ALL ABOARD Iron horses once rode the rails along the Klickitat Trail. Now it’s all yours.

Image: Mark Gamba

(Plus, with today’s gas prices, who can afford it?) ?So we give you this: 18 ultimate outdoor escapes less ?than 90 minutes away. Consider it your guide to ?the perfect summer. Now what are you waiting for?

HIKE

PART OF HIKING’S APPEAL is its simplicity: You’ve only got to lace up your boots, grab a water bottle, and get out the door. But when you live within 90 minutes of more than 100 state parks, 8 wilderness areas, and the coast—not to mention our city’s own 189 parks—just picking a destination can be exhausting. So before you go cross-eyed Googling “Portland + hikes” or get swept up in an avalanche of guidebooks in the Rose Room at Powell’s Books, consider these tried-and-true outdoor rambles. From pounding waterfalls to secret escapes in Forest Park, the only legwork required for these treks happens on the trail. —Brian M. Barker

RIDGE TRAIL

Driving time: 15 minutes
Nearest town: Portland
Distance: About 3 miles round trip
Difficulty: Moderate

FOREST PARK. That Frederick Law Olmsted-inspired, 5,100-acre stretch of evergreen hills double-dipped in moss, sword ferns, trees—and mud—that seems to make up the very (green) heart of our city. But when your own personal stomping grounds have been overexposed by the likes of the New York Times_, is it even worth exploring anymore? You bet your Chacos it is. Consider the Ridge Trail: Located on the northeast side of the park, this short route tests hikers’ quads with a 1,000-foot vertical gain to one of Forest Park’s highest spots, where it links up with popular options like the Wildwood Trail. Perhaps because it was just completed in 2003, few people seem to know the route exists, which means you’ll probably have it all to yourself. And the view of the St. Johns Bridge from near the trail’s start alone makes this a worthwhile outing. Framed by big leaf maples, red alders, and flowering ninebark shrubs, the architectural treasure’s 400-foot-tall spires practically glow in the afternoon sun—a sight so moving, it could inspire a renewed love affair with this grand ol’ park. Or, hell, the whole city. —_BMB

Get there: Take U.S. 30 West and turn left onto NW Bridge Ave, toward the St. Johns Bridge. Find the small pullout immediately on the left side of the road. The trailhead is a short walk north on the road. Maps: www.forestparkconservancy.org

 

choose your own mountain

GOING UP? Yes, it’s steep. But the view from Saddle Mountain’s summit in the Coast Range is well worth the burn.

SADDLE MOUNTAIN

Driving time: 90 minutes
Nearest town: Seaside
Distance: 5 miles round trip
Difficulty: Hard

AT 3,283 FEET, Saddle Mountain is the tallest peak in Oregon’s northwest corner, a topographic siren in the Coast Range that lures peak-baggers from miles away. And who can blame them? The wind-whipped summit would be a prime place to shoot one of those eye-popping IMAX films, what with its front-row view of five Cascade volcanoes, including Mounts Rainier and Jefferson, and the endless blue Pacific. Accessing such film-worthy vistas, though, doesn’t come easy. Hikers must endure a relentless climb through a forest thick with firs and white-barked alders to a precipitous series of crumbling switchbacks before arriving at the mountain’s bald crown. Until 1966, a fire lookout tower once stood here, but it couldn’t prevent four of the most intense fires in U.S. history—collectively called the Tillamook Burn—as they raged across the landscape between 1933 and 1951. Those infernos did, however, prompt one of the world’s largest reforestation projects: In 1949, Oregonians planted some 72 million seedlings in what eventually became the Tillamook State Forest. Today Saddle Mountain presides over this second-growth forest, while its mossy flanks are a sanctuary for endangered wildflowers like frigid shooting star and Saddle Mountain bittercress, which continue to thrive with a tenacity rivaling that of any trekker aiming to reach the rocky top. —BMB

Get there: Take U.S. 26 west for 64 miles and look for the Saddle Mountain State Park sign. Turn right and drive 7 miles to the trailhead. Maps: www.nwhiker.com

ELK MEADOWS

Driving time: 90 minutes
Nearest town: Government Camp
Distance: About 5 miles round trip
Difficulty: Moderate

IF RENOWNED YOGI Rodney Yee decided to ditch the tropical beach backdrops that adorn the covers of his best-selling yoga DVDs and unfurl his mat amid some Pacific Northwest splendor instead, he could do a lot worse than Elk Meadows. Tucked up against the 5,600-foot-high Bluegrass Ridge, this half-mile-wide span of blooming bear grass is one of Mount Hood’s finest sights. In snowy years, like this one, you might not get your boots on this trail until late July, but it’s worth the wait. The path winds past tart huckleberries and bright red thimbleberries before delivering hikers to Newton Creek, whose chilly waters must be forded to reach Elk Meadows. Note that such an endeavor is best undertaken in the wee morning hours, when the creek levels are at their lowest. Just as well. An early start ensures that, even without your yoga mat, you’ll have plenty of time for quiet reflection. —BMB

Get there: From Hood River, take Hwy 35 South for 7 miles and turn right at the sign for the Mt Hood Meadows Nordic Center. The trailhead is 0.5 mile down the road on the right. Maps: Green Trails Map No. 462