Bottom Left: Buck Lake. Photo: Oregondiscovery.com
Bottom Right: Serene Lake. Photo: Jamey Pyles at nwhiker.org
by Karoline Gottschild
Most kids and adults agree that Portland's often brilliant July and August sunshine and heat are a divine and well-earned respite from the leaden winter skies and seemingly ceaseless winter rains. We also know that they reward us with the lush greenery, rushing rivers, and sparkling pools that we get to enjoy all summer long.
Many may lament the bygone years where Portland’s reputation for drear and drizzle kept much of the world away from its doors and shores. But it’s 2017, and we’re a bustling popular and ever-growing city, a mecca for all kinds, including ever greater numbers of outdoor lovers. Yet it’s still possible to evade the horrendous summer hordes. There are gems in the woods to be found, if you only go a little off the most beaten paths.
Following are few hidden gems just a drive, hike, and secret (sort of) jaunt away. Some are a bit farther away (but not much more than 2 hours), some are a bit more difficult or longer to get to, and some offer additional bonuses, such as mosquitoes, horse flies, or just plain frigid waters. Hey, it is precisely those natural features that help separate the cooler carriers from the Mazama hikers.
So go for it. Grab your lunch (or stop along the way and support a local business), remember your water (reusable bottle and water filter), sunscreen (biodegradable), sunglasses (polarized), emergency aids ... well, you know, your Mazama ten essentials. Leave some room for your frivolous favorites—a water toy, book, water shoes—and then head on out. If you are bringing along a friend with less fortitude (or you are just smarter), you may wish to consider a wetsuit. Whether you get out earlier or later in the season, beat the summer crowds and float leisurely in frigid snow-fed mountain streams and lakes while your friends barely break the water surface before scurrying, in a shivering self-embrace, back to the sun-warmed shores.
Serene Lake—Estacada Region, Oregon
Its relatively remote location from Portland and the almost 7 mile return hike from the nearest parking lot means Serene Lake is still one of the more peaceful swimming holes. The trek provides a wonderful way to combine a hike with gorgeous views of Mt. Hood, other volcanoes, and lakes. Add on backpacking, camping, and fishing, and you can create a multi-day adventure. If your idea of swimming fun includes jumping off rocks, try the south end of Serene Lake which is 25 feet deep (always check for safety first—rocks move and things change).
To get there, you can choose the 8-mile Serene Lake Trail or a shorter 6.6-mile hike that starts at 4,700 ft. at Frazier Trailhead, and still takes you through three beautiful lakes—Middle, Upper, and Serene Lakes with an elevation gain of 900 feet.
Drive from Portland: 2 hours plus. Timing: Summer–fall, with early summer having more mosquitoes, colder water, and fewer people. Hiking Distance: 6.6 miles. Permits: No fee. Fill out Wilderness Permit at Trailhead. Crowds: Little. Camping: Yes. Dogs: Yes. For detailed hike info, and links to driving directions: tinyurl.com/serenelake
Buck Lake—Mt. Hood National Forest, Oregon
Are you trying to convince your new mate to join the Mazamas? Are you still playing nice, and don’t want to shock them with a 10 mile hike to a freezing ‘swimming’ river? Then head to postcard-perfect Buck Lake for a more balmy water experience. At 4,080 feet elevation, Buck Lake is only 30 feet deep, often warming up to 72 degrees in August. It can be reached by a moderate ½-mile ascending trail. Depending on the sunlight, the water can look sparkling emerald to a more moss green; either way it’s fabulous. Usually only having moderate crowds, weekends in high summer might bring out a varied assortment of less than zen-like holidaymakers. So for romance and peace, go early in the day or early in the season.
Drive from Portland: 2 hours, 10 minutes. 61.5 miles east of Oregon City. Timing: Summer-fall. If swimming isn’t so important, or you are an ice bear, the maples in the area turn orange and red in the fall (it’s gorgeous and less crowded). Hiking Distance: 1-mile round-trip. Permits: No. Crowds: Moderate. Camping: Yes. Dogs: Yes. Info and driving instructions to trailhead: tinyurl.com/bucklake
Siouxon Creek—Gifford Pinchot Park Area, Washington
Near Amboy, Washington, you can do it all—hike, bike, camp, and swim—and with your dog. A 9-mile hike will take you through mossy forest, along the cold and sparkling creek, and by 4 waterfalls. You’ll find numerous camping sites along the way, but all are in permanent shade, so bring the necessary moisture-proof gear. Some of the trail can be popular during the hottest and sunniest days, so be warned or go during cloudier and cooler times; carry a thermos with hot cocoa for your after-swim warm up. For hard core hikers, the trails are extensive, and you can easily hike for 10-15 miles.
Drive from Portland: 1 hour, 30 minutes near Mount St. Helens. Hiking Distance: 9-miles round trip. Permits: NW Forest Pass. Crowds: Moderate. Camping: No. Dogs: Yes. Directions: tinyurl.com/siouxoncreekhike
Alder Flats—Mt. Hood, Clackamas Area, Oregon
This hike is 47 miles east of Oregon City, and although many of the Clackamas area river spots are crowded, this one tends to be less so. The 1.9-mile return hike keeps the people volume down. You’ll walk through magical moss covered mixed old-growth forest (remember to bear right at 0.2 miles) to be greeted by fairly cold, clear moving waters, and some basic campsites right along the river, if you wish to stay the night. The current here is moderate to strong, leading to downstream rapids. Water levels can fluctuate dramatically, so do take care. Some shallows exist, and there is a 40-foot-long sandy swimming beach which makes for a nice place to swim.
Drive from Portland: 70 minutes. Hiking Distance: 1.9-mile round trip. Permits: NW Forest Pass. Crowds: Moderate. Camping: Yes. Dogs: Yes. Directions: tinyurl.com/alderflatshike