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Best backpacking in Oregon or Washington?
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Ryan Bowlby
(Rbowlby83) - F

Locale: East Bay
Best backpacking in Oregon or Washington? on 05/15/2010 23:36:34 MDT Print View

My wife and I are going on a road trip at the end of the month. We will be leaving the bay area, traveling to Portland then up to Vancouver. Doing mostly car camping along the way. We would like to do a backpacking trip at some point and haven't a clue where to go.

What's the most scenic trip in Oregon or Washington that can be done in late May? Something in the 25-40 mile range would be preferable. Help us out! She loves a good waterfall and it's those kind of things that keep her coming with me. ;)

Dirk Rabdau
(dirk9827) - F

Locale: Pacific Northwest
Late May on 05/15/2010 23:57:07 MDT Print View

Well, the Cascades are largely still full of snow, as we broke 70 degrees for the first time this year here in Central Washington. You can still get some pretty marginal weather during that time of year, as well.

I'd say the Olympic Peninsula, specifically the Hoh Valley, which gets CROWDED in the summer but you will make it here before the kids are out of school. It's a temperate rain forest, easy going, but can get obviously very wet if the weather doesn't work out. BUt it's the only temperate rain forest in the United States, so worth checking out.

Also worth traveling is the hike through the Enchanted Valley on the East Fork Quinault River Trail. This is a very lovely valley with many waterfalls forming once the snow melts. I read the trail reports and there are a lot of bear in the area, which is normal for this time of year.

In the Cascades, the Teanaway region is quite nice - it's east of the pass along I-90, melts out quicker and general less chance of precipitation.

Two excellent resources for Washington hiking in general are: -- I'd post this question there - tons of hikers use this resource

The Washington Trails Association: - another excellent resource with very current trip reports.


Richard Scruggs
(JRScruggs) - MLife

Locale: Oregon
Re: Best backpacking in Oregon or Washington? on 05/16/2010 01:41:53 MDT Print View

Since you'll be car camping, a great place for a stop along the way is Silver Fall State Park, about 20 miles east of Salem, Oregon. State parks in Oregon have nice facilities (hot showers!), and Silver Falls State Park has a scenic loop trail along Silver Creek with many water falls, several that you walk "under" as you pass by.

Here are some links:

At the second link above, the trail behind Middle North Falls is reported to "closed until further notice" -- but don't see where it says how current that info might be.

With the high country snowed in, trails along rivers offer good options -- like the 40 mile or so Lower Rogue River Wilderness Trail, which can combine multi-day hiking down the trail with day packs while your "other" gear "floats" down the river to wait for you at the next lodge along the river. Shuttles can be probably be arranged for return.

Here's a recent report describing the Rogue River option:

Edited by JRScruggs on 05/16/2010 01:43:16 MDT.

Dean F.
(acrosome) - MLife

Locale: Back in the Front Range
Olympic Coast on 05/16/2010 08:37:49 MDT Print View

I always wanted to hike that section of coast included in Olympic National Park, from La Push to Cape Alava. It's only 24 miles IIRC, but it is an interesting 24 miles- you have to bring a tide chart because parts of the trail can be under water at times. And there are routes that go further south, if you want a longer hike.

Jeffs Eleven
(WoodenWizard) - F

Locale: Greater Mt Tabor
Re: Re: Best backpacking in Oregon or Washington? on 05/16/2010 11:29:06 MDT Print View

+1 for Enchanted Valley

Silver falls is a cool trail. Easy and many beautiful waterfalls. But it IS a state parks and so you have to deal with all of the wonderfully inconsiderate zombies bringing their litter of satanic spawn to fester in Pabst driven family outings. The perfect storm of visual and auditory pollution. But I digress...

Hike the Silver falls trail starting at 630 or 7am and stop to make breakfast along the trail- its nice.

Dirk Rabdau
(dirk9827) - F

Locale: Pacific Northwest
Olympic coast on 05/16/2010 15:17:58 MDT Print View

Dean -

I've done a section of the Olympic coast - not the entire 24 miles, but a good chunk and turned around. It was terrific, but slow going because of the tides and having to watch your footing. We ended up getting stuck on the highlands at one point because of high tide and the trail down to the next beach had been washed away, leaving us stranded until the tide receeded. We ended up taking turns reading out loud from a book.

I would count on small mileage days. There is something about the coast that makes it much more interesting to explore all the tidepools than to put in meaningful miles.

