One of the most epic places to visit when visiting Portland, Oregon is Forest Park. There are over 5,100 acres of forested trails with over 70 miles of hiking terrain. Most of the trees are second growth with a few patches of old growth. However, compared to other city’s forests’s, you may as well call Forest Park the largest forest in America. There are over 100 species of birds and over 60 mammals that call Forest Park home. If you really want to take advantage of the incredible vegetation I would recommend that you visit between May and June. May is great since you’re able to see wild flowers, such as iris and trillium but June is the best month to witness the park in a complete canopy of neon green vegetation. It almost takes on the effect of a tropical forest. There are millions of ferns and several creeks that cut through the forest as well as several small wooden bridges that carry hikers over the sometimes muddy creeks. Most of the trails are fairly easy to hike but if you’re interested in getting a good workout, you can easily find parts of the trail that have steeper inclines and cover more elevation gain. If you’re interested in mt. biking, you will be glad to find out that there are over 30 miles dedicated to bikers. Most of the trails are pretty steep, so you will have to be in pretty good shape if you expect to climb some of the challenging and sometimes muddy trails. However, a good part of the biking trails are on the old road that traverses the park but the city has done a good job of doing some maintenance work in order to make it more of a wilderness trail. There are several areas where you can start from and if you’re driving to the trail there are several parking areas where you can find the best trail. Since the trail is just seconds from several Portland neighborhoods, most people just step out of there front door and make a quick trip to the nearest trails. There are several viewing spots that will give you a glimpse of the Portland skyline, views of Mt. Hood, Adams, St. Helens and Rainier. You can also get a glimpse of the st. John’s bridge as well as the train bridge and the Willamette river. However, the best views are from nearby Pittock mansion.
The Wallowa mountains are located in the northeastern part of Oregon and are part of the Columbia Plateau. The Wallowa Batholith is formed of granite from a magma upwelling in Late Jurassic and Early Cretaceous time. The placement of this rock caused uplift of the surface, which at the time was tropical sea. There is no doubt that the Wallowa mountains offer some of the most amazing scenery anywhere located in the lower 48 states. It has the second largest roadless wilderness in the lower 48 and it boasts 37 peaks over 8,000 feet. There are endless amounts of hiking trails throughout the wilderness and you can expect to see some of the most diverse ecosystems and wildlife anywhere. However, if you want to explore the Wallowa’s, you will want to plan on bringing your A game! The trails are very steep, long and very strenuous. The entire wilderness area is a backpackers dream but if you are only planning a day trip you will want to study your options very carefully since most of the mountain lakes are over a day hike away. You literally will be pushing your athletic limits just to get to your destination and then you have to hike out again. There are some really good books that will show you all of the hundreds of trails available and then you will just need to decide on your route. The most popular place in the wilderness is right near Wallowa lake state park. The park offers one of the best campgrounds and there are several lodges, yurts and cabins. Most of the backpackers start from this spot since there are a lot of parking spots available and it seems to be the most popular place to start. In fact, most of the best trails start from here and when you get back to your car there are plenty of places where you can immediately get some food or find a place to wash up or crash. I’ve camped at the park several times but I have never backpacked so I have spent a lot of time researching the best trails to start from in order to take advantage of the best things to see and do. However, you will want to keep in mind that if you find a trailhead that you want to start from you will want too keep in mind that most of the forest roads that take your desired spot are very rough and you may need a rig that has a high clearance and possibly 4 wheel drive. Again, this is rough country and the only place where you can avoid the need to go off road to find a trail is from the Wallowa lake campground area. The wilderness is like a giant circle of mountains and you can enter from almost anywhere in order to start your hike but you will find that most of the roads leading to your hiking spot is very primitive and hard to get to. The photo that I posted was taken from Aneroid lake and it’s a very difficult 12 mile hike round trip. The elevation gain was 2,950 and you will feel the pain when you get back to your campsite. However, the views are epic and you will come across some of the most amazing scenery that offers too many to list. No matter what trail you decide on, you can pretty much guarantee that your destination will take you to either a lake or a nearby river. This means that you will want to pack a pair of swim trunks and plan on going for a swim if it’s warm enough. However, the rivers can and are pretty treacherous so you will want to be sure that you aren’t swimming anywhere near a waterfall. The rivers are absolutely massive and thunderous and can really ruin your day. However, there are millions of places where the rivers become very slow and calm and will literally be telling you to dawn your swim suite. You will also want to bring as much food as you can possibly carry. You will absolutely burn enough energy to fuel the space shuttle and you won’t want to have to turn around early because your food supply has gotten too low. You also want to be sure and pack a good camera since there are a lot of wildlife that make the Wallow mountains home. Some that you may see are: eagle, hawks, osprey, black bear, elk, deer, moose, fox, coyote and even wolf. I’m sure that I have left some out but you get the picture.
