Ladders, with boot-sized miniature landslides crumbling into the brush on the sheer downslope. A few corners have been cut, too, by hikers impatient with the gradual nature of switchbacks. I avoid these ladders; this thing will fall off the mountainside soon enough.

***

IMG_20150911_094643

Though it means the meadow, I like to begin a trek up Neahkahnie from the beach. The crash of individual waves blurs to a background roar as you climb, but the sound of the sea is constant. Even to the summit, where a truly fine view erases the memory of effort, the voice of the ocean rises. 1600 feet up, your eyes show you lacy lines of breakers floating softly into shore. You need your ears to recall their enormous power, their speed and weight and danger.

Fog hangs over the water this morning as we set out, but the coast is clear, and at 8am the day is warming. I’ve optimistically donned a down vest over my tee-shirt, but after a mile it’s creating a personal sauna.

Colin Fletcher, in his classic backpacking work, The Complete Walker, says hikers fall into two categories regarding layers: those who stop constantly to add or subtract, fine-tuning their comfort level; and those who wear what they wear, blazing on in spite of discomfort. I tend to start in one camp and shift to the other in the course of a single long hike. For a good hour, the down vest remains a Good Idea At The Time, and therefore a good idea. It’s 9am and it should still be cool, dammit. Early in the day, I’m still gripped by this compulsion to move quickly, conquer the summit, remain invulnerable to pain.

I’m not sure where I imbibed this idea, but it’s certainly proving detrimental to a body no longer duped by its invincible 20s. At the meadow, I give up. I’m hot. Now the inertia is broken, I’ll be willing to stop later to roll up my pants, change hats, take a breather. I’ll move a little more slowly from here, and secretly I’ll feel relieved.

***

That one Sunday School song is now stuck in my head. Again.

Hiking all summer in unseasonable heat, I’ve grown used to listless brush, sunburned shrubs, and crispy leaf-edges. A little of that is inevitable every September, but this season the sun has been fierce, and the entire year unusually dry.

Neahkahnie Mountain’s riotous green is wonderful by contrast. Inland, it’s headed for 95 degrees, and I’d find the land cracked and breathless. But here the blufftop meadow, the forest understory, and the north slope’s wall of brush are all vigorously healthy: just a few curling edges on a leggy thimbleberry, just the lady ferns losing their summer green. Instead of a desperate gasp for water, late summer on the coast looks like… late summer.

It smells that way, too: delicious aromas released by a season of sun. Hemlock sap, warm earth, and spent bracken; sweet perfume from the body of a freshly fallen spruce. Nose to bark, I wish for a camera that can capture fragrance.

With my eyes closed, I remember the rest of my senses. I taste salt on the air, feel the crash of the sea, and follow the flight of a crow by her wingbeats. Eyes open: fantastically shaped spruce trees, curious plumes of sand beneath green waves far below, that breathtaking summit view.

If you were here, I would smile as you passed and tell you it’s a beautiful day. You would nod in agreement, maybe say it’s getting warm out here. And we’d have covered everything that matters.

The real thing is better. Go see it.

Neahkahnie Mountain is part of the Oregon Coast Range. It lies within Oswald West State Park, south of Cannon Beach and north of Manzanita on US 101. Park in the large area labeled “beach access” (for Short Sand Beach) to take the route to the beach and then up through the meadow. To skip all that, drive a little further south and park on the side of the road overlooking the meadow. Carefully cross the highway to pick up the trail. You can also park at the southern trailhead and take a slightly better-graded, and slightly shorter, path to the top. There are currently no fees or permits required.

Your hike can be a loop or an out-and-back. Here’s a little more information about your options. Depending on your choices, you can walk about 4 to about 8 miles. It’s challenging, with a lot of slippery or uneven footing, and an elevation gain between about 1200 and 1600 feet. If you start at the beach, do the whole loop, and plan on summit time, budget 5 to 7 hours.