Oh, and do bring tide charts! And a bear canister (required).


Curt Peterson
(curtpeterson) - M

Locale: Pacific Northwest
Olympics on 05/16/2010 16:30:09 MDT Print View

The Olympics are fantastic - and can offer some good early season trips while snow is in the high country. High country out here is as low as 4000', by the way, and some of it doesn't open until August. Hard to believe for most folks east of the Northwest, but that's the reality.

The Coast is amazing. The LaPush to Capa Alava is actually South to North. From Oil City to LaPush is the next southern section. I find it more remote, less people, and more "adventuresome". Both are true wilderness coast trips that can't be beat in the lower 48. I used to guide these stretches and know them well - they're stunning.

The Enchanted Valley is actually in the National Park, not a state park. Once you're a few minutes up the trailhead it will be a wilderness experience with surprisingly few people. There are no car campers or sites like that - it is indeed a wilderness trail experience as good as any in the country.

Hoh rainforest is also amazing. The deeper you go, the more amazing it gets.

Elwha is also very cool. A little more crowded, but worth it and a little better chance of good weather if the west side is getting hammered with rain.

Can't really go wrong in my opinion. 95% of ONP is designated Wilderness Area. No vehicles. No bikes. No motors. Just trails, rivers, lakes, elk, bears, etc.......

Piper S.
(sbhikes) - F

Locale: Santa Barbara (Name: Diane)
Re: Oregon backpacking on 05/16/2010 17:18:05 MDT Print View

I know nothing about climate in Oregon during that time of year, but if it's possible to hike the Eagle Creek trail, that's an amazing place with a great waterfall you can walk behind.

Dirk Rabdau
(dirk9827) - F

Locale: Pacific Northwest
On the Olympics on 05/16/2010 17:27:57 MDT Print View

If you are driving to hike in the Olympics, make careful note of the route you will take. The Olympics Peninsula is quite large, and depending on your route of travel, you can easily add many hours to your journey by selecting the wrong route.

The highway in this area is largely two lanes and curvy depending where you go. Plan appropriately!


Mary D
(hikinggranny) - MLife

Locale: Gateway to Columbia River Gorge
Best backpacking in Oregon or Washington? on 05/16/2010 20:49:25 MDT Print View

There are several great places to backpack in Oregon this time of year. The Rogue River trail has been mentioned. The Columbia River Gorge is another. Herman Creek, the PCT, Eagle Creek all connect at the top near Wahtum Lake--although it may still be pretty snowy up there. The Eagle-Tanner loop is another possible choice, a bit less likely to still be snowed in at the top. Check out the Field Guide and the trip reports at Note: if your loop includes the Eagle Creek trail, hit it very early in the day before it becomes packed with tourons. It is extremely scenic with lots and lots of waterfalls, and especially beautiful now with the waterfalls full of water! A second note: park close to the campground host at the Eagle Creek campground--lots of car-clouting goes on at the upper trailhead parking lot.

Farther south, the McKenzie River trail above Eugene is also a favorite at this time of year. Waterfalls up there, too.

Steven Paris
(saparisor) - M

Locale: Pacific Northwest
Best backpacking in Oregon or Washington on 05/16/2010 22:19:45 MDT Print View


I just want to emphasize some of the points above, especially Dirk's comments. First, it is really frustrating this time of year in the Cascades -- the high elevation areas really are covered in snow and many trailheads cannot be reached by car, much less hiking on the trails themselves. This is not to discourage you, only to help you plan better.

Also, if you plan on going to Olympic NP, a driving trip around the entire peninsula can take 6-10 hours minimum, depending on traffic, weather, how much you stop, etc. If you don't have time to get all the way to the north, there are some great places around Hoodsport, which is only about 3-4 hours from Portland b/c it is accessible from I-5 through Olympia.

Finally, +1 on Eagle Creek. It is a classic Columbia Gorge hike. You don't get sweeping views of the gorge itself, but a really intimate climb up the steep side-gorge of Eagle Creek. Piper is referring to Tunnel Falls and here's a link to a short video I made last year behind Tunnel Falls. FYI, it's a narrow trail and I was holding the camera out in front of me. It's a really shaky video! Don't puke on your keyboard . . . .

Edit: forgot the link!

Edited by saparisor on 05/16/2010 22:20:17 MDT.