Mt. Rainier is located in Washington state and is the main attraction at Mt. Rainier National Park. The park was established in 1899 and includes over 369 square miles of wilderness. The elevation of the mountain is 14,410 feet and is the tallest volcanic mountain in the Cascade mountain chain. It is also the most glaciated mountain in the lower 48 states. Carbon Glacier is the largest glacier by volume in the continental United States and Emmons Glacier is the largest glacier by area. The park also contains over 91,000 acres of old growth forests. Over 1.8 million visitors visit the park every year and the winter months all but reduce the visits to almost zero due to the enormous snow that it receives. Probably 99% of the 1.8 million visitors are just during the summers months. If you do plan on visiting the park I would recommend that you try to get there as early as possible and plan on visiting during the mid week. The crowds are just too big during the weekends in the summertime. However, most of the visitors are gone by 6:00 pm, which means that the highest majority of the visitors are pretty much only making a road trip and rarely even get out of their cars. Most of the tourists end up only walking through the visitor centers and maybe taking a very leisurely stroll on one of the paved trails. There are two lodges and several campsites but it’s only a fraction of the visitors that are only driving through. This actually makes it for a great day trip. I’ve been to the park 3 times over the past few years and I have had the chance to hike throughout the southern part of the park and was pleasantly surprised to rarely see too many people. Again, most of the visitors don’t hike the trails. However, since it’s such a long drive from Portland, I would recommend that you get an early start and plan on getting home very late in the evening. However, if you are camping or staying at one of the lodges or nearby hotels then there isn’t any hurry. If you do end up arriving at the park during the afternoon you will want to plan on sitting in a long line of cars at the parks entrance and plan on driving around looking for a parking spot when you get to the park. If you get there early enough, you won’t have any wait to get in the park or finding a parking spot and since you will want to pick a hike, you will find that most of the crowds will have come and gone before you get back to your car. Last time I was there, I brought my camping stove and I never saw a single car at the parking lot just below the main lodge. In fact, I only counted two or three cars even driving by while I was almost within touching distance from the mountain. Because I drive from Portland and I have only been able to make day trips, I haven’t been able to make it to the north or north east side of the park but I do hope to get there this summer. It’s hard to imagine spending all of your time driving around when the mountain is beckoning you to explore its many adventures that are too many to list.
