Hikes

Bridal Veil Falls in the Columbia River Gorge

What: Bridal Veil Falls
Where: Columbia River Gorge

When: Year round
Why: These beautiful falls are only a short hike away
Cost: FREE

A Good Gray Bridal Veil Falls

Last July we hiked with my husband’s entire family—2 grandparents, 6 parents, and 10 kids ages 1 to 12—headed to the Gorge. Before showing them Latourell Falls, we stopped to check out the nearby Bridal Veil Falls for the first time.

Bridal Veil Falls was perfect for our group—it’s absolutely gorgeous with fairly easy access. It’s just a few miles west of Multnomah Falls off of the Historic Columbia River Highway. There’s a free parking lot with public restrooms (also free) (just to be clear).

There are actually two trails for Bridal Veil. The upper trail is a half mile round trip, and takes you around the precipice of the cliffs of the Gorge. Apparently you get a great view of the Pillars of Hercules, which is a big basalt tower with a killer name.

The lower trail is only about a mile round trip (but very steep), and it brings you up close and personal to the falls. That’s the route we picked. It was shady with some great glimpses of the Columbia.

Once you reach the roaring, tiered falls, you can view them from above at a platform and then climb (carefully!) down to the rocks. We spent tons of time exploring, tossing stones, and enjoying the refreshing spray by the pool. The lush, moss-covered scene even in the middle of summer will warm your Oregon-loving heart.

Save some energy for the hike back up, because the incline was a bit much for little legs. But overall this is an easy hike with a breathtaking payoff.

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Cape Meares Lighthouse

What: Cape Meares Lighthouse
Where: Tip of Cape Meares just south of Tillamook Bay

When: Year round, 7 am to dusk (tours April to October)
Why: You get a historical lighthouse, incredible views, and natural wonders all in one stop
Cost: FREE

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About 10 miles west of Tillamook way out on Cape Meares, you’ll find a bit of a treasure: a historical lighthouse surrounded by interesting wildlife, spectacular views, and fascinating trees. And it’s all accessible from the same parking lot.

The Cape Meares Lighthouse was built in 1889. As Oregon’s shortest lighthouse, it gives you a great view of its top with little effort. There is a shady, paved trail down to the lighthouse from the parking lot (save some energy for the walk back because it’s deceivingly steep). They have a teensy interpretive/gift shop and free tours from April to October (with limited days/times in the Spring and Fall). Small children aren’t allowed on the tour, but anyone can walk around the lighthouse exterior year-round.

Cape Meares is also a great place to bird-watch or whale watch during migration seasons. There are designated viewing points, but there are incredible views all around, in part thanks to the National Wildlife Refuge that cover the cape.

A short hike from the parking lot you’ll also find two interesting Sitka Spruces. There are two you won’t want to miss: one is the Octupus Tree, which has what looks like tentacles reaching up. It’s an Oregon Heritage Tree, which basically means it’s super old. And cool. It’s considered a sacred tree to local tribes, and is probably 250 years old. (It was already an adult by the time Lewis & Clark made it to the coast!)

The second Sitka is even larger and older: Old Spruce is 144 feet tall and 15.5 feet in diameter, and is an estimated 750 to 800 years old! It’s the oldest of its kind in the state. Old Spruce will require you to park in a different lot (near the entrance to the scenic viewpoint), but it’s still only takes a short hike to reach it.

When you visit, try to check the roads in advance. We had to turn home once during a rainy season due to sinkholes, and I know the roads have been closed for landslides before too.

You probably won’t spend hours and hours at Cape Meares, but it’s a breathtaking spot and well worth the scenic drive.

 

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Latourell Falls in the Columbia River Gorge

What: Latourell Falls
Where: Columbia River Gorge (Oregon side)

When: Year round
Why: Beautiful sights with or without a hike
Cost: FREE

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So funny story: on New Year’s Day of this year we thought we’d head to the Gorge. The weather was cold but the skies were clear and we wanted to get outside. We decided to hike Latourell Falls (based on our dear friend Becky’s recommendation). The lower falls are right by the parking lot—you can hop out of your car and see the falls in a minute. There’s a viewpoint if you walk up the stairs from the lot, and you can walk around the actual falls if you go down the stairs.

We were feeling eager to move so we decided to take the trail to the smaller-but-still-lovely upper falls. There is a 2.5-mile loop that takes you down to the other falls and back. The kids were happy and we were up for it—why not try it?

