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Backpacking start points near PDX

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I created this page primarily for my friends visiting me. They want to backpack for 2 - 20 days at a time - I don't. That time for me is over (because of my knees, which can't hold the weight of a backpack anymore). But note that many of these suggested trips can be broken up into day hikes, either where you drive from PDX to the trailhead, hike for a while, then go back home, or, where you camp in one camp site the night before and the night after, and spend the day in between hiking (with just a day pack rather than a full back pack).

Camping in Oregon is wonderful - but it is also so popular it can be difficult to do in certain areas without reservations months in advance. And as state forests and many national forests don't take camping reservations - and that's most of the camp sites between PDX and the coast - it can be even more difficult; for instance for any holiday weekend, where the holiday is on Monday, you will not be able to camp at any camp site that doesn't take reservations within a half day's drive of Portland, unless you get to the camp site and set up a tent by WEDNESDAY. I'm not kidding. For an in-season weekend, such camp sites are often filled by noon on Friday. 

Here are some back packing trips from our area. You are STRONGLY encouraged to obtain a book that details the hike you choose and gives you the necessary information on camp sites, safety, and where to look online for trail closures. I have not done ANY of these AT ALL - I put this together for a friend. Also, note that many of these require you to get a permit - look on the web for more information for the kind of permit you need and where to get it.

PCT = Pacific Crest Trail

Dry Creek Falls, 4.4 miles one way (so 8.8 miles in and back). Columbia River Gorge
The trailhead for this short hike begins at the day use park on the south side of the Bridge of the Gods in Cascade Locks. A reviewer said, "It's interesting to see how the PCT crosses under Interstate 84 and weaves through the only incorporated city located directly on the 2,650 miles of the trail." Hike two miles on the PCT, then take a short side path to Dry Creek Falls. Despite the name, it's another gorgeous gorge waterfall. Back at the trailhead, take time to walk across Bridge of the Gods. The roadway isn't very wide, so stay along the railing and face traffic. Do this during daylight only. "The view is amazing, much better than when driving across." Here is a review of the trail going South from Bridge of the Gods. Combine this with more of the PCT for a backpacking trip.

Timberline Trail Loop , Mt. Hood National Forest, 40 miles
The Timberline Trail circumnavigates Mount Hood, and takes two to three days depending on your abilities. This is a loop trail with "alpine vistas, waterfalls, alpine meadows and west side Cascade forest... Most hikers find the fast moving river fords to be the most challenging part of the trail. Newton, Coe, Muddy Fork, Sandy and White Rivers are typically the most challenging fords but are typically not more than knee deep." It is considered VERY DIFFICULT due to length and elevation changes. Most people seem to favor beginning at the Timberline Lodge parking lot and hiking west, or clock-wise. Experienced hikers do it in two-three days, thus requiring two overnight stays along the trail. You will want to get a great map and plan, in general where you will camp each night. One reviewer said, "Don't tell anyone, but the 40 miles of the Timberline Trail around Mount Hood pack nearly as much scenic punch as the 460 miles of the PCT in Oregon. This is more a compliment to the Timberline Trail than a snipe at the PCT. Case in point: The Timberline Trail here leads directly toward McNeil Point and the Sandy Glacier for views of Mount Hood exactly like you get in Portland, only 45 miles closer."

Salmon River Trail, Mt. Hood National Forest, 14.0 miles, one way (can be made a much longer loop)
The Salmon River Trail runs through beautiful old-growth forests and has camping spots throughout. There are supposedly several established campsites along the way for backpackers. This is the Trail Description and Map (PDF File). To make add more miles and make a beautiful but difficult 15 mile loop, follow the Salmon River Trail trail southeast 6.3 miles to Kinzel Lake Trail #665. Go left (northeast) on Kinzel Lake Trail #665 and travel 2.2 miles to Hunchback Trail #793. Go left (northwest) on Hunchback Trail #793 and travel 3.6 miles to Green Canyon Way Trail #793A. Go left (southeast) on Green Canyon Way Trail #793A and travel 3.2 miles to Salmon River Road (Forest Road 2618) and Green Canyon Campground. Get a map that shows camp sites!

Timothy Lake, Mt. Hood National Forest, 13 miles

It's best to camp at the campsite here the night before and the night after your hike - then you don't have to carry all of your camping gear. Hiking is relatively flat around this reservoir. Begin near the campground at Little Crater Lake and include about three miles of the PCT on the east side of the circuit.

Paradise Park, Mt. Hood National Forest, 10 mile loop
You go west on the PCT and north of Timberline Lodge. One reviewer called it "the most beautiful section of the national scenic trail in Oregon." Make a 10-mile loop from the lodge by circling the wildflower meadows of Paradise Park for above-timberline views of Oregon's highest mountain. Above-timberline views of Mt. Hood.

Olallie Lake to Little Crater Lake in Mt. Hood National Forest (or vice versa) - 34.9 miles (one way)
This is part of the Pacific Crest Trail. One blogger I found said Olallie Lake is very peaceful, with lots of ducks and duck enthusiasts. It has amazing views of Mt. Jefferson. I've read that there is a water source every 10 or so miles. There is camping at Timonthy Lake and at Little Crater Lake - these can be your start points or your end points. Not sure what camping there is in between. Get a map that shows camp sites! Here is a blog about the hike from Olallie Lake to Timothy Lake, and here is information by someone that went from Timothy Lake South to the Whitewater Trailhead. (50.5 miles). They did it like this:
Day 1 Little Crater Lake Campground to Dry Camp: +500, -250, 7 miles.
Day 2 Dry Camp to Seeping Spring Camp: +1,400, -1,000, 9 miles.
Day 3 Seeping Spring Camp to Jude Lake: +2,300, -1,500, 14 miles.
Day 4 Jude Lake to Breitenbush Lake: +1,700, -800, 9.5 miles.
Day 5 Breitenbush Lake to Scout Lake: +1,400, -1,100, 6 miles.
Day 6 Day hikes: +1,400, -1,400, 2 miles.
Day 7 Scout Lake to Whitewater Trailhead: +200, -1,970, 4.6 miles.

Timberline Trail Backpacking Guide
The forests surrounding Mount Hood are full of backpacking options close to Portland.

Banks to Vernonia Trail. Multi-use trail paved over a decades-old train bed, for walkers, jogger, biker or horse riders. 21 miles of tree-lined, easy-grade pathway. Unfortunately, the only place to camp is at Stubb Stewart State Park.

I am still researching descriptions or reviews of the Pacific Crest Trail from Little Crater Lake to the Columbia River Gorge.

I am still researching descriptions or reviews for backpacking in Gifford Pinchot in Washington State.

I am still researching descriptions or reviews for backpacking Mt. St. Helen's in Washington State.

I will not be reviewing or describing coastal hikes, anything East of Mt. St. Helen's, nor hikes in or around Mt. Rainier or Olympic National Park. There are plenty of books and web sites to find information on hiking and back packing those areas.

Companion page: Forest Grove, Oregon area day hikes

Also see:  

More Oregon and Washington suggested short motorcycle routes.


Any activity incurs risk. The author assumes no responsibility for the use of information contained within this document.

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