A beautiful picture of Mt. Jefferson at Jefferson Park, Oregon. This photo was taken on October 3rd and you can see all of the Salmon berries in the foreground. They are in abundance throughout the entire Jefferson Park area and if you’re lucky you might stumble on a black bear foraging. I never got a chance to see one but I did notice several bear tracks and scat throughout the park and I did hear some rustling in some brush but I never took the time to find out what it was. September and early October is the best time to visit the park if you want to take advantage of getting the opportunity to see some wildlife like bear, elk or deer. However, the days are much shorter and the snow covered peak of Mt. Jefferson is at it’s lowest point of the year. You will have the opportunity to forage around the salmon berry drenched canvas as well as still have the opportunity to swim in one of the many lakes in the park. The weather can actually be warmer and sunnier during the months of September and October as well as maybe even getting a little of dusting of snow in the early mornings. The crowds are also much smaller then the summer months and this can be critical if you’re planning on back packing or hiking on the weekend. However, the summer months offer longer days and more snow at the higher elevations. Summer also brings out the ever so brilliant alpine flowers that canvas the park. You can literally feel like you could get lost in all of the wildflowers throughout the park. Even the lakes and smaller ponds will be at their highest levels and you can also follow some of the small creeks travelling through the lakes and fusing them into one giant water system. The biggest drawbacks about visiting during the summer months is that if you are planning on visiting during the weekend, you can expect to see hundreds of other hikers and back packers. This can really ruin the alpine experience. However, if you visit during the mid week, you are less likely to see as many people. Another drawback is that sometimes the trail will be covered in snow until August and that can really cause a problem unless you come prepared. The last time I visited was in early July and I couldn’t hike past the 1/2 mile mark without having to put on my snow shoe gear and I eventually ended up just finding a ledge and taking photos from there. I basically ended up losing out on a great hiking trip but at least I brought some snow shoe gear to get me about 3 miles up the trail. You also really want to check the weather and even contact to ranger station to see if the forest road is open. Sometimes it doesn’t open until later in the summer or there may have been a washout or fallen trees blocking the road. This can really ruin your day if you make the 100 plus mile drive and then only find out that the road is closed. You will need to purchase a Northwest Forest pass in order to park at the trail head and I would also recommend that you store your dinner in your car for your return since you will be pretty hungry, thirsty and very tired and dirty once you get back to your car. The hike to the park is 5.1 miles one way and it’s very steep. The elevation gain is 2400 feet and that’s only to the park. There is another 1000 feet of elevation gain available if you decide to continue past the park. That also doesn’t include the 3 or 4 miles of trails that winds it’s way around the area. If you plan on doing a day hike I would plan on hiking over 15 miles round trip since you won’t want to just hike to the park and then sit around. There is way too much to do and see once you get to the park. In fact, the real views and fun doesn’t even start until you get to the entrance of Jefferson Park and believe me you will know when you get there. About a few years ago, I was taking some photos of Mt. Jefferson when all of a sudden a snow owl leaped from a tree branch and quickly flew away. I never had a chance to even take my camera off the tripod to get a shot. There are even some waterfalls that you can take photos of as well as several snow bridges along the higher elevations that you may be able to cross.
Spring is officially here and it will only be a few more weeks until the gorge will be ready for some serious photography hunting. I only say that because the gorge usually doesn’t become completely prepared for a photography hike until all of the foliage has come out of its dormancy and begins to clog the landscape with a sea of green. Early May or even as late as mid June is the best time to take advantage of the intense green landscape but it really depends on the weather. If we are lucky enough to get a more mild spring, then the gorge is more likely to see it’s foliage come out early. However, if we get a colder and wetter spring, then the foliage won’t come out until late May or mid June. However, you can always expect to still have a great waterfall and creek in your shot no matter what the weather is like. The water levels will still be high and you can expect some pretty thunderous waterfalls cascading through the basalt cliffs as they carve their way through the lower elevations. The photo that I posted is of Elowah Falls and it’s pretty easy to get to. It’s also a very popular waterfall since it’s only a short hike and it’s pretty awesome to look at. You can expect to get a little wet while crossing over the bridge and you can even take a swim in the fresh water pool that is directly under the waterfall. Since the trail can get pretty busy you may want to visit during the weekday, if you want to get some shots of the waterfall without having dozens of people in the foreground. You will also want to plan on drying your lens fairly often since the water spray is pretty intense and if you don’t you will end up with a bunch of photos with nothing but water droplets on your shots. I would also recommend that you bring along your tripod, bubble level and a remote switch. You would also be doing yourself a favor if you attach some ND filters. I normally set the shutter speed between 3 and 5 seconds and since the light can get pretty high, you don’t want to end up with any overexposure. A tripod will also allow you to ensure that they don’t come out blurry and uneven. Using a tripod along very uneven and a tricky landscape is a lot of work but you don’t really have a choice. Try doing this with a dog with you as well and this will really test your patients. Not only does the trail that leads to Elowah falls offer great shots of the waterfall but there are great opportunities to photograph the old growth forest, wildflowers, wildlife, creeks, moss, lichen and dozens of other photo opportunities.
