5 Fantastic Winter Hikes Near Portland

Originally posted on PDXParent.com on February 7th, 2022

We all spend a lot of time indoors during our wet Pacific Northwest winters. However, with the right gear and knowledge, you can make winter one of your favorite hiking seasons. Trails are less crowded, migratory birds are in the area, and waterfalls are full. That said, weather can be unpredictable, trails can be muddier, and there may be road hazards.

For winter hiking with kids, it can be good to stay lower in elevation, closer to cell service, and away from fire-damaged areas. It’s also a great idea to:

Latourell Falls Loop

Image courtesy Jessica Becker

Walk right up to two waterfalls on this 2.4 mile loop hike. This hike is a Gorge treasure and is appropriate for kids who can navigate steep trails that are slippery when wet and are narrow with drop-offs. This hike also has great Gorge views as well as fun trees to climb on and walk through. Be prepared for the cold sensations of waterfall spray as you make your way around the loop.

Ridgefield National Wildlife Refuge — Oaks to Wetlands Trail

Image courtesy Jessica Becker

Winter is the best time to visit the refuge because of all the migratory birds! You don’t have to walk very far on this easy 2 miles out-and-back trail to see and hear the noisy and beautiful swans that flew south for the winter. Along the trail, you may even come across deer, birds of prey, ducks, and more. Bring a pair of binoculars and stop to read any interpretive signs. A section of the trail is closed on Thursdays and there is a fee to park. Consider a drive on the nearby Auto Tour Route to see even closer-up views of winter waterfowl and birds of prey. 

Oxbow Regional Park – Ancient Forest Loop 

Image courtesy Jessica Becker

Winter means fewer visitors at popular Oxbow Regional Park, which means animals are more likely to be out and about. The gentle 1.5 mile Ancient Forest Loop is a great place to track animals year round, but winter is an especially good time to practice your fox walking and owl eyes skills. Use caution near the swift river and save time for some playground play. 

Old Salmon River Trail

Image courtesy Jessica Becker

If you’ve ever wanted to hike through a fairy forest, the Old Salmon River Trail in Welches is the place to visit. You can hike up to 3.8 miles out-and-back along the river through a mossy old-growth forest. There are multiple parking areas and every section of this trail is beautiful. Plan on playing by the riverbank and climbing on and hugging massive trees. Keep an eye on kids around drop-offs and the swift river. 

Cooper Mountain Nature Park

Cooper Mountain Loop, courtesy Sarah Hummel via AllTrails

This Metro-run park is a fantastic place to hike in winter. You can combine small loops to hike up to 3.2 miles of oak savannah and ponderosa pines. The trail has some elevation gain, depending on the loops you choose. Keep an eye out for deer, birds of prey, and views of Mt. Hood. There are interpretive signs along the trail, as well as ‘listening trumpets’, which are designed to amplify the sounds of nature. No dogs are allowed and there is an awesome nature playground at the trailhead. 

Less-crowded Kid-friendly Hikes in OR and WA

Originally published at PDXParent.com on June 12th, 2021

Merrill Lake (62 miles from Portland) – 1 mile loop – Mt. St. Helens Area

This hike on the south side of Mt. St. Helens takes you on a short one-mile loop through an outstanding stand of old-growth forest with some amazingly informative interpretive signs. The lake was created by a lava flow stopping the flow of the river, which always seems to ignite kids’ curiosity. The lake is great for swimming, fishing and small watercraft (no gas motors allowed) and there is a walk-in campground onsite. A Washington Discover Pass is required to park (this pass can be bought online and is not available onsite). You can find Merrill Lake at 46.094156, -122.319784 and learn more about it here.

Tarbell Trail from Tarbell Trailhead (39 miles from Portland) – 1.5+ out-and-back miles – Yacolt Burn State Forest in Southwest Washington

This hike in the Yacolt Burn State Forest, just outside of Vancouver (WA), is rarely crowded and is accessible almost all year due to its lower elevation. There are no scary drop-offs but there are some hills and rocky tread, making this trail suitable for most young hikers. Mountain bikers do use these trails, so keep an ear out for squeaky brakes! The trail has views of three volcanoes: Mt. St. Helens, Silver Star Mountain, and the tip of Mt. Rainier, and there is a lovely wildflower bloom in spring and summer. The first ¾ of a mile is the best for views and flowers, but the trail is kid-friendly for miles beyond this.

Washington Discover Pass is required to park (this pass can be bought online and is not available onsite). You can find the trailhead at 45.79301, -122.30207 (also see this handy map of the area) and learn more about Tarbell Trail and Yacolt Burn State Forest here.

Barlow Road/Pioneer Woman’s Grave Trail (60 miles from Portland) – 1 to 2.2 miles out-and-back – Mt. Hood Area

This hike near the Highway 35/Highway 26 interchange on Mt. Hood takes you on a hike along the old Barlow Road wagon route. Hiking along the Pioneer Woman’s Grave Trail will have you walking in the footsteps of the pioneers traveling along the Oregon Trail. You will navigate blowdown, cross a creek and climb through rhododendrons and huckleberry bushes to an excellent Mt. Hood view. This shady trail makes a great choice for a hot summer day. After your hike, visit the Pioneer Woman’s Grave Memorial next to the trailhead and also visit the old wagon ruts across the road from the memorial, which marks the gravesite of an unknown Oregon Trail traveler that was discovered in the 1920s during the construction of the Old Mt. Hood Highway. The hike can be 1 to 2.2 miles round-trip, depending on if you want to hike up to Barlow Pass (where there is a portable toilet and historical signs). There are major drop-offs at the Mt. Hood view as well as some sections of rocky trail. Park in a road pull-out near these coordinates 45.281781, -121.699685, and find the trail on the east side of the road. Learn more about the Pioneer Woman’s Grave Memorial here.

Hamilton Island Trail (48 miles from Portland) – 2.3 or 3.4 mile loop – Columbia River Gorge

This hike in North Bonneville, WA takes you through meadows, up and down hills, and along the mighty Columbia River. You get up-close views of the devastation of the Eagle Creek fire and there are paths down to the riverbank, where you can play on the rocky shore and watch for birds. The trail can get quite muddy in rainy weather and there is a lot of blackberry on some sections of the trail. There is no shade on this hike, so come prepared with sun protection as well as wind protection. There are two places to park with no fee; the less-crowded lot tends to be by the ball fields in North Bonneville and located at 45.633768, -121.978971. You can hike either a 2.3- or 3.4-mile loop when parking at the trailhead by the ball fields. After your hikes, consider stopping at the North Bonneville playground to visit with a family of Bigfoot StatuesLearn more about this U.S. Army Corps of Engineers property here.

Pacific Crest Trail North from Lolo Pass (55 miles from Portland) – 4 miles out-and-back – Mt. Hood Area

This out-and-back hike takes you north on the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT) past epic views of Mt. Hood and Mt. Adams, along rocky cliffs, and through old forest with big trees. You also hike adjacent to the Bull Run Watershed, which is closed to the public due to its role in providing drinking water for much of the Portland area. When hiking through the scree fields, keep an ear out for the warning calls of pikas. This hike is for experienced kid-hikers who can safely navigate narrow trails on cliffs. The trailhead can be found on the north side of Lolo Pass at the following coordinates: 45.42692-121.79645 and you can learn more about the trailhead here. This hike should be accessible early summer through late fall.

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Thank you for your support and happy hiking!