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WEDNESDAY, JANUARY 3, 2018
10 best Ore. outdoor adventures of 2017
Eclipse, wildfire and
for an off-beat year
SALEM STATESMAN JOURNAL
USA TODAY NETWORK
This was a strange year for Oregon’s
Wildfire, snowstorms and the solar
eclipse dominated headlines for much of
the year, making it an offbeat season to
be out exploring.
That’s reflected in my annual list of
the best outdoor adventures of 2017. So
many trips were tied to news events —
mainly wildfires — that this list feels a
little more topical than normal.
But there were also plenty of hidden
gems to be found.
This year brought me to a ghost town
with hot springs, up a mountain named
for the gods, and into a forest of trees
that looked as though they belonged in a
Dr. Seuss book.
Here are my 10 favorite trips from
10) Eagle Creek Trail
This beloved pathway was at the cen-
ter of the most high-profile wildfire in
Oregon this summer.
On Sept. 2, a teenager allegedly tossed
a firecracker off the trail, igniting the
Eagle Creek Fire, which eventually ate
through 50,000 acres of forest in the Co-
lumbia River Gorge.
I was lucky enough to have brought
my daughter and parents onto the trail
during the spring. The trail won't ever
look quite the same and won’t reopen un-
til 2019 at the earliest. That why I'll savor
the pictures I took that day.
Our trip, of course, was bland com-
pared to the adventure of 10 Salem teen-
agers who were trapped by the wildfire
overnight and watched the fire grow
from close range.
Here’s my favorite quote from the
story about trapped teenagers:
“There were times when I thought we
were going to die,” said Abby Bork, the
youngest member of the group at 15
years old. “But it actually turned out be-
ing a lot of fun."
9) Detroit Lake SUP
Detroit Lake didn’t seem like a great
place to bring a stand-up paddleboard.
But the motorboat-filled reservoir
ended up being more interesting than
expectedto explore on a SUP. Add to that
how much my kids loved playing around
on it, and you have a nice combination of
adventure touring and kid-friendly util-
Here’s how it worked: we camped at
Southshore Campground on the south
end of Detroit Lake this summer. During
the heat of the day, the kids used the SUP
as a fun inflatable toy. They paddled
around, climbed on and jumped off it.
At night, the adults took the SUP to ex-
plore some of the fun inlets and coves on
the edges of Detroit Lake.
August's solar eclipse as seen at Strawberry Lake in Eastern Oregon. JEFFREY S. GREEN/DYNAMIC PHOTOGRAPHY
8) Wallowa Mountain kid-friendly
The only problem with the Wallowa
Mountains of northeast Oregon is the
lack of kid-friendly hikes.
The most spectacular mountain range
in Oregon — with the state’s largest
backpackable wilderness area — often
requires long and difficult treks to see
the good stuff.
But on a trip in May, I explored two ex-
ceptions to that rule — Hurricane Creek
and Iwetemlaykin State Heritage Site.
Hurricane Creek Trail offers a flat
and scenic route into the Eagle Cap Wil-
derness, with waterfalls and mountain
views aplenty. The trip can be a six-mile
day-hike or a longer backpacking trip.
Iwetemlaykin is the easier of the two,
located right next to Wallowa Lake, with
a1.2- to 2.4-mile trek possible below stun-
ning views of mountains and a good feel
for the area’s history.
7) Snow Camp Lookout
This lookout, which you’ll be able to
rent for the night in 2018, sits at the
crossroads of two of Oregon’s largest
On one side of Snow Camp Lookout, lo-
cated west of Brookings, is the black-
ened wasteland left by last summer’s
Chetco Bar Fire, a 190,000-acre inferno
that was Oregon’s largest blaze of the
On the opposite side, you can look at
the green flora and small trees regener-
ating in the scar of the 2002 Biscuit Fire,
which at 500,000 acres was one of the
largest fires in state history.
The small cabin where you can spend
the night with reservations on Recrea-
tion.Gov also features ocean views in the
beautiful Klamath-Siskiyou Mountains.
But the most interesting thing is the
views of destruction and rebirth in an
ecosystem following wildfire.
6) Myrtle Tree Trail
In a remote corner of southwest Ore-
gon, there’s a patch of forest that feels
like something out of a science fiction
Squat emerald trees sprout antennae
that stretch and twist into a canopy drip-
The North Fork of the Smith River is known
for its jade-green water and red-rock canyons.
