7 Incredible Day Trips from Portland, Oregon (Local’s Guide)
Looking to plan a day trip from Portland, Oregon, but wondering where to go, what to do and see, and how to get there? Congratulations, you’re in the right place! In this guide, we’re going to give you our perspective on the best day trips from Portland, whether you’re looking for a charming town to visit, want to see one of Oregon’s incredible waterfalls (or ten of them), or want to go on a hike near Portland.
One of the best things about the major cities in the Pacific Northwest is that you’re within a short drive of both the Pacific Ocean and the mountains (the Cascades, mostly). In this case, Portland is roughly 90 minutes from both, which we absolutely think is near the list of the best things about living here.
Within 90 minutes, you can get from Portland to alpine terrain with up-close-and-personal views of Mount Hood, coastal bluffs with never ending views of the Oregon Coast, or a barren landscape shaped by a volcanic eruption that changed the surrounding landscape forever.
We’re lucky to call Portland home, and we want to share our favorite places within 90 minutes with you so that you can fall head over heels in love with Oregon like we have. Whether you’re just in town for a couple of days, or you live here and are looking for some new ideas, we’re here to help you plan your next day trip from Portland.
We’ll give you our favorite day trip destinations, along with the things you need to know to plan your trip – like how to get there, whether you need a car or not, and some of the best things to do while you’re there.
Sound good? Let’s do it!
Disclaimer: Some of the links in this post, like hotel and vacation rental links, are affiliate links, meaning at no additional cost to you we make a little bit of money if you click through and book. That being said, we would absolutely never recommend something to you that we don’t stand behind 100%.
Getting to These Portland Day Trips: Do You Need a Car?
In general, yes, you are going to need a car to reach the vast majority of the places we’ve included below.
That being said, there are a couple of places you can reach by public transportation or a guided tour, so we wanted to include a section on which of these day trips from Portland would be good if you don’t have access to a car.
Here are a couple of options if you don’t have a car.
The easiest day trip to reach without a car is going to be the Columbia River Gorge, which is accessible both by shuttle (though you need to get to the first shuttle stop, which will require a long rideshare) and by guided day trip (this half day tour and this hiking tour are our recommendations).
There are also guided day trips that will take you out to Cannon Beach and the surrounding area on the Oregon Coast (this is the one we’d choose). While you’re certainly going to have less flexibility in terms of what to do and see, you’re also going to get to spend some time with a local who can give you a little more insight into the places you’re seeing than you might get on your own.
Last, but certainly not least, is the trip to Silver Falls State Park. However, while you can experience the magic of the Trail of Ten Falls (or a portion of it) on a guided day trip from Portland, you’re not going to be able to explore the areas nearby, like Salem and the Willamette Valley, which is a bummer.
Your Complete Guide to 7 Great Day Trips from Portland, Oregon
In this guide, we’re going to cover seven of our favorite day trips from Portland, along with some of the important details you’ll need to know to plan your trip (like how to get there and what to do).
We’re only including day trips that are within about 90 minutes of Portland here – anything over that is probably better as a weekend trip from Portland to make the drive time worth the journey.
The Columbia River Gorge (For the Waterfalls and Hikes)
Distance from Portland: 30 Miles || Drive Time from Portland: 40 Minutes
The Columbia River Gorge is BARELY a day trip from Portland, considering it takes about a half hour to get from the city center to the western end of the Gorge. Which is why it’s first on this list.
This might be a hot take, but I’m not sure there’s a day trip from any city in the country that rivals the Columbia River Gorge in terms of accessibility from the city center and pure natural beauty.
The Columbia River is the river that Lewis and Clark followed west to the Pacific Ocean, and it flows east to west across the northern edge of Oregon, marking the border between Oregon and Washington State.
The part we’re talking about here is the stretch between Hood River and Portland, which is a lush paradise that features both some of the best hikes in Oregon and multiple of our favorite waterfalls in Oregon.
The natural beauty on display in the Gorge is astounding, and it’s our number one recommendation if you’ve never been before.
Getting to the Columbia River Gorge
You’ve got a few options in terms of getting out to the Gorge, and we’re going to give you three. But we do want to make it clear that the best way to do a day trip to the Columbia River Gorge is driving yourself, which gives you the most flexibility.
