Where should I backpack around Portland, OR in March?
February 24, 2014 12:31 PM   Subscribe

Hi, my friend and I are talking about a two-to-three day backpacking trip around Portland, OR. Let's say within a 100 mile radius of town. The dates would be March 20-23 or so. So it would be a Wintery trip! I don't know if there are fun safe places to backpack that time of year around here. For many trails, the internet says things like "season starts in mid-July", so I am worried... We are both young(ish) guys in good shape, so we'd be up for a lot in terms of elevation change and trail length. But we're not looking to, you know, ice climb or anything. So where should we go? I don't want the answer to be "go to California", but if that's the answer I should know. Thanks!
posted by middlethird to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (11 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
I was there last March. It's still real wintery (snow, ice, cold) at Mt. Hood and really muddy and wet at lower altitudes. This was a pretty dry winter, though. Standard advice may not apply.
posted by BabeTheBlueOX at 12:37 PM on February 24, 2014

a little more than 100 miles, but if you've never been to the olympic peninsula (washington) and its national park, i'd start there.
posted by bruce at 12:46 PM on February 24, 2014

Start here: Oregon Hikers Field Guide - Spring and Winter Backpacking Trips and then go to the trail Q&A in the forums to ask about current conditions. Keep in mind that right now, the snow levels are really really low, so things that normally wouldn't be clear might be. That forum will be a great place to get updated info on what's clear and what's not.

Also, don't be shy about calling the ranger stations in the area. They always know which place is covered in snow/mud and usually have good trail recommendations if the one you want isn't clear.
posted by ohisee at 12:53 PM on February 24, 2014 [1 favorite]

A lot of the difficulty in hiking/backpacking in the winter/spring is that the roads that get you to the trailhead are snowed closed. All it takes is one north facing switchback with 2 ft of snow to close a road that might be 10 miles long to where you want to go.
Winter camping is tons of fun, but wet, and storms roll in fast and furious and can ramp up avalanche danger pretty quickly. remember wet gear gets heavy too. Lay out your plans and make sure rangers and friends know where you will be.
Snowshoes are a good idea if you are set on the mountains, as are avalanche beacons and a backpackers shovel (for making snow caves or checking the pack on a slope).
posted by OHenryPacey at 1:39 PM on February 24, 2014 [2 favorites]

Some trails and the like do actually close for the winter season as in the forest service and other access roads to the trail will be inaccessible and gated.

Sometimes "seasonal" means...technically not open and being maintained, but you can probably still hike it. Really the best way is to call the local ranger stations.

It's going to be muddy and wet, but still doable. Have you considered doing just a bit of the Oregon stretch of the PCT? You can definitely access the trail all year, and it's beautiful here, goes up on Mt. Hood and around some lakes.

If you go to Hood, be careful if you venture very high on the mountain - it is avalanche season, and inevitable a few people die each year in one.
posted by Lutoslawski at 1:48 PM on February 24, 2014 [1 favorite]

I would look for lower elevation hikes at that time of year. My family had a cabin near Mt. Hood and I've done a bit of backpacking there. The higher elevation hikes can actually be safer in the middle of winter when conditions are reliable than they are in the spring when you may get rain and then freezing turning a slushy stony steep trail into one slip and you have a very serious problem.

ohisee above provided excellent links and advice. On preview so does everyone else.

I would have a trip plan "A", "B" and "C" with respect to the variable weather conditions that time of year.
posted by vapidave at 1:56 PM on February 24, 2014

Come on out to the Olympic Peninsula. Enchanted Valley is a great trail.
posted by humboldt32 at 3:36 PM on February 24, 2014

You might look into Drift Creek Wilderness. I think there might be a handful of trips you could do in the Tillamook State Forest, along the Clackamas River, or in the Columbia River Gorge. I think the Gorge might offer some ability to hike to more than one campsite, but at this time of year your already limited options are likely largely limited to places where you could hike to one campsite and back.

The suggestion for Olympic NP was an interesting one. I actually did a spectacular late March hike up the Hoh River on a sunny day and saw nobody else. I definitely do not guarantee you a sunny day, and that's almost as far away as California.

Slightly closer to Portland -- it might be possible to hike up the Carbon River in Mt Ranier NP. Do careful research on that one because there was a road washout a few years ago and some info might be outdated.
posted by polecat at 3:41 PM on February 24, 2014

That Oregon Hikers Field Guide is great.

Eagle Creek in the Gorge is great — a classic intro to NW Oregon. That would be my recommendation. It can be a little crowded on nice weekends, but you are unlikely to find much competition for campsites. Fun with just enough adventure as you traverse some (very safe) narrow ledges and narrow canyons. Waterfalls, big trees, deep canyons, good times. Lots of other day hikes in the Gorge, too.

The Salmon River from near ZigZag (near Mt. Hood) is a pretty good out-and-back. You'll climb up to the point where there may be snow, but it depends on the weather. We did a great Thanksgiving trip there a few years ago — got rained and snowed on the whole time, and had a blast.

The coast range toward Tillamook has some nice trails — just depends how far you want to go, but the Wilson River has a trail that stays low enough to avoid snow. But it also parallels the road and so isn't very "out there."

There's a few good books by William Sullivan about hiking and backpacking. Check those out from your library, or order them from Powell's. You know about Powell's, right?
posted by thomsplace at 4:49 PM on February 24, 2014

The other thing I was thinking is that the Gorge, like thomsplace mentions, might actually be a good bet, as it's usually a bit sunnier and drier in the gorge than on the mountain or in the valley.
posted by Lutoslawski at 10:48 AM on February 25, 2014

Response by poster: Thanks for the answers everybody! My friend bailed on me so I didn't get to take the trip, but I plan on taking advantage of all this info soon!
posted by middlethird at 2:15 PM on March 27, 2014

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