Henry Hagg Lake: A Wine Country “Wilderness”

Also pretty in winter

I used to work a long way from my Portland home, out in the heart of Willamette Valley wine country. Every day I drove through gorgeous farmland: green waving fields, hazelnut orchards with their blur of fuzzy leaves above and anomalous scrubbed-clean ground below, vineyards marching in lines up the hills. In between cultivated lands, small forests and wild hills remained. There was one such forest on the border of my daily destination, and walking around the vineyard in the early morning, I routinely saw coyotes, deer, and even a small, intense bobcat.

So I went on a quest to find the local hiking trails. It was a short quest: there aren’t many. Rural Washington and Yamhill counties are sadly trail poor. Fortunately, the paths that do exist are wonderful, you can find two of them at Henry Hagg Lake. One is a gorgeous little woodland path, and the other is a pleasant rural road.

the most delicious weedA road? Yes. It’s a nice road, with thick forests and frequent lake views, a grade that’s never too steep, very light traffic on the weekdays, and a shoulder just about wide enough for you and a friend. The well-tamed brush beside this convenient walkway is full of the northwest’s tastiest and most ubiquitous weed, the Himalayan Blackberry. July or August is peak time for unparalleled roadside snacking.

The excellent maintenance you can expect on this road results from its frequent use by logging trucks. Depending on the timing of your visit, you may find the narrow, winding, rather longer foot trail a more peaceful hike.

***

Today’s visit falls many months into a drought year, a low-water summer with the lake down at least 20 feet. Normally, wavelets ripple right to the edge of the forest, but today the exposed shallows curve above the surface – desert-golden hills framed by royal blue water and a perfectly clear sky. It’s a beautiful effect, in spite of its ominous cause. I’ve arrived about 7 in the morning, already impatient for the cool shade of the hidden path that hugs the lakeshore.

hagg lake

Today it turns out to be shady enough, but the effect, unusually, is neither cooling nor pleasant. Too much sun has burned the tender leaves of fern and inside-out flower, and the yellow-brown survivors huddle beneath the overhanging dougs. Trail maintenance is due – shaggy yellowed hazelnut leaves regularly invade my personal space.

Speaking of which: a hot summer always seems to bring more spiders. After twenty minutes of politely removing both webs and their occupants from the path, trying not to shudder at the clinging silk on my arms, legs, and hat, I take the next opportunity to climb back up to the road. My patience with spiders is short at the best of times, and now frustration prevails over kindness: the previous inhabitants of this spur trail do not see my most temperate side.

The road fixes these hot-summer problems, at least from a hiker’s point of view (and a spider’s.) The lake scenery is not as intimate or as constant as that enjoyed from the trail, but it’s also rather more panoramic. And when not immediately in them, the sun-seared woods still appear watered.

***

Henry Hagg Lake is not a ‘real’ lake; it’s a reservoir. It’s not very old: Washington County and the US Bureau of Reclamation dammed Scoggins Creek in 1974 to ensure a local water supply. Since then, it’s become popular for water recreation and – relevant to our interests – the 13 shockingly wild miles of trail that twist closely around every offshoot of every arm of the lake. In any season but a hot dry summer, this trail is a hidden gem.

Even though it’s never far away from civilization, the trail feels secretive, full of little wild surprises. You cross tiny streambeds choked with half a dozen species of ferns. You round a corner to an allée of alders that looks like part of an abandoned road or formal garden. You emerge with disarming abruptness onto a grassy hillside remnant of the oak savanna that’s rare here now, but used to cover much of the Willamette Valley. Spring, winter, or any early morning, you meet other hikers or bikers infrequently, and then it’s a quick nod or a word before you lose them immediately around a bend.

Hagg Lake April 2013 052

Wood violets grow in profusion here; come in April to catch their soft yellow smiles in the shade. There are trilliums around the same time; that white star of the springtime woods. I’ve seen fishing osprey, one skittish coyote, a couple of sunning garter snakes, and many black-tailed deer. A doe with her two fawns crossed the path just ahead of me, pretending nonchalance, but I watched her shepherd them to safety and then stay to make sure I left the scene.

