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Six Oregon Hikes to Celebrate Spring

Put a spring in your step.

In Portland, blossoming tulips and cyclists in new spandex are a better indication of spring than whatever Punxsutawney Phil says as he scrambles out of his log cage. This year, spring will likely bring a reprieve from El Niño and the chance to hit a host of flower-capped trails stretching from The Dalles to the Oregon Coast, without the constant fear of a downpour. The seaside cliff tops and rolling hills of color might still be slick—and a bit of a scramble—but there are few better glimpses of whales and waterfalls to be had.

Wahclella Falls

Distance: 1.8 miles

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Difficulty: Parks Scare Me

40 minutes from Portland: From I-84 east, take Exit 40 toward the Bonneville Fish Hatchery. Turn right at the first stop sign and drive roughly 100 feet to the trailhead parking lot. $5 recreation fee.

There are more waterfalls in the Columbia River Gorge than there are days in the month. Wahclella Falls, named after a nearby Native American village, is one of the more accessible and well-maintained of the bunch. The trail's gentle, leisurely path straddles Tanner Creek and winds its way through a narrow canyon and into a grotto-like amphitheater that houses the thunderous base of Wahclella. As you climb, you'll cross a short bridge that brushes against the 35-foot plunge of Munra Falls, shrouding you in mist and ferrying you over logs that rest like pick-up sticks in the murmuring creek below. An underground spring ensures water is never scarce.

Silver Falls (Lower Loop)

Distance: 4.6 miles

Difficulty: Parks Scare Me

80 minutes from Portland: From I-5 south, take Exit 253 and continue east on OR-22. Take Exit 7 (OR-214) and follow the signs to Silver Falls State Park. $5 recreation fee.

Silver Falls State Park's 9,200 acres make it the largest in the state, and the footpaths are at the mercy of a steady stream of hikers on any given weekend. It's warranted, however, considering it functions as a basalt-flanked haven where dripping caverns and burly old-growth remnants reign supreme. The lower portion of the trial is a shorter alternative to the Trail of Ten Falls, yet several switchbacks and spur trails still provide close-up views of seven individual falls, including the picturesque South Falls and seasonal affairs such as Frenchie Falls and Winter Falls. Kodak moment optional.

Cape Lookout

Distance: 4.8 miles

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Difficulty: Dirty Boots

100 minutes from Portland: Take U.S. 26 west and make a slight right on OR-6 toward Tillamook. Cross Highway 101 in town, follow signs for Cape Lookout State Park and park at the trailhead roughly 3 miles past the day-use area.

People tend to associate the Oregon Coast with orcas—thanks, Jason James Richter—but our waters are occasionally home to more than one species. Migrating gray whales must skirt the 2-mile spit that is Cape Lookout come late March, which gives hikers an excellent excuse to trek among the blooming trillium, Sitka spruce and primeval ferns that call Tillamook County home. The gradual, one-way descent to the cliffside perch also funnels you through the overgrown wreckage of a downed B-17 bomber, and presents you with frothy views of Cape Meares and Netarts Bay. The latter is a beachcomber's delight—assuming ostraconophobia isn't your thing.

Saddle Mountain

Distance: 5.2 miles

Difficulty: Dirty Boots

90 minutes from Portland: Take U.S. 26 west for about 60 miles and turn right onto Saddle Mountain Road. Continue for 7 miles, or until you reach the trailhead.

Saddle Mountain defines the Coast Range as much as Mount Hood defines the Cascades, even if it doesn't posses all-star stature. The double-peaked monolith towers some 3,287 feet above sea level, and in the spring, the wooded saddle and steep summit become a natural bouquet of coastal penstemon, sedum, goatsbeard and phlox. Other vibrant wildflowers compose the craggy meadows and chain-link tread once you rise above the lush canopy of red alder and fir, providing eye candy for those brief moments when the mountain's snow-capped neighbors, and the eroded ledges, don't demand your attention like the MAX tracks downtown.

The Dalles Mountain Ranch

Distance: 6.5 miles

Difficulty: Dirty Boots

95 minutes from Portland: From I-84 east, take Exit 87 and cross The Dalles Bridge on U.S. 197. Turn right onto WA-14, drive 3.6 miles and park at the Crawford Oaks Trailhead on the left. $10 recreation fee.

Make no mistake, The Dalles Mountain Ranch is not The Dalles. The ranch's claim to fame isn't a Google data center, but instead, a newly minted network of trails located on the site of a former homestead abutting the Columbia River. A breadth of wind-stunted trees and thick tufts of buttercups and yellow balsamroot dot the desert landscape in late April, complete with snapshots of Mount Hood, regardless of how you traverse the trail's figure-eight configuration and meander amid the rimrock and dilapidated machinery. The frontieresque hills and rustic charm recall the Old West in a similar fashion to Dances With Wolves, minus a flat Kevin Costner.

Dog Mountain

Distance: 7.4 miles

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Difficulty:

Reese Witherspoon

75 minutes from Portland: From I-84 east, take Exit 44 toward Cascade Locks. Cross the Bridge of the Gods, turn right onto WA-14 and drive 12.5 miles to the well-marked trailhead on the left. $5 recreation fee.

The sharp ascent on Dog Mountain may not be as hairy as its namesake (pun intended), though it can be just as big a pain when you factor in the potential for crowds and pummeling winds. That said, the 700-foot crawl offers bird's-eye views of the Columbia River Gorge and surrounding volcanic peaks, each awash in a seasonal panoply of paintbrush and blue-hued lupine that belie the barrage of taxing switchbacks that designate the trail. Hanging a right at the first junction and a left at the second ensures the best views, while a descent on the Augspurger Trail provides additional meadow vistas and—more importantly—some much-needed relief.