Earlier this month our family took a vacation out to Portland, OR for our first trip to the Pacific Northwest. And while the weather was predictably mixed between rain and sun, we had a blast and managed to see a lot. It’s amazing to think that we just barely scratched the surface over 7 days!
Mt. St. Helens
On Sunday the skies were mostly clear so we hopped across the Oregon border into Washington and the Gifford Pinchot National Forest. Our goal: to get as close as possible to Mt. St. Helens. Since it was fairly early in the season, many of the higher elevation roads were closed due to snow but we did manage to get some great views of the snow-covered peak along the way.
We stopped off at Ape Cave and hiked in to see the entrance to the cavern (we didn’t have a flashlight with us so we didn’t even make it to the first set of steel steps). From the lower entrance of the cave we hiked above ground toward the upper entrance and stopped to play on the exposed lava flows.
Back at the parking lot the small ranger office was open and we saw that we could rent a gas lantern for just $5 so it was back to the cave! Since we were carrying a two year old we opted for the easier lower cave route and made it almost all the way to the dead end about half a mile in. It was surprisingly cold and wet inside the cave – about 42 degrees. Most of the caves I’ve been in east of the Mississippi are much warmer (closer to 60 degrees year round).
We stopped off at the Multnomah Falls on our way back to Portland from Mt. St. Helens and were shocked to see so many tourists out (we only saw a few folks at Ape Cave and on the road in GP National Forest). The falls were beautiful but honestly we could have skipped this one without missing much.
On Tuesday we drove to Tillamook for the tour of the famous cheese factory then drove about 15 minutes west to Cape Meares State Park. Despite the overcast skies the ocean and beach we found were amazing and once again we had the place practically to ourselves.
From the beach we drove up to see the lighthouse which was interesting but the views from the rocky cliffs were the real attraction. We also took a short hike to see the Octopus Tree, a conifer that’s very old and that no one knows for sure how it grew the way it did.
On Wednesday we drove out to Mount Hood where I went for a short (and wet!) mountain bike ride on the Sandy Ridge trails. Afterward we had a picnic lunch at Wildwood Recreation Site. Wildwood has tons of covered picnic tables and easy walking paths along the Salmon River. There’s even a “streamwatch” – a glass panel beside the stream that lets you see what’s going on below the surface of the water. Unfortunately we didn’t get to see any fish but apparently this is a great spot for watching salmon in season!
From Wildwood we drove up to Timberline Lodge and as we approached the historic property it started snowing! At the parking lot it was a full on snow shower and we were amazed to be surrounded by snow covered slopes. The wind was blowing and we definitely weren’t dressed for the conditions (I was still in wet shorts from biking) so we snapped a few pics and headed back down the mountain.
Tillamook State Forest & Forest Park
On Thursday morning I got out on the bike again and rode in the Browns Camp area in Tillamook State Forest. The weather was great and the trails were mostly peaceful (aside from the sound of dirt bikes and ATVs buzzing around on the ORV trails). After a while the dense forest started to feel like the ones I’m familiar with here in Georgia – just with more moss and ferns.
In the afternoon we took a hike in Portland’s Forest Park which is the largest forested city park in the US. Looking at the map we just barely scratched the surface of this place and around every corner we were slack-jawed at the trees and plants around us.
The area around Portland, OR is full of outdoor recreation opportunities and a full week wasn’t nearly enough time to explore everything. We’ll definitely be back to this part of the country again!
Have you been hiking or camping in Oregon or Washington? Tell us about your favorite spot!