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10 Outdoors Adventures 90 Minutes from Portland

Portland is the town for outdoors dilettantes. Situated equidistant from coast and mountains and surrounded by crystal clear rivers and lakes, Portland has something for everyone - and it's all close. In an hour's time you could be snowshoeing on Mount Hood, and a 90-minute drive can get you exploring tide pools at the base of Haystack Rock in Cannon Beach. So whatever it is that draws you outdoors, be it fly-fishing or bird watching, kayaking or swimming, mountain biking or skiing, this is the list for you.

Hike to the Punchbowl Pools of Eagle Creek

About 45 minutes from downtown Portland, Eagle Creek cuts through the Columbia River Gorge’s basalt walls, running through narrow canyon full of stunning waterfalls and punchbowl pools. The Eagle Creek Trail is the ideal summer hike because those pools double as swimming destinations. A 4-mile stroll will get you to the Punchbowl Falls, while longer hikes will earn more pools and less company. 

Ride the Single Tracks at Sandy Ridge

Situated on a ridge west of Mount Hood 45 minutes from the downtown skyscrapers, the Sandy Ridge Trail System is a 15-mile mountain biking playground of single tracks in a classic Western Oregon forest. It has difficulty levels spanning the entire mountain biking community – there’s room for everyone here – and it’s oh so close.

Climb Saddle Mountain

On the way to the coast from Portland, there’s a mountain shaped like a saddle. This is Saddle Mountain. The trail – north of Highway 26 just about 90 minutes from Portland – is less than three miles long, but with 1,600 feet of elevation gain it’s a burner. Saddle Mountain’s diverse splendor is worth it, though, as the trail starts in lush Pacific Northwest rain forest and climbs to high, rocky meadows reminiscent of the Scottish Highlands.

Kayak the Clackamas River

For years local paddlers knew the Clackamas River as a hidden whitewater gem. Lately they’ve had to take the “hidden” moniker off it. About an hour from downtown, the Clackamas boasts a 13-mile stretch featuring a tough Class III and IV upper section and a series of nice, easy floats for beginners downriver.

Inner tube the Sandy River

A Sandy River inner tube ride from Dabney State Park to Lewis and Clark State Park on the is the ultimate lazy-person’s rafting trip a mere 30 minutes from downtown. It takes 2-3 hours, and on hot days the scene on the Sandy is nothing short of a party, as hordes of folks float the river towing coolers full of beer and other oddities – this author once saw a couple guys with a barbecue grill on a floating platform. Just don’t have so much fun you forget to leave a car downriver at Lewis and Clark. It’s a long walk back uphill after all that sun and fun.

Leave the Office Wearing your Waders

Yes, it’s true: Great fly-fishing is about an hour away. If you don’t have time to cross the mountains to the world-famous Deschutes River fishery or hit up the distant coastal streams, Portland’s own Clackamas, Wilson and Sandy rivers host great steelhead, salmon, trout and bass seasons, as does Eagle Creek and countless other rivers and streams that crisscross the woods and hills around Portland. So swap the work clothes for waders and trade in the laptop for a fly pole – the fish are hungry.

Ski or Board Palmer Glacier

Sure, Mt. Hood has better, more challenging places to ride or ski than Palmer Glacier. But Palmer is open in the summer. From May to September, the lower portion of the glacier is accessible via chairlift and the upper parts can be reached with a Sno-Cat ride. And it’s only 65 miles from Portland, so after a sunny day of skiing or riding there’s plenty of time stop off for a cheeseburger and beer at the historic Timberline Lodge.

Snowshoe to Mirror Lake

About an hour and a quarter from Portland, the 6-mile round-trip hike up to Mirror Lake is overrun in the summer, given its close proximity, relative ease and stunning double-view of Mt. Hood – Mirror Lake is the best water reflection of the mountain you’ll find. In the winter, however, the trail is relatively empty. So you can peacefully attain the lake via snowshoe without being trampled by tourists and screaming 10-child families.

Go Tide pooling at Cannon Beach

OK, first a caveat: If you try to leave Portland on Highway 26 at 6 p.m. on a July Friday like everyone else in town, this trip will take longer than 90 minutes. That being said, under most circumstances you can scratch that sand-between-your-toes itch with about an hour-and-a-half drive to Cannon Beach, where you can view marine life in the tide pools at the base of the famous Haystack Rock. A picnic and a kite wouldn’t be bad ideas, either. Heck, while you’re at it learn to surf at Ecola State Park.

Get Your Birding Fix at Sandy River Delta

The 1,400 acres of woods, fields, trails and dirt roads making up the Sandy River Delta scenic area can end up on a lot of different lists, but at 30 minutes from downtown it’s also a birder’s paradise. Complete with bird blinds, easy access and myriad habitats, Sandy River Delta is the obvious place for Portland birders to, ahem, flock to in spring.

By Joe Hansen
Photo courtesy of Listen Missy!