Well, it was January 1. Winter, folks. As we went along the trail following Henderson Creek, it got a bit narrow and covered with snow here and there. At first it was charming and beautiful, but then there was more and more snow and ice. When we reached the falls, it was truly breathtaking: the area was covered in ice. The falls were partially frozen, and the mist had coated everything with this incredible layer of ice. Every rock, every blade of grass, the bridge, the trail… everything!

I looked at our three kids, and thought, “Welp! That was cool. Let’s go back the way we came.” But no, my husband really, REALLY wanted to do the loop. So he went ahead and tried walking slowly down the trail, and he immediately fell down. Like, immediately (it’s okay to laugh, I sure did). Again, I thought that was it. But no, he somehow persuaded us all to scoot along down the icy trail and across the bridge sitting on our behinds. It was hilarious. We were all laughing, and my only regret is that there weren’t other hikers nearby at the time to enjoy the absurdity.

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We ended up completing the loop, but not without some cold, tired little hikers. We loved what we saw, but I thought, “I can’t recommend hiking this in the winter on my blog! Somebody will sue!” We decided we really needed to come back and try it in the summer.

I’m happy to report we did. At least the lower falls. We came with my husband’s family last month, took the stairs to the bottom of the falls, and walked behind the water and all around the amazing rock formations. It was peaceful and lush and green, and nobody had to scoot on their butts.

The rocks were so fascinating that I ended up asking my uncle/retired professor/botanist/scientist extraordinaire about them. He replied:

“Look up BASALT COLUMNS. They form if you allow basalt to cool—and, from looking at the photos you just sent, it looks like you may have become distracted, walked off and let it do just that. (Actually, the whole Gorge is basalt with some spectacular examples of columns.)”

A Good Gray: Latourell Falls

He’s smart. And hilarious.

So visit Latourell Falls for sure! But if you go in the winter, you didn’t hear it from me. ;)

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Banks-Vernonia State Trail

What: Banks-Vernonia State Trail
Where: 21 miles between the cities of Banks and Vernonia

When: Year round
Why: It’s easy biking and hiking for your family with breathtaking views
Cost: FREE

AGoodGray Banks Vernonia State Trail

Over the Memorial Day weekend we went on our first family bike ride since our eldest mastered ye ol’ training wheels. We’d heard great things about the Banks-Vernonia Trail, so we went to see for ourselves.

It was BEAUTIFUL. At the risk of sounding bossy, you simply MUST try it out this summer.

The trail is paved, clear, often shaded, and overall pretty darn flat (in a former life, this trail was a railroad track). You’ll pass pristine farms and gorgeous countryside. Cyclists, runners, hikers, and folks on horseback are all welcome on this trail. Dogs must be on a leash.

Park for free at one of six trailheads: Banks, Manning, Buxton, Tophill, Beaver Creek, and Vernonia. The trail also runs through L. L. Stub Stewart State Park.

We drove to Banks and parked in an overflow parking “lot” (this gravel strip across from the paved lot was gratefully legit); it was Memorial Day, after all. Although the lot was full, we were happy to see the trail wasn’t. We had our bike trailer and a young cyclist, so we just kept to the right when needed at our sloooow training-wheel pace, and we didn’t feel crowded at all.

We biked about 4 miles to the Manning parking lot to rest and relieve (most lots have some sort of bathroom or port-of-potty). The Manning stop is right off Highway 26, so Dad risked life and limb to run across and down it to get us Dilly Bars at Dairy Queen. They were cherry. I don’t recommend the life-risking or the cherry bars, but do what you like.

The 4 miles back were tough on our 6-year-old, but she did it and I couldn’t be prouder. She has informed me that next time 6 miles round trip would be better than 8, so we’ll consider that for our next adventure. We’ll definitely be back to try it again!

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Guest Post: 7 Favorite Oregon Hikes with Kids

My adventurous friend Becky is my outdoor-mama guru. She hikes, she camps, she explores, all with her children (and camera!) in tow. If I’ve tried a gorgeous hike with my family, odds are it’s because she told me about it. When Becky recommends something, you’re wise to listen. So LISTEN UP:

A Good Gray: 7 Oregon Hikes with Kids

I’ve always loved the outdoors. Always loved watching sunsets. Always loved being in the mountains. Always loved stargazing. Always loved seeing the changing of the seasons. Being out in nature has always brought me peace. Ever since having kids, I’ve tried to share these things with them, hoping that they will appreciate nature as well. These are some favorite kid-friendly hikes that we enjoy:

1. Wahclella Falls: This hike is definitely one of my favorites (I would hike it every day if I could!). My kids love it as well. It starts on an old service road that runs along Tanner Creek. Look closely in the creek and you’ll most likely be able to spot some massive salmon. The trail eventually becomes more narrow and the elevation gain will begin. There are a few spots that have steep drop-offs, so keep an eye on your little ones in these areas. Overall, it is an easy 2 miles out and back (and did I mention beautiful!!).  A Northwest Forest Pass is required, which can be purchased at the trailhead for $5.