In winter it’s a mudfest, but you’re hiking in the Pacific Northwest; you know all about mud. Pick the road route if the trail’s too slippery, or give up and enjoy the wallow. Mud can be a real memory-maker. One Easter Sunday, I slipped in a gargantuan patch of muck and grabbed the nearest foliage for purchase. I splattered full-length anyway, and then I spent the next few minutes picking berry thorns out of my palm. Just as I’d started to move again, a pair of mountain bikers ripped around the corner and wobbled their way through the same patch. They couldn’t stop without falling, and I couldn’t get out of the splash zone. There was mud in my ears when I got home.

***

Of course, my wild little trail isn’t truly wild at all. In several places it briefly parallels or even touches the road. There are two nice developed picnic areas right along the path. You climb out of a primeval swamp and into a parking area, just like that. On a Saturday at noon, someone is digging out their fishing gear from the trunk, shouting to their companion to go get a life jacket, and someone else is letting their dog run around greeting strangers. A family of 6 is having a boisterous picnic in the very spot you’d hoped for a quiet rest.

Make a note to get up early next time, and thank the county for making such an effort to satisfy all recreationists. They could have made it picnic shelters all the way down, but instead you have a nice trail (mostly) to yourself.

If you’ve gone the road route, you’ll still encounter relatively few humans; it’s country walking most of the way. Hagg Lake is absolutely not wilderness, but it is rural, and and it feels remote. Good luck getting a mobile signal out here.

You’re on the margins as you loop around the lake, one long arm at a time, but you’re not far from services, and you’re nearly as close to a nice glass of wine. Willamette Valley wine country stretches up into Forest Grove, the nearest major town. A mid-day visit to Patton Valley Vineyards (practically on the way) or David Hill Winery (a little bit out of it) makes a wonderful way to re-enter society after a long and lonely hike. Traveling with non-hikers? Have them drop you at a trailhead for a few hours. There are plenty of area wineries – plus Oregon’s only sake brewery – to keep them busy while you enjoy some semi-wilderness solitude.

Henry Hagg Lake is located off Hwy 47 on Scoggins Valley Road, just south of Forest Grove. There is a small fee, payable with cash or card at the only entrance. No other pass is good here. You can park at any designated area and pick up the trail or the road with a minimum of route-finding. Trail mileage is about 13; on the road it’s 10.5. There are portable toilets at most picnic and parking spots. The nearest services are in Gaston or Forest Grove.

Failing the Classics: Ramona Falls & Cascade Streamwatch

open forestI kept a hiking log when I first moved to Portland. Skimming it now – terse entries noting trail names and miles walked, only – I can see I avoided the classic hikes.

I don’t remember why. Exploring my new territory, I had weekdays off and empty trails all around; I could have had any of the crown jewels to myself. Possibly I was being contrary on purpose – I’ll find my own favorites, thank you very much. A youthful contempt for tourism, maybe, or a romanticized longing to explore. Or it might have been mere coincidence that kept me away.

In any case, I stayed mostly clear, for years, of Mt. Hood’s popular south side. Only this year — a long hot summer, uncomfortably high and dry between two warm winters — have I discovered an interest. Perhaps it’s because there is only one advantage to such a distressing lack of snow as we have now. If this drought feels wrong, wasting the extended summer hiking season would be insult added to injury.

It’s turned out to be quite the consolation prize. I cannot bless the lack of precipitation, but I do return joyfully, weekend after weekend, to my new treasure-hunting grounds. I’ve found: secret river canyons in the Salmon-Huckleberry Wilderness; postcard alpine lakes; dusty, flower-strewn trails high up on the mountain himself, open only a few months out of the year.

I thought, after all this time, I should finally find Ramona Falls. It’s a true classic — a much-praised local beauty. The pictures show it wide and lacey, tucked against the mountain’s forested flank at the end of a pretty path along the Sandy River. The trailhead’s not easy to get to, but that’s never stopped Pacific Northwest hikers. I found it with only one wrong turn.

