choose your own waterfalls
Image: Mark Gamba

HYDRO POWER Feel the force of South Falls in Silver Falls State Park on a walk behind the 177-foot cascade.

SILVER FALLS STATE PARK

Driving time: 90 minutes
Nearest town: Silverton
Distance: Up to 7 miles
Difficulty: Easy

TRUE, MORE THAN 25 cascades plunge from the Columbia River Gorge’s walls. But nowhere in that great, state-dividing rift can you reach as many in a single seven-mile bound—at least not without working up a serious lather—as you can at Silver Falls. Here, amid 9,000 acres of second-growth forest, 10 silvery giants plummet earthward. If you opt to visit all of them (which can take up to three hours, depending on your pace), begin at the South Falls Trailhead, where the surge of Silver Creek welcomes you to Oregon’s most-visited state park. The trail follows the creek as it cuts through a canyon of mossy rock, delivering you to gape-inducing sights like the Middle North Falls, a 106-foot sheet of thundering white water so powerful you’ll feel its breeze and its spray from several hundred feet away. By taking a dirt footpath off the main trail, you can view the glittering fury from a cave directly behind it—just be prepared to get wet. For a gentler sight, stop by the park’s tallest cascade, Double Falls, where a slender stream tumbles 178 feet into a shallow pool. It’s a grand spot to pull up a rock, unpack your picnic, and revel in the refreshing mist. —Martha Calhoon

Get there: Follow I-5 south to hwy 214. Go east for 12 miles to the entrance of the park.
Maps: www.silverfallspark.org

INDIAN HEAVEN WILDERNESS

Driving time: 120 minutes
Nearest town: Carson, Wash.
Activity: Backpacking
Distance: At least 10 miles
Difficulty: Moderate

OK, SO WE FIBBED. This one’s a little more than 90 minutes away. But considering that you’d need a week to explore the more than 80 miles of interconnected trails that crisscross Indian Heaven Wilderness’s 20,960 acres in the Gifford Pinchot National Forest, we figured the extra 30 minutes were worth it. You can start at the Thomas Lake trailhead, but the East Crater Trail is less trafficked. Some paths wend through lichen-draped hemlock and fir or subalpine meadows in early summer. Others climb steep volcanic formations like East Crater, Lemei Rock (the highest point in the area at 5,927 feet), and Lake Sahalee Tyee. But they all pass by water, like Blue Lake, backed by the cliffs of Gifford Peak; or swimmable Thomas Lake, near Falls Creek Horse Camp. In fact, the wilderness area boasts more than 150 lakes where hikers can set up camp, catch dinner, or simply bathe trail-weary toes in the clear, cold water—a kind of pedicure au naturel that will prepare you for the next day’s trek. —Camas Davis

Get there: Follow Washington’s Hwy 14 East and take a left at the Carson turnoff. Take your first right after the bridge (this becomes FR 65). Go 12 miles to FR 60 and turn right. After two miles turn left onto FR 6035. The East Crater trailhead is 3 miles up the road. Maps: U.S. Forest Service Mount Adams Wilderness, Indian Heaven Wilderness, and Trapper Creek Wilderness Map

 

choose your own perch

PRIME PERCH See eye-to-eye with eagles at Angels Rest, a classic Columbia River Gorge hike.

ANGELS REST

Driving time: 25 minutes
Nearest town: Troutdale
Distance: 4.6 miles round trip
Difficulty: Intermediate

YES, THE PARKING LOT at this stellar Gorge trail is often brimming with Subaru Outbacks jockeying for an open spot, but it’s a far cry from the outright circus three miles up the road at Multnomah Falls. More important, though, Angels Rest is a tonic for the time-pressed outdoorsman: Nowhere else can such a mesmerizing view of the Gorge be had within a half-hour’s drive of Portland. Along the 2.3-mile trip to the top, day hikers can pause to peer at 175-foot Coopey Falls before billy-goating across a rock slide and scrambling to reach the summit, a bare expanse of earth 1,500 feet above the Columbia River. From your perch, you can just make out the tip of Mount Adams puncturing the sky, hold court with soaring golden eagles, and feel invigorated by a heart-pumping hike that’s just a quick jaunt from your neighborhood brewpub back home. —BMB

Get there: Travel east on I-84 for 25 miles and take Exit 28 toward Bridal Veil. Continue for 0.25 mile and look for the large parking lot on the right side of the road.
Maps: www.fs.fed.us/r6/columbia/maps

EAST ZIGZAG MOUNTAIN AND BURNT LAKE

Driving time: 90 minutes
Nearest town: Zigzag
Activity: Backpacking
Distance: At least 9 miles
Difficulty: Hard

THERE’S NOTHING WORSE than humping a heavy load all day only to set up camp in the middle of a plain old forest. When you commit to a long haul, you want to end your day on the shores of a rushing river or a crystalline lake, like, say, the four striking acres of deep blue that make up Burnt Lake in Mt Hood National Forest. You could take the short route to Burnt Lake (a mere four-mile hike from the Burnt Lake North trailhead), but traveling the road less traveled will make that inaugural dip in the spring-fed oasis all the more pleasurable. Just remember to start early to secure one of the seven primitive camping spots at the lake. The hike begins on Zigzag Mountain Trail and wanders through a meadow filled with lush pink rhododendrons and sweet huckleberries. As you climb northeast toward the ridge of 4,971-foot East Zigzag Mountain, stands of mountain hemlock and lodgepole pine keep watch over a rich understory of tiger lily, bear grass, and goldenrod flowers. Savor the landscape and the relatively easy hiking while you can, because as soon as you reach the junction with Cast Lake Trail, you’ll have to tackle a steep half-mile-long section to the top of East Zigzag. To the east, a soul-stirring 180-degree view of towering Mount Hood is your reward. That and sparkling Burnt Lake, beckoning from 800 feet below—a mere 1.1 miles farther along the trail. —CD

Get there: Take U.S. 26 East toward Mount Hood. At 4.6 miles past Sandy, turn left on East Lolo Pass Rd and follow it to East Mountain Dr. Turn right. The road dead-ends at the trailhead 0.5 mile ahead.
Maps: Green Trails Map No. 461