ZACH URNESS / STATESMAN JOURNAL
ping with the pungent smell of fresh bay
The northwest is home to countless
trees that fire the imagination, but none
is quite so peculiar as the old-growth
Myrtle Tree Trail, a charmed little
pathway east of Gold Beach, is the best
place to see trees that grow only in coast-
al forests of California and southwestern
The hike is very short — less than a
mile round-trip. It leads to a 400-year-old
and 70 feet wide tree that you can crawl
5) Neahkanie Mountain and
One of the tallest coastal mountains in
Oregon, named for the gods of Native
Americans who lived in its shadow, is
also home to ancient tales of shipwrecks
and hidden treasure.
Neahkanie Mountain and Oswald
West State Park comprise some of the
most beautiful scenery and fascinating
history on the Oregon Coast.
Located south of Cannon Beach, the
highlights are clustered in a state park
with a number of cool places to explore.
The most popular spots include Short
Sand Beach (1-mile hike), Neahkanie
Mountain (3 miles) and Cape Falcon (5
miles out and back).
4) Strawberry Lake eclipse
Concern about crowds flooding into
Oregon for Aug. 21’s total solar eclipse
were overhyped, but the actual eclipse
Everything within the path of totality
went into phantasmal darkness during
the big moment, turning the ordinary
into a pocket of the paranormal for two
The moment was doubly sweet for
me, as I was watching the eclipse from
one of my favorite spots in Oregon:
Located in Eastern Oregon’s Straw-
berry Mountain Wilderness, the lake is a
cliff-walled wonder surrounded by wa-
terfalls and clear creeks. It makes a won-
derful backpacking destination any time
of year, but during the eclipse it was par-
The cliffs surrounding the lake began
to darken, first into shadow, then an odd
shade of purple. As the temperature
dropped, clouds appeared in the sky,
where none had been previously.
As totality approached, a few stars ap-
peared in the sky.
It was a magical moment in a spectac-
3) John Day Fossil Beds
Start with one of the best museums in
Oregon, featuring the fossils of animals
that roamed this landscape 30 million
Add some of the most beautiful and in-
teresting hiking trails in the state.
What you have, all combined, is nu-
merous reasons to visit the Sheep Rock
Unit of the John Day Fossil Beds Nation-
This is especially true if you have chil-
dren, as I do.
We started at the Thomas Condon Pa-
leontology Center, home to a museum
that engages all your senses.
Growls, squawks and hoots of mam-
mals that lived in this once-lush environ-
ment millions of years ago come in over
speakers. Giant murals showing rainfor-
ests, volcanic eruptions and all manner
of beasts make you feel as though you’re
walking through scenes in a movie.
The best part, though, were the fos-
sils. The toothy skull of a “terminator
pig” — which looks like a cross between
an alligator and a sheep — greets you on
your way into the building.
Another favorite was the skull of
paratylopus, an early camel.
After the museum, we headed out to
the spectacular hiking trails of the mon-
ument. The Blue Basin / Island in Time
hike was probably the best hike overall,
but the many short routes are all worth
2) Ritter Hot Springs
“Welcome to Ritter, Oregon, here in
the middle of nowhere.”
That was how Mike Tillay welcomed
me to one of the state’s most unique hot
springs in June, during a stop on a road
trip across Eastern Oregon.
A century-old ghost town nestled
along the Middle Fork John Day River —
some 50 miles north of Mount Vernon —
Ritter Hot Springs hasn't changed much
since the stagecoach days.
People have been coming to this re-
mote spot since the 1800s, lured by a ther-
modynamic gift believed to possess
After soaking in the pool and tubs for
a day, I understood why.
The hot springs water feels … smooth.
Prices are cheap, the scenery is sub-
lime and the vibe is mellow. I can't wait to
1) North Fork Smith River
It’s a desert river that flows through
the heart of a rainforest.
That’s the joke, anyway, among river
guides who paddle the North Fork Smith
River, which begins in Oregon before
crossing into northwest California near
Jedediah Smith Redwoods State Park.
The river is surrounded by some of
the lushest forest and tallest trees on
earth. Yet from a raft or kayak, this rap-
id-filled stream travels through barren
red-rock canyons that feel as though
they belong in Arizona.
How is that possible? To find out, the
Statesman Journal and Oregon Field
Guide joined a team of geologists and
raft guides on a trip into the North Fork’s
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Zach Urness has been an outdoors
writer, photographer and videographer
in Oregon for 10 years. He is the author of
the book “Hiking Southern Oregon” and
can be reached at zurness@Statesman-
Journal.com or (503) 399-6801. Find him
on Twitter at @ZachsORoutdoors.