June Lake is located on the south side of Mt. St. Helen’s, Washington and to get there it’s an easy 1.5 mile hike. However, the drive to the trail head is about a half day of driving if you’re coming from Portland, Oregon. You would be advised to bring lots of food and just plan on barbecuing your dinner at the small park located at the trail head. If you’re interested in an amazing hiking trip you will want to continue past June Lake and hike along the razor sharp lava covered trail. There are actually dozens of trails that you can choose from so you will want to bring a trail book or study the hiking maps located along the trail. You can even hike to the swift glacier and hike as far as you can until you get too tired to continue any further. The south side of the mountain looks much different from the north side. There are no signs on the south side of Mt. St. Helen’s that it ever even erupted but you will truly be amazed by the beauty and endless amounts of options available. Most people that choose to summit the mountain, in winter, start from near the June Lake trail head. However, even in summer you can hike towards the summit and pass several places of interest along the way. There are several additional water falls, lava flows, canyons, lava tunnels and beautiful alpine flowers that dot the landscape. Because the lava rocks are so sharp, I would think twice about bringing your dog with you on this trip. A dog’s pads could end up getting cut to shreds almost anywhere along this part of the trail. I would even recommend bringing a small first aid kit with lots of band aids since it’s pretty easy to brush up against the lava rocks and end up with a pretty deep cut. However, there are other hiking trails near by that don’t pass through the lava fields if you want to hike with your best friend. You will just want to study the trail maps before you head out. I’ve visited several times to snow shoe during winter and that can even be a better time to visit. Once you get to a high enough elevation you will have an awesome view of Mt. Adams and Mt. Hood.
The other day, someone asked me to tell them which was my favorite hike near or on Mt. Hood. It took me a second but then it soon dawned on me that there is only only hike that towers over all the rest. This hike offers everything that you wold expect from a Volcanic mountain should. I immediately explained to them that it was the Elk Meadows hike. I then explained to them that you also need to hike past the Elk Meadows trail and head straight up towards Mt. Hood, which becomes the Gnarl Ridge trail. This epic hiking trail offers everything that a wilderness hiker would love. You hike among an ancient and pristine forest, cross over several creeks and rivers. You even have the chance to cross along a wooden bridge that spans over a recently melted glacier. You can walk along an alpine meadow with millions of flowers dotting the bogged grassland. Once you leave the Elk Meadow trail, you then get the chance to explore the Gnarl Ridge trail and it’s impressive. You will immediately notice the elevation gain within just seconds. The trail shoots straight up as you hike through the tall trees. Your ultimate goal is to get to the summit of Lamberson Butte. The photo that I provided was taken from the Lamberson Butte viewpoint. With it’s elevation at 6,500 feet, you will realize that you have hiked over 2,030 feet of elevation gain. Before you can get to the top of the butte, you may have to traverse along a very steep and difficult part of the butte if it’s still covered in snow. However, if there isn’t any snow, you won’t have to worry about anything. The trail is just below an overhang and below the trail it’s a pretty steep drop, so if there is still snow, the trail may be buried and you may have to slowly navigate your way around this sketchy part of the trail. Once you get to Lamberson Butte, you will find yourself with a pretty spectacular view. You can see Mt. Jefferson and the Three Sisters in the south and Mt. Adams and Mt. St. Helen’s towards the north. Mt. Hood stares you straight in the face as you gaze due west. Alpine flowers grow in some of the most precarious spots along the volcanic covered earth. Huge boulders are spread out across the volcanic landscape and you can hear and see some of the boulders crashing down all around you. Gnarl Ridge is an unforgiving and massive cairn just below from where you will be sitting and the glaciers high above created the cairn that created Newton Creek. This is the creek that flows under the wooden bridge that you will be crossing during the early part of your hike. There are several glaciers on the eastern slopes and many mt. climbers start from the base of Lamberson Butte. It’s a very windy area but you can find some pretty descent cover and more flat stretches just north of the butte. This is a great spot to take a break and have lunch. The views are awesome