Editors note: Due to wildfires in the Columbia River Gorge, Interstate 84 is closed from Troutdale (milepost 17) to Hood River (milepost 62) through at least Sept. 17. Alternate routes to access the gorge include taking U.S. 26 East, followed by Route 35 North toward Hood River. A second option is to take Interstate-5 North toward Seattle, followed by Route 14 East, over the Hood River Bridge and onto Route 35 South.
The secret is out: Oregon’s spectacularly beautiful scenery delivers some of the nation’s best hiking. Beat the onslaught of fellow trekkers by hitting the road extra early to embark on a breathtaking sunrise hike. (Safety tip: If you are hiking before daybreak, arrive prepared with headlamps and any other necessary equipment.)
Powell Butte Nature Park
Witnessing the sunrise from an extinct cinder cone volcano (that lies conveniently within Portland’s city limits) is definitely one for the memory books. The 611 acres (247 hectares)of Powell Butte Nature Park are crisscrossed by several different trails, allowing you to design your perfect hike. Climb 600 feet (183 m) to the butte’s highest point to see Mount Hood and other peaks; the mountain finder on Summit Lane will assist with any identification debates. The park opens at 5 a.m., just in time to catch those first golden rays.
Kelley Point Loop
If a beach towel sounds like your ideal sunrise vantage point, head to Kelley Point Park at the very tip of North Portland, where the Willamette and Columbia Rivers converge. Mount Saint Helens and Mount Hood make cameo appearances at points along the 1.7-mile (2.7 km) loop through a cottonwood grove. Keep your eyes open for seabirds as you settle down by the water’s edge for a front row seat to nature’s morning show. Stay a while to take advantage of the cool water on a scorching summer day.
Head 70 miles (113 km) northwest of Portland for eye-popping 360º views from Saddle Mountain’s 3,290-foot (1,003 m) summit. Although steep at times, the 2.5-mile (4 km) hike to the top promises majestic views of the Pacific Ocean’s blue expanse, Washington’s Mount Rainer and everything in between.
Only 90 minutes from Portland by car, Rowena Plateau has it all: flowers, wildlife and gorgeous Columbia River Gorge views. Clocking in at a little over 2 miles (3.2 km) out and back, this plateau hike is ideal for those seeking minimal exertion while reaping maximum sunrise rewards. It’s a doable hike for families, so hustle the whole gang out the door and watch in awe as the sun illuminates the gorge below. Unfortunately, your furry friends will have to stay home for this one.
Also 90 minutes east of the city, Dog Mountain is an enduring favorite of Portlanders despite its Washington state locale. While the full length of the hike stretches 7 miles (11 km), for a hike this early, we recommend stopping off at the lower viewpoint 1.5 miles (2.4 km) in to watch the sunrise from an elevation of 1,600 feet (488 m). Marvel at the Columbia River glittering below and the blooms during wildflower season.
Lost Lake Loop
It’s difficult to imagine a better place to watch the sun rise than along the perimeter of Lost Lake Loop. The drive from Portland is just under two hours, leading travelers through the Gorge before dipping into Mt. Hood National Forest’s wooded splendor. Avoid the usual summertime crowds by making the drive to Lost Lake extra early; you’ll be rewarded with front row seats to the rosy rays of dawn creeping over Mount Hood and reflecting on the 245-acre (99 hectare) lake below. This 3.2-mile (5 km) loop is easy enough that even sleepy kiddos will be impressed.