Dirk Rabdau
(dirk9827) - F

Locale: Pacific Northwest
RE: Best backpacking in Oregon or Washington on 05/17/2010 02:11:14 MDT Print View

As you can tell, there are a lot of enthusiastic hikers here in the Northwest chomping at the bit to hit the high country. One thing worth mentioning, and it's a negative, is that the most popular trail heads are vulnerable to car break-ins.

Ryan's movie gives a real sense of Eagle Creek and the fun factor of hiking behind a huge waterfall (really, it's massive).

I know the trail that serves the Enchanted Valley had real problems with chronic break-ins a couple of seasons ago. Hiding your stuff in the trunk isn't really good enough, thieves get into the car and pop open the trunk. The same issue for the parking lot that serves Eagle Creek. It is a popular spot (and should note, there are some very nice camp spots that can be reached within a few hours of the trailhead). I would urge you to minimize anything that is valuable when parking your car.

Please don't get me wrong, I've parked my car overnight many times and so far haven't had a problem. But it does happen, especially when people leave valuables in plain sight. Having out-of-state plates also serves as a bit of a clue that you might have gear beyond the normal backpacking equipment in your car. But in most cases, people who get hit have left good stuff in plain sight.


Edited by dirk9827 on 05/17/2010 02:13:40 MDT.

Ryan Bowlby
(Rbowlby83) - F

Locale: East Bay
Information overload! on 05/17/2010 02:39:15 MDT Print View

double post, sorry

Edited by Rbowlby83 on 05/17/2010 02:53:31 MDT.

Ryan Bowlby
(Rbowlby83) - F

Locale: East Bay
Information overload! on 05/17/2010 02:52:57 MDT Print View

Wow, thanks everyone! I think we are going to do two backpacking trips since we couldn't pass up Eagle Creek or Enchanted Valley. The plan is to drive straight to Eagle Creek and do one of the loops. Then do our stay in Portland, followed by Enchanted Valley then possibly take the ferry into Victoria and Vancouver Island and scratch Vancouver till next trip.

I am worried about our stuff being left in the car. We were planning on bringing two nice bike and all our car camping supplies. This would ruin our only long trip for the next three years.

I'm thinking we should do one of the loops at Eagle Creek. In and out sounds more like a day hike, a loop might be a less crowded and more peaceful trip. Mary, or anyone else, can you recommend the best loop from the Eagle Creek trail head? I'll keep researching in the mean time.

Still haven't decided on a route in Enchanted Valley but may do a night of car camping followed by a one night BP trip.

Thanks again everyone, what a wealth of experience to draw from.

John Carter

Locale: Pacific Northwest
Re: Re: Re: Best backpacking in Oregon or Washington? on 05/17/2010 09:48:35 MDT Print View

"Silver falls is a cool trail. Easy and many beautiful waterfalls. But it IS a state parks and so you have to deal with all of the wonderfully inconsiderate zombies bringing their litter of satanic spawn to fester in Pabst driven family outings. The perfect storm of visual and auditory pollution. But I digress..."

While I certainly agree that Silver Falls is among the more crowded destinations in Oregon, I do feel they have the space to accommodate them. You have to keep in mind that crowd size is relative; having come from Southern California, all I could think about when I first moved up here was how uncrowded the trails were! =) Anytime there was snow in the San Bernardino mountains, there would literally be a parking lot on the highway up. I can remember sitting in traffic on a mountain road for two hours, only to get there and wait for another half hour to find a parking spot, just to walk around with a bunch of underdressed city slickers.

There are places in Yosemite that you literally stand for minutes while packs of people pass you on the trail, most of them in cotton shirts.

I got into backpacking because most of my Southern California car camping tips were ruined from people's boom boxes blasting until early morning and obnoxious partying (despite the unenforced quiet hours). I remember telling my wife that I could actually get back into car camping up here because the experience is so much more pristine.

I'll never forget coming across hike 76 in Silluvan's "100 Hikes in Northwest Oregon & Southwest Washington." He states: Avoid this popular hike on summer weekends, when the unmarked parking area is jammed and the trail crowded." But when I first drove past the trailhead, I saw there were sonly spaces for about 15 cars! Sure, it may be hard to park, but I remember thinking "if this is what crowded means in Oregon, I've moved to the right place!!" I'm just saying that one person's crowded adventure is another person's pleasant solitude. =)

Anyway, on to the post. That time of year it is best to stay in low elevation, which means Columbia River Gorge hikes (like Eagle Creek) or Silver Falls. If I were doing your trip at that time, I would personally consider car camping and hiking, and visiting several of the waterfalls. Both Silver Falls State Park and Eagle Creek have world-class waterfalls, and are truly unique and worth visiting. Silver Falls has really cool cabins you can rent for about $30 a night which is really nice if it is going to rain all weekend. But don't let the rain stop you; they are pleasant hikes in any weather!