A Good Gray: 7 Hikes with Kids

2. Elowah Falls: Elowah is another favorite! It is just 1.4 miles round trip (and the trailhead is not far from Wahclella, so the two can easily be paired if you are feeling up to a double dose of awesomeness). The elevation gain is about 300 feet, and there are some steep banks, so keep the kiddos close.

A Good Gray: 7 Hikes with Kids

3. Mirror Lake: I love all of the lakes around Mt. Hood, and this one is no exception. This hike is a little bit harder, with an elevation gain of about 800 feet. I’d still consider it easy enough for little ones though. Bring a picnic lunch and take a break (and take in the view of Mt. Hood) at the lake. It is about 3 miles round trip.

A Good Gray: 7 Hikes with Kids

4. Tamanawas Falls:  This hike is a fun one—it has diverse terrain, from shaded forests to crossing rock slides on the side of a mountain. I found myself saying over and over, “This hike has a little bit of everything!” It was fantastic! The trail follows Cold Spring Creek all the way, and is absolutely beautiful! It does get crowded on weekends, so go early if you wish to avoid them. It’s about 3.5 miles round trip.

A Good Gray: 7 Hikes with Kids

5. Forest Park Wildwood Trail:  For all those times when I’m itching to get out into nature but don’t have a lot of time to spare (which happens a lot), we usually hit up Forest Park. It’s perfect, and oh so close. We love it around here! When we do hit up Forest Park, it is usually the Wildwood Trail. The trail goes on for 30 miles, and the views are magnificent. Our favorite place to start is at the Audubon Society and meander from there. Some options from this start point are: hike up the hill to Pittock Mansion (3.2 miles round trip) or go down the trail which will soon meet up with Balch Creek. A half a mile later the “Witches Castle” sits on the side of the trail! After that, the trail splits. The lower trail is Lower MacCleay, the upper is Wildwood.  There really are so many options when it comes to this trail (and Forest Park in general). Google is always my best friend when figuring out routes to do here.

A Good Gray: 7 Hikes with Kids

6. Indian Beach to Tillamook Head: This hike is a small portion of the Oregon Coast Trail. It is about 3 miles round trip with about 800 feet of elevation gain. The trail starts just off of the Indian Beach parking lot and follows Indian Creek up the mountain to the hikers camp. The hike up will get your heart pumping! Just past the hikers camp, there is a WWII bunker. Just past the bunker, there is an amazing cliff-edge viewpoint of the ocean below, and Tillamook Rock Lighthouse which is located a mile offshore.

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A Good Gray: 7 Hikes with Kids


7. Latourell Falls: This is fun loop trail past two remarkable waterfalls. It is about 2.5 miles with some elevation gain (approximately 500 feet). Latourell Falls is actually just a few minute walk from the parking area. The main falls can get crowded because it is so accessible; continue on though, the crowds seem to stay at the main falls. The trail will eventually wind past Upper Latourell Falls, which is not as breathtaking as the 249-foot Latourell Falls but still worth the walk! The entire loop is fantastic. I really like it this time of year with all of the fall colors.

A Good Gray: 7 Hikes with Kids

A Good Gray: 7 Hikes with Kids

The Pacific Northwest is packed full of breathtaking scenery. Honestly, we’ve lived here for eight years now, and I’m still blown away by how unreal it all is. So, go—partake of its magic… and take your kiddos with you!

Becky is a nature lover and overall amazing person. She lives in Portland’s west side with her husband and three children. See more of her breathtaking pictures through her business Capture Photography.

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Wahclella Falls

What: Wahclella Falls
Where: Columbia River Gorge, Oregon
When: Year Round
Why: A short, simple hike takes you to gorgeous sites
Cost: $5 for Forest Pass

A Good Gray: Wahclella Falls

Not. Too. Shabby.