If you’re in town for a few days, it’s worth renting a car (either through Turo or from a major rental agency) for a single day to do this trip.
Here are your three options.
Like we mentioned above, this is the best way to do the Gorge as a day trip and have the flexibility to do and see what you want.
This is best for people who either live in Portland (and have a car), or people who are driving to Portland for their visit (perhaps as part of an Oregon road trip?).
However, if you’re just in Portland for a weekend and looking to do a day trip, we wouldn’t recommend renting a car for your entire stay because it will be more of a nuisance than a help.
In that scenario, you could either use Turo or rent a car for a day, or use one of the options below.
The Sasquatch Shuttle
The Sasquatch Shuttle is a great option if you’re coming from Portland and don’t have your own car.
It’s a hop on / hop off shuttle that stops at a couple of different places in the Gorge.
The downside is that you’ll have to get to the pickup area yourself, which will require either driving or a somewhat pricey Lyft/Uber.
This means that, depending on your situation (particularly for couples), it might actually be more cost-effective to do a guided day trip if you don’t have a car (more on that below).
The Waterfall Loop stops at most of the stops we’d recommend, including Multnomah Falls, Latourell Falls, and Bridal Veil Falls.
It costs $15 a person – buy tickets here.
A Guided Day Trip
If you don’t have a car and don’t want to deal with logistics or the shuttle, then a guided day trip out to the Gorge would be a good option. Plus, you’ll get to connect with a knowledgeable local and learn a little bit about the area while you’re at it.
We’d recommend this half day tour or this tour that gets you to three waterfalls at the western end of the Gorge.
What to Do in the Columbia River Gorge
Here are some of our favorite things to do in the Columbia River Gorge, in no particular order.
See some waterfalls
I mean, this has to be number one. There are an astonishing number of beautiful waterfalls in the Gorge, some of which are basically right off the side of the road, some require a little bit of a hike.
Here are four that we love (this is by no means an exhaustive list, though!):
- Multnomah Falls: The crown jewel of the Gorge, and also the most popular waterfall in the area. It’s impressive, but the crowds are oppressive. We’d recommend coming here as early as humanly possible and doing the lower viewpoint and the short hike to the upper viewpoint on the bridge, then moving on.
- Latourell Falls: The lower falls is more impressive, and is basically visible from the parking lot. But you should definitely walk down to the base of the falls, and then do the short loop that takes you up and around to the upper falls.
- Horsetail and Ponytail Falls: A relatively new discovery for us, both waterfalls are spectacular. Horsetail is the lower falls, which is right across the road from the parking area. Ponytail requires a short hike to access – it’s surprisingly tough for how short it is – but is well worth the effort because you can walk behind the falls.
- Dry Creek Falls: A less-visited waterfall that follows part of the PCT on the way to a nice waterfall that sees a tiny fraction of the visitors to the three above.
Get some epic views of the Gorge
There are two varieties of views of the Gorge. Those that you can see right from the parking lot, and those that you have to put a little sweat in to reach.
For great views from the parking area, head to the Women’s Forum Scenic Viewpoint and the Vista House.
For hikes that end with a view, do Angel’s Rest or Larch Mountain.
Get over to the Washington side of the Gorge
To this point, we’ve largely covered the Oregon side of the Gorge, but there are absolutely things to see on the other side of the Columbia River, particularly if you’re into hiking and great views.
We like the views from the Cape Horn Trail, the wildflowers at Dog Mountain, and the waterfall at Spirit Falls.
If you’re willing to go a little further, Panther Creek Falls and Falls Creek Falls are also pretty spectacular.
READ MORE: The Best Hikes in the Columbia River Gorge
Hood River (For the Fruit Loop and Charming Town)
Distance from Portland: 62 miles || Drive Time from Portland: 1 hour 15 minutes
Hood River is another really easy day trip from Portland. It sits along the Columbia River, about 60 miles up the Gorge from Portland, and sits roughly at the point where the Gorge goes from lush to high desert.