Speaking of which, let me take a moment to urge you to turn off Hwy 26, next time you’re passing through on your way toward Mt. Hood. You don’t have to go far: that endless corridor of shouldering firs is just the hallway, and a turn leads immediately to fascinatingly different rooms. Near Zigzag, turn right for lush, mossy rainforest. The Salmon River Canyon is a prime example, just a few miles off the road. To the left, the forest struggles in vain – blame the sandy, nutrient-poor soil – to attain the height and density of its cousin just over the highway.

Ramona Falls is left. On a dry day, the trail puffs up dust as you walk – fine sandy dust that turns your black boots khaki in ten minutes. Off the trail, the forest is open, floored in fragrant Doug fir duff and yellow-green moss. It’s a pleasant hike, in and out of sight of the Sandy River. The water’s low now, of course; fierce and tiny and milky with silt, rushing down a canyon clearly carved by larger flows with violence on their minds. The banks are concave bluffs, with black tree roots sticking out of their crumbled faces. They beckon, but try not to answer. Though it’s only fifteen feet down, nobody needs to discover that accidentally.

Leaves a wake of destruction

Less than a mile on, you cross this same river. There’s a break in the precipitous banks, nicely graded, down you go. At this point, it’s usual in such cases to have a bridge. This is, after all, a popular trail, and supposedly suited to anyone of a reasonable fitness level. I’m looking left and right, though, climbing the bank and poking around upstream, and still no bridge.

The water is only knee-deep, and not very wide. It’s quick, though, and there is no obviously good ford. I like to think of myself as a semi-adventurous hiker; as soon as I remember that, I decide to cross.

I’m picking my route when, up on the mountain, thunder growls. A moment later: a single fine curtain of rain. (It doesn’t last, and there’s no effect on the dust.) I have been here before: about to ford a mountain stream ahead of a storm. I did it anyway, then, and everything was fine. But that doesn’t make the decision intelligent.

Today, I retreat. One of the many excellent things about aging is the clarification of your priorities. Mine involve being home at night in my comfortable bed, not wandering chilled in the wilderness with my return route blocked by a suddenly raging river.

I don’t have a map, and I’ve had a pleasant walk, so I leave Ramona Falls for another day and head back to my car. At the trailhead, I spot a sign I missed on the way in. I learn from it that the (former) bridge tends to wash out in winter – and apparently they’ve stopped replacing it in summer. I learn too that a hiker has died here, doing exactly what I chose not to do today.

cracked

***

Sometimes you make a good choice, and you’re happy with it, but you change your mind later and make another good choice instead.

The day I didn’t hike to Ramona Falls, I’d been back in the car for the space of two potholes and a small bridge when I understood it would be untenable to go home without a walk. This should have a simple solution: I know many of you would drive to the next known trailhead, or turn at the nearest brown sign and go exploring. But I’m a different creature – the kind with a semi-legendary distrust of spontaneity. Unplanned exploration is rarely in my cards.

Cascade Streamwatch is tailor-made for this sort of quandary. Even if you’ve never been there, it’s the kind of place that feels easy, familiar – and anyway there are maps and interpretive signs everywhere, so you can hardly get lost. It’s the sort of destination you take out-of-town family so they can experience your forested homeland. There are big trees, paved flat paths, a classic Northwest river, and they’ve carved out the side of a stream and walled it with glass, so you can commune with the fish and frogs on their own level.

There’s also a parking lot the size of all 5 floors of Powell’s, so go on a weekday or get up early if you possibly can. Pulling into that desert of empty asphalt in mid-forest is a little creepy, but clean flush toilets are a fine compensation. Development has its good sides.

The first time I visit any site with interpretive signs, it’s almost a compulsion to follow their path. Cascade Streamwatch has a generally interesting, slightly dated interpretive trail: you’ll learn plenty about forest and stream ecology, and the tone is friendly and laid-back.

