Labor Day is almost upon us, signaling the unofficial end of summer. If you forgot to make reservations at one of Oregon's now-booked campgrounds—or if you just want to avoid the braying crowds who fill state parks and lodgings—you might be wondering how to make the most of your Labor Day weekend (at least until Monday’s customary barbecue).
So why not anchor your long weekend around an epic day hike? Whether make your way around the Willamette Valley, take a day trip to the coast, or head elsewhere for fun and frolic, here are five day-trip ideas to make the most of your Labor Day Weekend in Portland—and make the most of the last few days of summer.
1. Best Place to Cool Off: Silver Falls State Park
You won’t be alone at Silver Falls State Park on Labor Day weekend—the 9,000-acre park attracts nearly a million visitors each year—but its renowned waterfalls are worth the crowds and hype.
The park’s crown jewel is the 8.7-mile Trail of Ten Falls loop. Along the way, hikers pass by (or behind) a total of 10 waterfalls, ranging in height from 27 to 177 feet. South Falls (not far from the loop’s primary trailhead) is the tallest, but another four falls along the way drop at least 100 feet.
The waterfalls aren’t the only draw, though: Beautiful canyon views, lush forests, and clear, opal pools keep the views interesting between waterfalls.
2. Best Coastal Trail To Earn Post-Hike Beers: Neahkahnie Mountain
Over the past few years, Astoria has developed a reputation for its robust craft beer scene. Fort George Brewery is the popular, must-see stalwart among craft beer aficionados; Buoy Beer offers good beer and even better Columbia River views on the working waterfront; Astoria Brewery Company bills itself as the town’s oldest brewery; and the ever-popular Rogue Ales & Spirits maintains an outpost on Pier 39 near the edge of town.
And the sudsy creations of all these spots will taste even better after you've really earned your post-hike beer with a jaunt up Neahkahnie Mountain. The peak, a few miles south of Cannon Beach, delivers some of the best views on the Oregon Coast; at the summit, hikers can peer out over the Pacific Ocean or gaze down on Manzanita, roughly eight miles to the south, not to mention the Oregon Coast Range and the mouth of the Nehalem River. (Note: Two trailheads take hikers to Neahkahnie Mountain summit. The northernmost trailhead is longer and steeper, while the southern trailhead promises a shorter ascent but the same beautiful payoff.)
3. Best for History Buffs: Opal Creek Wilderness
With tech companies setting up shop in Central Oregon (Apple hosts a data center in Prineville) and the creative output emanating from Portland, it’s easy to forget that industry has been at the heart of the Oregon economy for most of the state’s history. Nowhere is that more evident than in the Opal Creek Wilderness .
Opal Creek hosts eight trails totalling about 35 miles, but the centerpiece of the stunning wilderness is Jawbone Flats. The small community traces its roots to the early 1930s as a mining town, and a few buildings (including cabins available for rent) remain today. Other trails en route to Jawbone Flats offer close-up looks at discarded equipment, including a steam-powered sawmill.
But despite 60 years of mining, Opal Pool is as as clear and green as photos would indicate, and the surrounding old-growth forest towers above hikers most of the way.
4. Most Stunning Views of Mount Hood: Burnt Lake
Realistically, we could name-drop any one of a dozen hikes or viewpoints in the Mt. Hood National Forest. But Burnt Lake stands apart for its variety and breathtaking scenery. The Burnt Lake trail offers options for day hikers and backpackers alike, attracts smaller crowds than Mirror Lake or Trillium Lake, and offers the prototypical Northwest forest experience, thanks to dense woods, canyon vistas, and bustling creeks.
And good luck not filling your Instagram feed from the lake itself, which offers a clear and reflective view of the mighty Mount Hood.
5. Most Memorable Landscape: Mount Saint Helens
Oregonians never have to go very far to experience another climate, whether it’s the green and rainy coast or the dry and arid high desert in central Oregon. But roughly an hour from town (in Washington, no less), Mount St. Helens hosts a landscape unlike any other in the region.
Cyclists and hikers can get up-close looks at the lunar landscape along the Ape Canyon Trail, which goes through the dusty, pumice-filled Plains of Abraham. This area was formed in the wake of Mount St. Helens’ eruption 35 years ago, and outdoor enthusiasts today embrace the trail for its look at the volcano’s lava flow and views of the ruinous blast zone.