It’s a great example of the incredible diversity of the landscapes in Oregon (and Washington State), because in every direction you’ll find something slightly different. To the north, you’re going to be heading into the Cascades, with St. Helens and Mount Adams looming over Hood River. To the south is the lush Hood River Valley, the fruit basket of northwest Oregon. To the west is the lush part of the Gorge, and to the east is the high desert, the dry part of the Gorge.
We’d split your time in Hood River into two parts. The first part should be getting lunch in town (and a local beer, perhaps at the same time) and the second part should be exploring the Hood River Valley, which is just south of Hood River and is one of the most fertile patches in Oregon, with apples and pears growing as far as the eye can see.
It’s worth noting that these first two (the Gorge and Hood River) make a nice combination, because to get to Hood River, you have to drive through the Columbia River Gorge.
It makes sense to spend the morning exploring the Gorge, land of the countless towering waterfalls, and then spend the afternoon in Hood River, which is a nice town just up the Columbia from Portland with plenty of craft beer, cider, food, and a fertile valley waiting for you to explore.
If you’re combining the Gorge and Hood River, after a morning in the Gorge head into Hood River, passing by the windsurfers out on the river (this is one of the best spots in the country for windsurfing thanks to the wind that comes whipping down the Gorge).
Getting to Hood River
You really need a car to do Hood River right. There’s a shuttle that will take you from east Portland out to Hood River, but that only works if you want to just stay in town, which means you’re missing what are arguably our favorite parts of the area.
What to Do in Hood River
Here are some things we enjoy in Hood River.
Hang out in Downtown Hood River
Hood River itself is a fun little town, full of places to eat, drink, and shop.
For beer, you have a bunch of classic Oregon craft breweries – we’d head to either Full Sail or pFriem.
For cider, head to Crush Cider Cafe.
For food, head to Broder Ost for brunch or lunch, Grasslands Barbecue for amazing Texas-style barbecue, or across the river to White Salmon and Pixán Taqueria for great tacos and tequila.
Explore the Hood River Valley
In the Hood River Valley, here are some can’t-miss stops. A good resource for this part of the world is the Fruit Loop, which is both a delicious breakfast cereal, and also a beautiful drive through the Hood River Valley.
- Stave and Stone: We like the location of their tasting room at the vineyard.
- Hood River Lavender: A lavender farm with a view of Mount Hood’s peak? Sounds good to us. U-pick lavender during the summer, from June to September.
- Draper Girls Country Farm: Fruit, cider, and a bunch of fun gifts like local jams and spreads. We always stop here if we’re in the neighborhood, and depending on the season you’ll find apples, cherries, and more.
- The Gorge White House: A lovely place to spend an afternoon. They have cider, wine, and u-pick fruit in the summer with beautiful grounds that are just begging for a picnic.
Take a Hike
There are a bunch of great hikes near Hood River, including the ones we already mentioned above in the Gorge that are on the way out to Hood River.
You could also head south to Tamanawas Falls on the eastern flank of Mount Hood, or just across the river to Coyote Wall to get up on the ridgeline on the Washington side.
Get Out on the Water
Hood River is known for water sports. It’s one of the best windsurfing destinations in the country, and even beginners can get in on the action. Head to Big Winds for rentals and lessons.
Or, if you’re not so into windsurfing, then get out on a kayak or stand up paddle board instead, which you can rent here.
READ MORE: 12 Amazing Things to Do in Hood River, Oregon
Mount Hood (For the Hiking)
Distance from Portland: 56 miles || Drive Time from Portland: 1 hour 20 minutes
One of the things we love about living in Portland is the fact that, on any given day, you’re just 90 minutes away from both the coast, and the Cascades. Given the choice, we’re choosing the mountains over the coast ten times out of ten, and we’ve found that being 90 minutes from Mount Hood is one of our favorite parts about living in Portland.
In the summer, Mount Hood is one of the best hiking destinations in Oregon, and the broader Pacific Northwest. From various hiking trails around Mount Hood, you’ll be treated to unbeatable views of Hood’s snow capped peak, meadows of blooming wildflowers, beautiful waterfalls, and more.
It’s essentially paradise for alpine hiking enthusiasts like us.
