This won’t come across as any surprise, but Oregon is home to some of the world’s most spectacular forests and trees.
From yew to sitka, ponderosa to redwood, from redcedar to myrtle, oak, hemlock and Douglas-fir, trees are the star of the show in the Beaver State.
A few months ago — pre-pandemic — I sat down with Chandra LeGue, author of “Oregon’s Ancient Forests: A Hiking Guide” and a field coordinator for Oregon Wild. We picked our 10 favorite tree-centric trails — hikes that are all about interesting, or unique, or downright bizarre patches of forest across the state.
Our conversation can be heard online in an episode of the Explore Oregon Podcast. But included here are six picks that include trails in every corner of the state.
(Note: While most of Oregon’s outdoors has reopened, double-check before traveling for COVID-19 limits or closures. See the online version of this story for links to stories with more details, including directions).
1. Oregon redwoods: My first pick has to be the Oregon redwoods, just because nothing quite compares with the majesty of an old-growth redwood, and because there’re so few places to see them on Beaver State soil.
Redwoods just look and feel different from any other tree.
There are actually two places to hike among Oregon redwoods and both are located around the town of Brookings in the extreme southwest corner of the state. My favorite is Oregon Redwood Trail. It’s a little more remote, a little farther back there, and I love this trail because it starts off being pretty nondescript. You’re hiking through the forest, pretty typical, and then the first grove of giant redwoods show up out of the mist and just tower over everything around them. I love the hikes where the trees really jump out, and that’s true here.
2. Malheur River Canyon: Here’s a great trail for a unique mix of trees: The Malheur River Trail. It begins about 5.5 miles from the river’s headwaters, in the Malheur National Forest southeast of John Day, at the Malheur Ford, and heads downstream past steep canyon walls up to 1,000 feet tall.
Designated as a Wild and Scenic River corridor, the forest along the trail is dominated by big lodgepole and ponderosa pines and Douglas-firs, with quite a bit of forest diversity. The trail follows the river, climbs to forested benches, crosses small drainages with vibrant riparian vegetation and enters a grove of ancient larch trees. The recommended segment of the trail is 4.5 miles round trip.
3. Echo Basin: For my next pick I am going with Echo Basin, a 3-mile trail off South Santiam Highway near Tombstone Pass in the Cascade Range.
The reason I am picking this trail — which is typically known for spring wildflowers — is that it’s home to one of Oregon’s most impressive groves of Alaska Yellow Cedar. They are a really cool tree that only grows in a handful of places in Oregon and here, they stand out. They have a grey-ish white, shaggy bark, with an almost golden hue to them. They stick out to pretty much everyone who hikes this trail.
One of the reasons they grow in this area is the geologic region — it’s an area known as the Old Cascades. It’s a much older range of mountains compared to the volcanoes of the young Cascades, and the old ones are a lot more biodiverse. A lot of really interesting wildflowers and trees all grow here, including the Alaskas, which are some of the oldest trees recorded — they can age to 1,800 years old and have kind of drooping appearance that goes along with shaggy bark.
4. Marys Peak East Ridge-Tie Trail Loop: My next pick is also best known for the spring wildflower displays in its summit meadows, but the forests that surround Marys Peak, and that shelter the Corvallis water supply, are just as worthy of exploring.
Located on the eastern edge of the Coast Range and Siuslaw National Forest, Marys Peak is the highest peak in the Coast Range and not far outside of Corvallis. The recommended 5-mile loop begins on the East Ridge Trail at Conner Camp, climbs through a tall, cathedral-like forest of Douglas-fir and vine maple, then gains elevation through a forest that transitions to a unique stand of old-growth noble firs. The loop uses the Tie Trail, which follows a moist slope of Douglas-fir and hemlock forest dotted with huge cedar trees, to return from the summit area.
5. Myrtle Tree Trail: Next I’m again headed down to southwest Oregon to pick Myrtle Tree Trail — which, as you might guess, I picked because it’s home to the most impressive grove of Myrtle Trees in Oregon. If you’ve never seen a Myrtle Tree you’re not alone, but there is a good chance you’ve seen myrtlewood items because it has famously beautiful colors in the wood — shades of honey, browns, grays, reds and greens. Myrtlewood items often have a really cool, funky look and there’s a ton of myrtlewood shops on the Oregon Coast.
The trees are just as cool — and that’s evident on this trail, which is east of Gold Beach along the Rogue River. The trees kind of look like something out of a Dr. Seuss book — they’re very short and squat, with branches sprouting up almost like giant antennae into a huge crown. The trail is very short, so it’s best as a throw-in on a coastal trip or Rogue River trip, but it ends at what used to be the largest Myrtle Tree in the world.
Apparently, the big tree has been toppled very recently by a storm, but when it was still standing, it was 42 feet in circumference, just a huge base, and 88 feet tall and it was believed to be 400 years old.
6. Cripple Camp, Rogue-Umpqua Divide Wilderness: To wrap this up, let’s head south one more time. Located in the aptly named Rogue-Umpqua Divide Wilderness, which separates these two major river drainages, this moderate, 5.8-mile recommended hike offers mountain meadows and diverse ancient forests. The trail passes trees of mind-boggling size near the Cripple Camp Shelter and passes through a mix of dry and moist forest types with everything from Douglas-firs and incense cedars to Shasta red fir and sugar pine — some recently burned in a low-severity fire. Longer loop or hike options lead deeper into the wilderness if desired.