Or you can skip all that and wander with your face turned up to the sweet-scented trees – flat paths, tarred and smooth, mean you don’t have to keep the usual sharp eye on your footing. The Salmon River runs clear and wild through here; in summer, there’s a wide rocky streambed you can boulder up and down, feeling quite remote.

***

Instead of Ramona Falls that day, I found two gray-green rocks in the middle of the Salmon, and I crouched there a long time, water conversing all around me. An American Dipper a few yards away bobbed her curious dance: rock-hopping athletically, then stopping to bounce gracefully in place. I’m sure she saw me, but she had the good sense not to acknowledge my awful imitation.

I had wanted something new to explore. But once decided on the cautious course, I found my reward in the utterly familiar. Cascade Streamwatch is a place I’ve wandered at least a dozen times. It’s physically unchallenging, which leaves plenty of room for the spirit. It distills a quiet and personal experience of nature I’ve loved all my life: a sense of ease and fulfillment, which to me looks like clear summer streams and bobbing dippers and overhanging conifers.

I learned young to feel a sense of belonging in the rainforests of the northwest, and I moved toward home as soon as the choice was mine. Now, I often crave open forest, grassland, or big sky, and I seek those when I need to.

But sometimes I point my compass in a new direction, and it swings back on its own, True North. I’m always happy to come home.

Really smart, crouching on the rocks in the middle of this very fast river

The Ramona Falls trailhead is a few miles off Highway 26. Turn at E. Lolo Pass Road in Zigzag, Oregon. You’ll need a Northwest Forest Pass, which you should probably buy online, but procrastinators can get one at the Zigzag Mountain Cafe, corner of E. Lolo Pass and the highway. The bridge, you may have noticed, is out, but you can safely ford the river if you feel up to it. It helps to hang on to your hiking companion.

Cascade Streamwatch, more fully called Cascade Streamwatch at Wildwood Recreation Site, is slightly south on Highway 26, near Mt. Hood Village. There is a small fee for parking ($5 as of last week,) and the handy machines will take your debit card. Your Northwest Forest Pass is no good here. ADA accessible trails make this a great stop for everyone who loves the outdoors.

Salmon River Canyon

The scent of this morning is confusing. I’ve been here before, stood at this trailhead in the early hours of a summer day, quite recently. The rocky path, sloping up into the forest, and the talkative shallow river look and sound the same. But the smell! Sharp, rich, subtle, sweet: almost familiar and entirely alien.

insanely early hour

I’m at the bottom of the Salmon River Canyon, a deeply shaded cleft in the Cascade foothills south of Mt. Hood, just wide enough for a small road and a wild little river. I’m not sure how many of the tents tucked between those two are pitched on official sites, but I can certainly see what they’re doing here.

This place is…stately. Majestic. It’s also homey, which is an odd combination, but it works. Old growth trees preside over a wide open forest on either side of a clear green river. (These are the kind of ancient woods that seem almost managed, there’s so much space between the trees.) The steep and densely forested canyon walls feel spectacularly high, and the space they enclose is narrow. The effect is a comforting sort of closeness. It’s a physical separation of this piece from the rest of the vast wilderness, an illusion of protection akin to feeling safe in your home, your room, your tent.

The road in – fine walking in itself – offers a pretty carpet of equisetum beneath the overhanging conifers, and in July, peak-season digitalis wave heavy clusters of purple or white bells.

Earlier this summer, I came at 5am on a day predicted to hit 105. Swainson’s thrushes sang to the dawn while I walked a couple of miles on the Old Salmon River Trail. Emerging onto the road when that path ended, I found it so pleasant that I walked the road those couple of miles back. There’s a fine view the whole way of the western canyon wall, the sun at 5 just beginning to light its highest ridge. By 8, I was still cool in the shade on the canyon floor, though the whitening sun had blistered its way down most of the slope, painting it with a glaring haze of heat.

Sure, it LOOKS beautiful.