If you like hiking that ends with amazing views of a snow capped peak and/or skiing down slopes with an unobstructed mountain view, you’re going to love Mount Hood.
Getting To Mount Hood
Driving is the best way to get from Portland to Mount Hood, particularly in the summer when there’s no public transportation option that will take you to trailheads, as far as we know anyway.
The Mount Hood Express runs from the town of Sandy, which is along Highway 26 on the way up to Hood, to various stops near Government Camp. However, you have to get yourself to Sandy, which is going to make it a very long, potentially very expensive day trip. It’s only $2 each way for the bus, though, which is nice.
If you’re visiting in the winter, there’s a shuttle run by Mount Hood Meadows that will pick you up in Portland and take you up to the resort for a day of skiing without having to worry about driving and parking.
There’s also a daily shuttle from Hood River to the resort, which you can learn more about here.
What to Do at Mount Hood
Summer in Mount Hood – which is essentially July through mid-October for our purposes – is all about the hiking.
Hiking at Mount Hood
There are a bunch of amazing hikes near Mount Hood, and it’s going to be hard to choose just one to tackle on your day trip. Not a bad problem to have, really.
Here are our picks:
- If you want a gorgeous waterfall, hike to Ramona Falls. Rather than being about the huge drop, Ramona Falls cascades down, creating a spider web of running water (that’s also very, very high, to be fair).
- If you want a moderate hike with outstanding views, do Timberline Lodge to Zigzag Canyon. First of all, you’ll get to check out Timberline Lodge, a historic lodge that’s fun to poke around. Second of all, you’ll hike through the ski lifts, which is fun. Last, the view of Mount Hood from Zigzag Canyon is amazing.
- If you’re up for a long hike and want our favorite hike at Hood, do McNeil Point. This hike is HARD. So hard that Alysha has a strict “once every five years” policy for it. But the views of Mount Hood on the way up and at the grand finale of the hike are unforgettable. Add in the great views of St. Helens, Adams, and Rainier, and the wildflowers in the early summer, and you’ll understand why it’s one of our favorite hikes that we’ve ever done. Again, it’s a hard one. Not for the novice hiker. Bring lots of water, snacks/lunch, and sun protection.
Other Things to Do Near Mount Hood
Other than hiking, there are a few other stops to make around Government Camp, which for all intents and purposes is the center of all the action.
For a post-hike beer, head to either Mount Hood Brewing or Ratskeller.
For a picture-perfect view of Mount Hood’s reflection, head over to Trillium Lake’s Day Use area, and walk along the shore of the lake to the south end of the lake. This is one of our favorite views in the state, and is a good place to bring a beer at sunset to watch Mount Hood’s peak glow pink as the sun dips and the alpenglow sets in.
In the winter, Mount Hood becomes a great ski destination, and at 90 minutes from downtown Portland, it’s hard to beat in terms of convenience from the city. We haven’t been to Hood in the winter, but a friend who grew up in Vancouver, Washington likes Mount Hood Meadows and Skibowl the best out of the various resorts.
READ MORE: 10 Spectacular Hikes at Mount Hood (A Helpful Hiking Guide)
Silver Falls State Park (For the Waterfalls and Farms)
Distance from Portland: 55 miles || Drive Time from Portland: 1 hour 15 minutes
If you’re in the mood for waterfalls, then there are two places to see in Oregon that you shouldn’t miss. We already covered one of them above – the Columbia River Gorge – and the second one is Silver Falls State Park, which is about an hour south of the city near Salem.
Silver Falls State Park is the biggest of Oregon’s state parks, and the highlight here is the Trail of Ten Falls. The concentration of waterfalls along this trail is mind boggling, and while you can see the towering South Falls from the parking lot, we’d highly, highly recommend hitting the trail to see all of them if you can.
Getting To Silver Falls & Around
Again, you’re going to want a car here to give you the most flexibility both in terms of timing (you’ll want to get there early!) and in terms of being able to get to some of the places around Silver Falls.
If you absolutely cannot get a car (for example, if you’re only in town for a couple of days) and still want to see some waterfalls, this guided tour is a good option, and it includes transportation from Portland’s Eastside.
