It's almost hiking season! And with that, we all take to Google and Instagram to find this year's killer trails. But as outdoor activities and #OptOutside gain mainstream popularity, Oregon's most famous trails are getting crowded and degraded.
Shellburg and Stassel Falls
This gem in the Santiam State Forest hides away only a few miles from Silver Falls State Park, and in the same drainage system. But with different access roads, the crowds of Silver Falls seem a world away.
With a few criss-crossing trails and gravel roads, the hike can be done in as little as 2.8 miles. We suggest continuing down the trail to nearby Stassel Falls as well, making the trek just over 6 miles total, with around 1,000 feet of total elevation gain.
Throughout the area are campsites (first-come-first-serve) with fire rings, as well as picnic tables.
To get to Shellburg and Stassel Falls, take Highway 22 east from Salem to the town of Mehama, then follow signs north to the Shellburg Falls Recreation Area.
An unmarked side trail extending from the summit of Mt. Jefferson's Triangulation Peak, Boca Cave is one of Oregon's most photogenic natural rock formations. Only miles from the mountain, the cave perfectly Mt. Jefferson's glaciated slopes, offering incredible views and photo opportunities.
Getting to Boca Cave requires first hiking the trail to Triangulation Peak. This four mile out-and-back trail takes you up 800 feet of elevation in the foothills of the Mt. Jefferson Wilderness. Little trafficked, but with spectacular views, Triangulation Peak is an excellent hike in its own right. A couple hundred feet shy of the Triangulation Peak summit, an unmarked "user trail" cuts off to the right and descends down the hillside to Boca Cave. If you're in good shape and comfortable with your ability to navigate difficult terrain, the cave can make for an incredible addition to the hike.
To get to the Triangulation Peak trailhead (and Boca Cave), take Highway 22 east from Salem to the town of Detroit. From there, take a left on to Northwest Forest Road 46 toward Breitenbush. Just past Cleator Bend (and right before Breitenbush Campground), take a right onto Northwest Forest Road 2231. Follow this road for about 7 miles until you reach the trailhead.
Henline Mountain Trail
Another hidden gem of the Mt. Jefferson area, Henline Mountain Trail is a moderate, 8-mile out and back with sweeping views and abundant wildflowers. Part of the Opal Creek Wilderness, Henline Mountain Trail buts up from the Valley to the top of a ridge above iconic Opal Creek. And though the trail is so close to Three Pools, Opal Creek, and other classic Oregon hikes, few take the opportunity to explore Henline and the surrounding hills.
The trail officially ends at the Henline Mountain Lookout, which was originally established in 1934 by the CCC. But a user trail continues another mile from the lookout to the true summit of Henline Mountain, offering some of the best views in the area.
To get to Henline Mountain, again take Highway 22 east from Salem. At Mehama, take a left on to North Fork Road, the same road that goes to Three Pools and Opal Creek. Follow this for about 18 miles. Just past the turn-off for Three Pools, the Henline Mountain Trailhead will be on your left.
With its growing Instagram fame, "Secret Beach" may not be such a secret for much longer. But with its remote location and primitive, unmarked trails, it still qualifies as a hidden gem in our book.
Located in Samuel H Boardman State Park, deep on the Southern Oregon Coast, Secret Beach is a stunning, secluded beach surrounded by jagged cliffs, rock arches and thick forests. For a spectacular hike, we suggest parking at the Natural Bridges overlook (pictured below) at mile marker 346. This spot itself is stunning enough, but the hike down to Secret Beach makes it even better. From Natural Bridges, hike north on the Coast Trail toward Thunder Rock Cove. The trail is short, but fairly hilly. Around the north end of the Cove, the trail will begin to descend down to the water. A small user trail will continue down from the Coast Trail's lowest point, across a creek and onto the sandy shores of Secret Beach.
Spectacular but elusive, Secret Beach can be inaccessible at high tide. Pay attention to the tide charts when planning your trip. At exceptionally low tide, it's possible to continue South from Secret Beach's typical endpoint, going through a natural tunnel to a third, truly hidden beach that is the beach inside Thunder Rock Cove.
To get to Samuel Boardman State Park and Secret Beach is no easy task. It's tucked away on the Coast, just north of the Oregon/California border, and from Portland is about a 6 hour drive, making a day trip virtually impossible. We suggest making your day at Secret Beach part of a long weekend trip, taking advantage of the other gems of the Southern Coast such as Blacklock Point, or even venturing another 50 miles south to Redwoods National Park.
Bald Mountain Viewpoint
Mt. Hood has no shortage of stunning hikes and viewpoints, but many of them can be choked with visitors on summer weekends. Finding a hidden gem that's both a great hike and a manageable one is no easy task. Fortunately, Bald Mountain manages to check both boxes.
Of the many trails which are accessed from Lolo Pass Road, it always astonishes me how empty Bald Mountain is. This 6.6 mile trail is primarily a portion of the iconic Pacific Crest Trail, switching back and forth up the hillside to the top of a ridgeline and eventually Bald Mountain. Though only 1,400 feet elevation gain in total, the beginning of the hike is steep and strenuous. But the views make the trek totally worth it. With abundant wildflowers, old-growth trees and bustling wildlife, Bald Mountain has a little bit of everything - except the crowds.
From Lolo Pass Trailhead (where the PCT intersects with Lolo Pass Road), take a left at the trailhead toward Timberline Lodge. You'll gain elevation quickly, before the trail hits a ridge line and flattens out. After about 3 miles, you'll hit the junction with the Timberline Trail. Proceed right toward Timberline Lodge. After about 200 feet, you'll notice two large Douglas Firs on the left side of the trail. Between them is an unmarked user trail cutting up the hillside. It can be easy to miss, so pay close attention. Take this user trail for the last steep quarter-mile to the summit.
To get to Bald Mountain's trailhead at Lolo Pass, take Highway 26 East from Portland toward Mt. Hood. At the town of Zig Zag, just past the Thriftway, take a left onto Lolo Pass Road and continue up the hill for about 11 miles. The trailhead is reliably searchable in Google Maps and Apple Maps, making navigation a breeze.