Distance: 5 miles | Difficulty: Weekend Warrior | Directions to Saddle Mountain Trail: From Portland, follow Highway 26 west for about 60 miles and turn right at the State Park sign for Saddle Mountain. Take Saddle Mountain Road 7 miles to the trailhead parking lot.
From the docks in Astoria, Saddle Mountain looks like Everest. The tallest peak in Clatsop County juts conspicuously into the sky above Highway 26. On a clear day, you feel as if you can see across the entire ocean from the bald summit.
Given Saddle Mountain's prominence, you know from the trailhead that a killer view awaits. But will your legs or lungs give out before you get there? Much of the trail is challenging and steep, climbing more than 1,600 feet in 2.5 miles. Happily, there's enough scenic variation along the way, including wide swaths of vibrant wildflowers in late spring and early summer to provide much-needed distraction from the pain of your ascent.
This hike is well known, which means, like the promenade in Seaside, it attracts an assorted cast of characters, including trail-clogging 5-year-olds, old men with walking sticks, and people who seemingly took a wrong turn on their way to the Pig 'n Pancake as they wobble along in heeled boots and jeans. Some of these folks will drop off about a quarter-mile in at a viewpoint. But most will press on toward the top, 3,200 feet above sea level.
The first half-mile or so is a gentle climb through stately Douglas firs and alder trees, the path slicing through an emerald carpet of ferns and wood sorrel. But the trail soon becomes less forgiving, with sharper inclines and switchbacks. You'll soon shed the forest and pop out into a wildly different environment. If it's blossom season, the transition isn't unlike opening the door to a Technicolor Oz—the exposed hillside explodes with colorful flowers in a grassy meadow.
Negotiating slides of eroding rock is one of the trickier parts of the trail. Some of the crumbling peak has been covered in metal grating to keep you from sliding, but that also makes the last several hundred feet of a grueling hike feel like you're repeatedly smashing your feet onto chain-link fencing. Once you reach this section, however, you're nearing the saddle between the humps. After a brief downhill break, one final vigorous burst of strength will push you to the summit.