What to Do in Silver Falls State Park (& Around)
There’s really only one thing to do in the park, and that’s the spectacular Trail of Ten Falls, which is near the top of our list of the best hikes in Oregon. It’s going to take you about a half day or so, and is well worth the journey.
The hike is exactly what it sounds like. A trail. With ten falls. It’s not a particularly difficult hike in terms of elevation gain, but it is a little bit long. Start at the South Falls, which might be the most impressive waterfall of the bunch, and make your way clockwise, which means you’ll see the vast majority of waterfalls on the first half of the loop.
Make your way out to North Falls – and don’t miss Upper North Falls – and then take a leisurely walk along the rim back to the parking lot.
This park gets super busy, so we’d highly recommend getting an early start, particularly on a weekend. Even better is to visit on a weekday, but not everyone has that kind of flexibility.
After your hike, there are a couple of stops nearby that are worth your time.
First is Salem, which is the capital of Oregon. It’s about a half hour west of the park, just across I-5. The Willamette Heritage Museum is worth a stop to learn about the history of the region as a whole, and we love Bigwig Donuts (for donut holes) and Xicha Brewing (for tacos and beer).
Second is Abiqua Falls, another waterfall that makes our list of the best in Oregon. Unfortunately, it’s not super convenient to get there from Silver Falls because you have to go out and around to access it from the north, but if you’re already down here, it’s worth the add-on.
Third are the farms in the eastern Willamette Valley – E.Z. Orchards and Bauman’s, both of which make excellent cider. There’s also u-pick everything (mostly berries) in the summer at Fordyce Farms.
Astoria (For the History and Breweries)
Distance from Portland: 97 miles || Drive Time from Portland: 1 hour 30 minutes
Astoria is a charming little town at the northwestern corner of the state with a surprising amount of things to do, see, eat, and drink. It’s also full of history, as it’s the point where Lewis and Clark reached the Pacific Ocean and camped for three months. We always get a kick out of the fact that they arrived in the dead of winter and basically spent three months sopping wet. They must have HATED it out west.
There’s plenty to earn it a spot on our list of the best weekend trips from Portland (or as a stop on your Oregon Coast road trip), but it also makes for a nice Portland day trip if your time is limited.
Similar to the relationship between the Gorge and Hood River, you can do a pretty great day trip that starts in Portland, heads west to Cannon Beach, and loops north to hit Astoria before heading back to Portland.
It’s a lot of driving, but you’ll get to do a really nice loop of the northern Oregon Coast that might be worth it if you’ve got limited time in Oregon (aka you don’t live here).
Getting to Astoria
It’s worth noting that you will absolutely need a car to get there, and that there aren’t really any tours or public transit routes to get to Astoria from Portland.
There are a couple of ways to get there, but we’d recommend heading north out of Portland and then following the Gorge west to Astoria, which is a more pleasant drive. This is the route.
What to Do in Astoria
We have an entire guide dedicated to the best things to do in Astoria, so you should absolutely read that if you’re planning a trip out there.
Here are the highlights.
Lewis and Clark National Historical Park
Start your day at Lewis and Clark National Historical Park, which is the site where Lewis and Clark spent a very dreary Oregon winter before deciding to head back to the Midwest, their mission to find the water passage to the Pacific complete.
We laughed when the friendly gentleman (volunteer?) at the visitors center told us how the explorers arrived in the area in November, and spent three rainy months here. They must have thought that Oregon sucks, heading back to Missouri with a smug sense of superiority.
Turns out, they were very, very wrong about that. Oregon is the best state in the Union (or at the very least, top three) if you ask us.
We’d hike the first 1.5 miles of the Fort-to-Sea trail, which takes you along the path that the expedition used to get between the coast and the fort. It’s a nice walk through the forest, and while the full 13 mile round trip hike is a little much (especially for a day trip), the first few miles is a nice compromise if you’re short on time.
You’ll end at a point that has a nice view, and make your way back to the park from there.
Fort Stevens State Park: The Northwest Corner of Oregon
From there, continue out to the coast and head to Fort Stevens State Park, which is the northwestern-most part of Oregon. There are two places here we’d definitely recommend visiting – the shipwreck of the Peter Iredale on the beach, and the batteries in the northern section of the park.