Silver Falls is a 7 mile loop, but it will take you 3-4 hours to do it with all the stopping and gawking you'll be doing. However, it is stunning; several of them are more than 200 feet high, and you get to walk behind 4 of the waterfalls. The trail is in a narrow canyon filled with vine maple and Douglas fir; in the fall the maples turn crimson red. There is also a variety of activities; they have a 4 mile paved bike loop through the forest, a swimming hole, large, grassy meadows that should be filled with wildflowers that time of year, and a 14-mile perimeter ridge hike.

Eagle Creek, on the other hand, is blasted out of a cliff edge much of the time, and is a bit longer at 12 miles. The views are dramatic at times, and it will take you 6-8 hours to get to and from Tunnel Falls (the highlight of the trip). If you wanted to backpack, this would be the trip to do so; the trains at the trailhead campground will keep you up at night. But I would plan on an in-and-out, as the ridgelines may still be under snow and it's about a 35 mile loop.

Ryan Bowlby
(Rbowlby83) - F

Locale: East Bay
Re: Re: Re: Re: Best backpacking in Oregon or Washington? on 05/17/2010 10:00:54 MDT Print View

I was kind of hoping to loop Eagle Creek and Wahtum Lake so the snow thing is a real bummer. What about looping Eagle Creek to Tanner Butte? I miss the lake but it's still better than in-and-out with the "tourons" (oh no am I one ;) ).

John Nausieda
(Meander) - MLife

Locale: PNW
Eagle Creek on 05/17/2010 10:37:34 MDT Print View

We( me, my wife and daughter) day-hiked Eagle Creek last Sunday before this-Mother's day. We as usual go past Tunnel Falls to the next falls up where we break for lunch and then return. On the way we passed about 5 groups of backpackers, all in nice sites with tons of white noise from EC. Don't give up on it just because the upper loop is closed. We passed everyone on the trail all the way in and out except for 2 backpackers who were sprinting. The lighting and time of day change the hike views dramatically despite the in and out. Wildflowers were peaking too.

Jeffs Eleven
(WoodenWizard) - F

Locale: Greater Mt Tabor
Re: Eagle Creek on 05/17/2010 11:09:24 MDT Print View

I like Eagle Creek too. After the high bridge you seem to leave most people behind. There will be some campers and maybe a couple of runners. I have been passed by a couple running it, too. It made me feel great about myself;)

I've hiked it on some snow, it was fun, the extra attention paid made it last longer, thus lengthening my perceived vacation.

Ryan Bowlby
(Rbowlby83) - F

Locale: East Bay
Re: Re: Eagle Creek on 05/17/2010 11:16:36 MDT Print View

"I've hiked it on some snow, it was fun, the extra attention paid made it last longer, thus lengthening my perceived vacation."

haha, sounds like you really needed that time off!

Well good news I found a trip report from the 14'th complete with pictures of the still slightly snowy conditions. Nothing too bad so I think I'm going to plan on looping it! I still need a decent topo map of the gorge though, any suggestions where I could find one?

Steven Paris
(saparisor) - M

Locale: Pacific Northwest
Best backpacking in Oregon or Washington on 05/17/2010 11:26:02 MDT Print View

+1 on Eagle Creek. It is "the trail" for Portland, being so close, but many people only go as far as Punchbowl Falls. Hike up to 7 1/2 mile campground and even if there is anyone else nearby, it is still a great spot. You can leave your stuff there, start an early morning hike towards Wahtum lake, go until you want to turn around or hit too much snow, and head back to the car. It's a really nice overnighter.

If you have time in Portland, another classic gorge dayhike is Dog Mountain, on the WA side. There WILL be a lot of people there, but it gives an outstanding view of the gorge and if you start early, you can get parking easy & be back in Portland for a late lunch at Bridgeport Brewery. Or head to nearby Hood River, which has a nice downtown. Grab lunch and go watch the windsurfers and kiteboarders.

Edit: wait until you get to Portland, go to REI and get Green Trails map # 429 "Bonneville Dam, OR." If you are heading up I-5, there's an REI right off the highway in Tualatin or one in the city.

Edited by saparisor on 05/17/2010 11:28:41 MDT.