***

It’s not all easy walking. I could have chosen to cross the road and pick up the trail actually labeled ‘Salmon River Canyon,’ which is wilder, steeper, and even more beautiful. I did make that choice a couple of weeks later – another early start on another hot day – and today I’m back. I’m hooked.

This path starts out steep, though it evens out just a few hundred yards in. It stays narrow, and on the edges the parched dirt of a long drought crumbles into air underfoot. This is inconvenient because I keep twisting around, planting a foot and then swiveling, following the odd, shifting scent trails that are suddenly everywhere. I feel a little bit like a dog, or an ant, and my husband is laughing at me, but I’m finally on to the mystery here.

It’s not a scent, it’s a least a dozen, and seamlessly blended. I catch hemlock needles, then cedar bark, then summer river water – all familiar scents, but they swirl unpredictably, and they blur, and I can’t name them anymore. A friend told me once that the elusive sweet scent around us then came from a particular fungus, and I smell something similar in this morning’s mix.

The total effect is a perfume I haven’t encountered. I kind of want to wear it. Do I know any perfumers? People used to buy bottled scent made from the musk glands of deer and civets; I am not too proud to wear mushrooms and moss.

The other piece of the puzzle is that something’s brought this out. It’s the cool evening exhaling, maybe, or the long warm day drawing in. Perhaps the paper-dry air just picking up a far-off hint of this weekend’s promised rain.

***

I get used to the scent, eventually, or it might be that it quiets as the morning unfolds. We’re the first on the trail today, with all the best and worst things that accompany that. No human voices, no need to give way. And no one else to break webs: within minutes, my face and arms are criss-crossed with fine, floating threads. I have spider-silk trailing from my eyelashes – an interesting new cosmetic trend.

The trail stays near the river for perhaps two miles, mostly flat and quietly scenic. We spot several good places to stop for a break by the water. If you’re willing to pack in a camp chair and a book, you could spend a fine day out here doing very little.

Papers, please?

At the boundary of the Salmon Huckleberry Wilderness, we’re starting to get some exercise. The promised elevation gain on this hike is no more than 900 feet – we’ve just found it. I start pushing faster; a slope is a challenge to be met. My body wakes up when I plant my feet on a hill and point them upward. Downhill is a challenge of another sort: intentional slowing, careful foot placement to avoid jarred knees. It lacks the rush, for me, though my husband informs me when we finally turn around that “downhill is the best hill.”

This higher section dips in and out of side canyons, veering suddenly from the chatter of the river into pockets of otherworldly quiet. There’s no wind at all, so the usual sounds of leaf flutter and branch percussion are absent; it’s just the occasional bird call and the river that sounds as if someone has wrapped it in wool. Turn a corner and you’re back, the water carelessly throwing its voice and flashing in the morning sun.

It’s a long trail, and you can make it into a backpacking loop if you want to stay overnight. I’m told there are meadows further up, and a particularly scenic canyon view. I don’t find them today, but they’d be superfluous anyway. There’s enough beauty here to satisfy even if I walked blindfolded. (I tried that once, and learn from my folly: it’s a bad idea for the inexperienced.)

Even if you’re not sure how much walking you’re up to, the Salmon River Canyon is well worth the time it takes to get here from Portland. Wander down the road, stroll along the flat Old Trail and stop to play in the river, get a good workout on the Canyon Trail, read under a big old cedar, or launch a multi-day backcountry expedition. Best choice: camp here in the canyon for a few days, and you’re perfectly positioned to do any and all of those things.

Actual water under the bridge

The two trails mentioned here are reached from the same road. Drive US 26 to Zigzag, and turn on E. Salmon River Road. (It’s right next to the Subway, on the south side of the highway.) The start of the Old Salmon River Trail (easy, short) is about 2.5 miles in, and there’s not a lot of parking, so come early. The trailhead for the Salmon River Canyon trail (moderate, much longer) is about 5 miles in, with somewhat more parking. There’s an official campground in between: Green Canyon. You will need a Northwest Forest Pass.