Enjoy Some of Oregon’s Best Craft Beer
The other thing that Astoria is known for is craft beer. For whatever reason, there’s a huge number of craft breweries in Astoria. Given the size of Astoria, I think the “craft-breweries-per-capita” number has to put it in the top tier of American cities by that particular measure.
The two main breweries in Astoria are Fort George, which has a big location just off the main drag in Astoria, and Buoy Beer, which is actually on the water.
There are a couple of other ones (Astoria Brewing Company and Reach Break), and we’d recommend trying a couple of them (don’t drink and drive, though!).
Learn a Thing or Three at Astoria’s Museums
There are also a couple of cool museums in Astoria. The two we’d focus on are the Columbia River Maritime Museum, which focuses on Astoria’s role as a main port city at the mouth of the Columbia River.
The Heritage Museum, which is a basically the Astoria history museum, covers the city and area from pre-Lewis-and-Clark through reconstruction and the industrial period.
It’s pretty interesting, and talks a lot about the changes the city has gone through as the main imports and exports of the area changed over time (also, I had no idea Astoria played such a pivotal role in the fur trade).
Climb the Astoria Column for a Great View
Last, but certainly not least, is the Astoria Column, which is perched on the top of the hill overlooking the city and the famous Astoria-Megler Bridge, is also worth a visit.
You can either drive up to the parking lot – which costs $5 to park at – or hike from town on the Cathedral Tree Trail.
It’s worth climbing to the top of the tower for excellent views (it’s free, minus the parking fee).
READ MORE: What to Do in Astoria, Oregon: A Complete Guide
Cannon Beach (For the Coastal Views)
Distance from Portland: 80 miles || Drive Time from Portland: 1 hour 30 minutes
Is Cannon Beach itself our favorite destination on the Oregon Coast? No, probably not. However, the reason it belongs on this list is the proximity to two of Oregon’s best state parks, which sandwich Cannon Beach between them. They are Ecola State Park and Oswald West State Park.
It’s worth your time, and there’s plenty to do to fill an entire day. However, you can also absolutely combine a trip out to Cannon Beach with a trip to Astoria, and make one big loop that sees the highlights of the northern Oregon Coast.
Getting to Cannon Beach
Like most of the Portland day trips on this list, you’re probably going to need a car to make the most of this trip.
What to Do in Cannon Beach
There are four broad categories of things we think are worth doing in Cannon Beach. We’ll organize them from north to south, and you can do them in that order, or in the reverse.
We’d recommend starting at Ecola though, because it gets pretty busy on weekend mornings.
Explore the beaches at Ecola State Park
First is exploring Ecola State Park, which had been closed for a couple of years until recently because of storm damage.
As you drive the forested, ferny, winding road out to the park, you’ll immediately understand why that was the case.
We’d stop at the first parking lot for the views and a walk out to Crescent Beach, then head to the second parking lot and hike the Clatsop Loop Trail and take a walk on Indian Beach, which is right below the parking area.
Wander Around Cannon Beach
The next two stops are in Cannon Beach itself. We’d find parking in town, and stay parked there for the duration of your stay in the downtown area. It can be tough to find parking on weekends around midday, so you may have to wait.
For your second stop of the day, explore the town of Cannon Beach. The downtown area isn’t particularly big, and you can basically walk around it in 45 minutes, give or take. I
n between the somewhat touristy shops and restaurants, there are a few gems that are worth your time.
For coffee, go to Insomnia.
For local beer and fish and chips, go to Public Coast Brewing.
Cannon Beach Book Co. is the local bookstore (that you should support!), and Suzy’s Scoops is a good stop for ice cream.
Admire Towering Haystack Rock
Your third stop is Haystack Rock, which is probably the most famous landmark on the Oregon Coast and rises 235 feet out of the Pacific Ocean, towering over Cannon Beach.
We also really like coming here for sunset, and if you’re around that late, we’d highly recommend heading out there.
Don’t miss the puffin colony on the rock – our first trip here, we got to witness a pair of bald eagles stealing puffin eggs, which the puffins were (understandably) not happy about.