I have a friend named Becky that is essentially my hiking guru. She and her husband are brave explorers, even with kids in tow, and they know the trails in these parts quite well. So when she told me she had a favorite easy hike—Wahclella Falls—in the Columbia River Gorge, I knew it would be a good one.

It did NOT disappoint.

The trailhead can be reached just off exit 40 of 84 (the Bonneville Dam exit). There is a small parking lot with park info and toilets.

The hike is only 2 miles round trip, and it is incredibly easy. My three-year-old walked almost the entire way, and trust me that’s saying something. The trail starts paved but turns to rock and dirt. It follows Tanner Creek and has a few bridges; apparently in the fall you can see salmon swimming below.

At one point the trail forks, but it’s just a large loop so you can’t go wrong. (I think you’ll get a bigger wow factor at the falls if you go left.) There are small falls along the way, but the big to-do is by far the gorgeous Wahclella Falls.

It’s a powerful waterfall, pounding down into a clear pool. The surrounding growth makes it all incredibly breathtaking. We spent a long time playing in the rocks along the creek near the falls.

Becky also recommended a few other easy hikes in the gorge: Latourel Falls and Elowah Falls. And if she likes them, I’m confident you will too.

A Good Gray: Wahclella FallsA Good Gray: Wahclella FallsA Good Gray: Wahclella Falls A Good Gray: Wahclella FallsA Good Gray: Wahclella Falls

Silver Falls State Park

What: Silver Falls State Park
Where: Silverton, Oregon
When: Year Round
Why: There are gorgeous, accessible waterfalls galore
Cost: Day use $5, Camping rates vary

A Good Gray: Silver Falls State Park

‘Twas two years ago this summer when our family first discovered Silver Falls State Park. We had really wanted to camp somewhere else that weekend, but it was full. So I rolled my eyes and “settled” for this park east of Salem near a bunch of farmland. I had low expectations.

Oh young, foolish me… you were sure in for a surprise.

I quickly learned that Silver Falls State Park is a gem. A gorgeous and majestic gem.

The park is chock full of features, but as you can guess you go there for the waterfalls. The most iconic is definitely South Falls, a 177-foot beauty that’s just a short jaunt from the parking lot. The best part? You can easily and safely walk behind it. Like it’s no biggie.

South Falls is just the first on the 9-mile Trail of Ten Falls. The trail is fairly clear and mostly shaded, but even so our little ladies were only able to make it to three of the falls. That even includes shamelessly driving to other access points along the trail. (At the time our oldest daughter could hardly walk through the grocery store without fatiguing, so we had realistic expectations.)

Silver Falls is Oregon’s largest state park and it also includes the following:
– backcountry trails for hiking, mountain biking, or horseback riding
– day-use area with lawns, picnic shelters, and a playground used for potlucks, reunions, and even weddings
– charming lodge perfect for sleeping, dining, or conferences
– campground with standard tent sites, RV sites, cabins, and group camping areas (we thought the campground was fine but nothing special)

So moral of the story, don’t be a dummy like me and underestimate Silver Falls. Your family will love it.

IMG_6019 A Good Gray: Silver Falls State Park

Forest Park

What: Forest Park
Where: Northwest Portland

Who: All ages
When: Daily 5 am to 10 pm
Why: It’s miles of beautiful hiking trails close to home
Cost: FREEA Good Gray: Forest Park

A while back a friend told stories of wonder about Forest Park. This large park on the edge of the city is a protected wooded wonderland with trails throughout. I was a bit overwhelmed to try it by myself, so she finally got me and another friend to join her hiking there last week.

There are several different trailheads, but with kids she suggests starting with the Wildwood Trail. You start it in Upper Macleay Park (off Cornell Road just past the Audubon Society of Portland). Park here and then head downhill to the stream trail that runs along Balch Creek. It’s steep, so keep your kids close or in a carrier.

After about half a mile you’ll run into a stone house that’s a perfect stopping/turning point. Our kids played in the house and down in the water for about an hour and a half! The saddest part was heading uphill back to the car. About 1oo yards from the parking lot, my 4-year-old started to lose the will to go on. It confirmed she’s not ready for longer hikes yet.

Other trails in Forest Park lead you to scenic viewpoints or historical spots like Pittock Mansion. There are trails that allow bikes and horses, so pay attention to signs. Pets must be on a leash, and no fires or camping are allowed.

You’ll love this chance to introduce your kids to some great hikes without having to leave town. Go discover Forest Park this summer!

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