and you can plan on spending several hours taking photos. Again, if you study the photo, you will notice the many areas that I’ve mentioned. If you want to continue up, you will be able to follow the trail until it disappears under the snow. The snow lingers well into August or September so you will want to plan on bringing your snow shoe poles and maybe even some grip soles or traction cleats for your shoes. You won’t necessarily need crampons since you will be going from snow to rock several times. I pretty much kept on hiking towards the summit until I began to cramp up and trust me, you will. If you look at the photo, you will see that you will be hiking on the right hand side of the summit. You can see that it’s mostly snow and bare rock and the elevation gain is pretty steep. You could pretty much hike until you get to the summit but you will soon find yourself exhausted and starting to realize just how difficult it would be. You could easily cover over 5,000 feet of elevation gain before you even realize it. I would recommend that you bring your dinner with you and plan on eating at your car as well as rest for a while before heading home since you will be very tired, hungry and dirty. There are two places where you can start your hike. They are only a few hundred feet apart and they are both off highway 35. The first parking spot is just a few yards from the Mt. Hood Nordic Center and the other is the Clark Creek Snow Park. Just remember to purchase your parking pass or your annual Northwest Forest Pass.
Spring is in the air and it feels like it outside. On the last day of February…… it’s sunny, warm and you can even see snow capped mountains in the distance. It’s already shaping up to be another standard Pacific Northwest Spring like debacle! Debacle you say! why yes! I say that because the forecast for tomorrow is calling for a severe storm system to move in and blanket most of the state with rain in the valleys, snow in the mountains and much colder temperatures in the Cascades. Government Camp may only get a high of 17 degrees even though today it’s partly sunny and much warmer. However, this isn’t any different from all the other years in the Northwest. People in Chicago, IL have a saying… if you don’t like the weather just give it a few hours. That’s nothing, compared to our seasons in the Pacific Northwest. We can have Spring weather on one day and then winter the next. This is much different than just rain one day and then sun the next. We experience complete seasonal changes within just a day. However, I’m totally ready for the Spring weather as well as hoping that we get some descent snow storms in the mountains, so I can revel in both worlds. I’m ready to take out my 50mm prime lens, for some great tulip shots and get out my 17-70mm lens so I can take it up to the mountain while snow shoeing through some rugged powder. Another great thing about the Pacific Northwest is that it’s really easy to experience several seasons on the same day since you can admire in the spring flowers while taking in the views of snow capped mountains.
I never thought that I would see the day when tulips would begin to spring up out of the ground and completely grow to their absolute potential during the month of January. However, that’s exactly what I have been noticing along some of the neighborhood’s in NW Portland, Oregon. I’m sure that older tulip bulbs can probably start to grow earlier but in January? I have noticed that some of my tulip bulbs, that I planted last year, have started rearing their heads but they are only about 2 inches high. The ones that I saw the other day were about two feet tall and had completely bloomed. The photo shown on my blog was taken at the Woodburn, Oregon Tulip Festival and I took the shot on April 1st.
[/caption] Mid summer view of beautiful Mt. Hood and it’s alpine wilderness! Another cool shot of Mt. Hood with a great view of it’s western alpine flanks. The Mazama and Cairn Basin trail travels through the left part of the photo with several great views of Mt. Hood. There are endless amounts of wildflowers growing in the lush green alpine wilderness that spans below the higher elevations and if you decide to hike on Mt. Hood’s western side you will be immersed in several picture perfect spots. Having a tripod will allow you to take the additional effort to get the best shot but you will also find yourself taking a lot less photos and reducing your travel distance by as much as 85%. On hikes like this, I like to ensure that I have the proper settings on my camera and leave the tripod in my car in order to take more photos and hike as far as possible without being bogged down by a tripod. If you have good light, and a steady hand, you can eliminate the chance of ending up with blurry photos or camera shake. I still attach my CIR-PL but I just make sure that I’m always using the histogram and making adjustments as needed.