Hiking in Oswald West State Park
After you’re done in Cannon Beach, continue south out of town, stopping at Silver Point for a nice view of the beach, and continue to Oswald West State Park.
If you’re up for a hike, head up to the top of Neahkahnie Mountain, a tough hike with excellent views at the end.
Then head out to Short Sand Beach, which is accessible by a short easy walk through the woods.
READ MORE: How to Plan an Incredible Oregon Coast Road Trip
Mount St. Helens (For the Impressive Barren Landscape)
Distance from Portland: 109 miles || Drive Time from Portland: 1 hour 40 minutes
Even though it’s in Washington State, most of the main sights around Mount St. Helens are actually closer to Portland than they are to Seattle, and it’s an excellent day trip to take if you’re looking to blend history (the volcano’s eruption is an important piece of Pacific Northwest history) and cool landscapes.
I remember reading a book back in 4th grade set at Mount St. Helens, where the protagonist in the story is looking for Bigfoot (and SPOILER eventually finds them in the lava tubes under the volcano).
Ever since reading that, I have been fascinated by both Bigfoot (the main hat I wear hiking says “Believe” across the strap, with a picture of bigfoot on the front) and Mount St. Helens.
If you visit the west side of St. Helens, you’ll immediately be taken aback by the barren landscape around Johnston Ridge Observatory. It’s arresting, because you’ll have driven for 45 minutes up a steep, windy road surrounded by lush forests, and then BOOM there’s no more of that.
We think it’s really, really cool, and well worth a visit. Though it’s a little inconvenient, because there are three areas around St. Helens that we like, and you can’t really do a day trip that encompasses more than one because there’s not a good way to get around the mountain.
Getting to Mount St. Helens
You’ll need a car, end of story. There’s no way to do a trip to Mount St. Helens without one.
What to Do at Mount St. Helens
This one is kind of a two-for-one, because there are actually two day trips embedded here (and you can’t really do them both on the same day, because it would be 8-9 hours of driving to circumnavigate the mountain).
The two areas that are accessible for a day trip are the west side of the mountain, which is where you’ll find the Johnston Ridge Observatory and is the best area to see the impact of its consequential eruption, and the southern side of the mountain, which is closer to Portland and has a unique cave you can hike down into.
The northeastern side of the mountain is actually our favorite part, but it’s best saved for a weekend trip from Portland because it’s a full three hours, one way, from the city.
Given the choice between the west and south sides of St. Helens, we’d opt for the west side. It’s the best area to see the bare landscape that the eruption left behind, and it has one of our favorite hikes – Harry’s Ridge.
Here are two ideas for how to spend a day trip to Mount St. Helens.
The West Side: Johnston Ridge Observatory and Harry’s Ridge
Start your day on the west side of St. Helens by heading straight up to the Johnston Ridge Observatory, which has a lot of great historical and geological information to help give you some context for what you’re looking at (and what you’re about to hike through).
Then, tackle the hike out to Harry’s Ridge, which takes you through the bare landscape out to a bluff with excellent views of the volcano and Spirit Lake, where you’ll see thousands of downed trees sitting on the surface of the lake.
It’s a great hike, and is worth doing even if you can’t make it all the way out to the ridge. The ever-evolving views of St. Helens’ oddly shaped crown are worth the effort, even if it’s only a mile or two.
End your day at Coldwater Lake, which is just below the Observatory on the drive up. It’s a lovely place for a picnic lunch and a dip in the lake. There’s a trail along the northern side of the lake, and you could hike along that trail until you’ve had your fill of hiking for the day.
The South Side of St. Helens: Ape Cave & Nearby hikes
On the south side of St. Helens, your number one priority should be the Ape Cave, which is a unique experience where you can hike down into a lava tube, the longest in the continental United States.
It’s only open mid-May through October, and requires advance reservations, which you can make here. Bring a headlamp, and proper footwear.
There are some other cool hikes on this side of St. Helens, like the short one out to June Lake, and the Ape Canyon Trail, which has some excellent views of the various mountain peaks in southern Washington / northern Oregon.
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