There’s a saying hardy Oregonians like to use: There’s no such thing as bad weather, just bad clothing choices. Sure, it may be rainy, muddy and chilly during parts of the winter months — but with proper gear and a cheery outlook, you can embrace the season for what it is. In fact, there’s no better time to celebrate Oregon in all of its lush glory than to walk through a misty old-growth forest after the crowds have gone and Mother Nature’s quiet surprises await. Dry, crisp and sunny days are also quite common in the winter, and the orange-red foliage is stunning on rain-washed forest days.
Here are several spots to hike on the Coast that are safe and accessible year-round, as long as you dress for it. (And by that we mean layers, waterproof shoes, daypacks with your 10 essentials for the outdoors, and a change of clothes and shoes for afterward.) We reached out to William Sullivan, author of “100 Hikes/Travel Guide: Oregon Coast & Coast Range,” for some of his favorites.
In the footsteps of Lewis and Clark
Re-enact the winter experience of Lewis and Clark by hiking the 6.5-mile Fort to Sea Trail from Fort Clatsop to Sunset Beach near Seaside — just as the pioneers did in the winter of 1805. Start at the Lewis & Clark National Historical Park Visitor Center, where you can pick up a map and take a quick self-guided tour of the center through a downloadable audio tour. (Make a note to return in the summer, when park rangers hold demonstrations on flintlock gun shooting, hide tanning and candle making, and guided kayak and canoe tours are also available.) For a less strenuous trek, go partway or have a friend shuttle you back from the endpoint to avoid a 13-mile round trip. If you have limited time, rangers lead a 1-mile trail walk during the winter.
Ramble through old-growth forest
The highest waterfall on the Coast Range, 319-foot Munson Creek Falls is about 11 miles south of Tillamook, just east of Highway 101 at the edge of the Tillamook State Forest. Watch for spawning salmon during the winter as you take the easy half-mile walk along the creek to the waterfall, stopping to soak up the earthiness of the old-growth western red cedar and Sitka spruce all around. This Oregon State Park Natural Site has picnic tables and a lovely viewpoint, but note that you can’t hike to the base of the falls itself due to a rock slide in 2006.
Coastal waterfall bliss
Cascade Head, just north of Lincoln City, was named by passing sailors because of the waterfall that pours directly into the ocean from Chitwood Creek. Start at the lower trailhead and traverse 6.8 miles (round trip) to the upper trailhead and viewpoint, through stream crossings, ocean vistas, switchbacks and meadows that are home to rare ecosystems for flora, fauna and birds — and don’t forget your binoculars. Hikers can see the falls from the end of the spectacular, less-visited Hart’s Cove Trail on the upper trailhead, which is closed Jan. 1 through July 15. Note: No dogs are allowed on this trail, so please respect the rules.
Finding silver and gold
Everyone assumes that Silver Falls is located at Silver Falls State Park near Salem. In fact, that park is named for Silver Creek and has no waterfall named Silver Falls, strangely enough. Instead, you’ll find Silver Falls on Oregon’s South Coast, near Coos Bay. It’s a great little hike (1.2 miles out and back) that continues on to Golden Falls — which was not named for its color but rather for C.B. Golden, the first grand chancellor of the Oregon Knights of Pythias. Bring your dog on leash for this easy day trip.
By Jen Anderson
Munson Creek Falls photo courtesy of Visit Tillamook