Portland earns praise for its perfect summers, but fall might be the best time to experience the Northwest’s natural beauty. Emerald-leaved trees seem to catch fire in slow motion as temperatures cool, and northern breezes tease out autumnal displays of gold and red. Meanwhile, wild critters in water and on land are easily spotted through the thinning flora as they prepare for winter. Hiking is one of the best ways to drink in the region’s beauty; read on for three great fall hikes near Portland.
Punchbowl Falls and Metlako Falls
Editor’s note: Due to wildfire damage to the Columbia River Gorge, Eagle Creek Trail and Punchbowl Falls are closed and access to several other destinations in the Columbia River Gorge are impacted. Please read our article for updated information on road and park closures.
A 45-minute drive east of downtown Portland delivers hikers to the popular Eagle Creek Trail in the Columbia River Gorge. Autumn is a prime time to visit — not only to avoid the crowds, but also to spot Chinook and coho salmon spawning near the mouth of the creek.
From the trail’s lower junction, follow the path about 2 miles (3.2 km) to one of Oregon’s most iconic sites, Punchbowl Falls, named for the deep bowl-shaped basin at the waterfall’s base. On the way back, keep an eye out for a sign pointing to lesser-known Metlako Falls. This showstopper’s 100-foot (30 m) plume seems to shoot straight out of a cliffside before plunging into the pool below.
On your way home, detour slightly to the Hood River Fruit Loop, a scenic drive that connects several family-owned farms offering apples, chestnuts and cider.
Sauvie Island has so much to offer, including beaches, farms, wildlife areas and trails that seem to go on forever. Every autumn, folks flock to the island to harvest pumpkins, take hayrides and wander through corn mazes at several local patches.
Once you’ve had your fill of U-pick apples and fresh cider, visit Warrior Point Trailhead at the island’s northern tip. The mostly flat path winds its way along the Columbia River and through the Sauvie Island Wildlife Area. In fall, you’ll see migrating sandhill cranes, snow geese, tundra swans and Canada geese. After 3 miles (5 km), trekkers will arrive at the 16-foot (5 m) Warrior Rock Light, Oregon’s smallest lighthouse.
Banks-Vernonia State Trail
A century ago, a mighty railroad curved over the hills northwest of Portland, hugging ravines and cutting across creeks. Today, 21 miles (34 m) of the dismantled railroads have been transformed into the scenic, multi-use Banks-Vernonia Trail. Six trailheads give hikers (and cyclists, joggers and horseback riders) plenty of opportunities to customize their route. Each path is lined with deciduous trees (think cottonwood, Oregon ash, red alder, big-leaf maple and sour cherry) that display some of the most splendid fall hues in the region.