Local author and homeschooling mom Jessica Becker shares five of her favorite kid-friendly winter hikes within 45 miles of Portland.
We all spend a lot of time indoors during our wet Pacific Northwest winters. However, with the right gear and knowledge, you can make winter one of your favorite hiking seasons. Trails are less crowded, migratory birds are in the area, and waterfalls are full. That said, weather can be unpredictable, trails can be muddier, and there may be road hazards.
For winter hiking with kids, it can be good to stay lower in elevation, closer to cell service, and away from fire-damaged areas. It’s also a great idea to:
- Plan for winter driving
- Dress in layers and avoid cotton
- Check the weather for your hike location the morning of your hike
- Bring a change of clothes, extra socks and gloves, lots of snacks, something warm to drink, and something warm/dry to sit on
- Keep expectations low and have fun!
Latourell Falls Loop
Walk right up to two waterfalls on this 2.4 mile loop hike. This hike is a Gorge treasure and is appropriate for kids who can navigate steep trails that are slippery when wet and are narrow with drop-offs. This hike also has great Gorge views as well as fun trees to climb on and walk through. Be prepared for the cold sensations of waterfall spray as you make your way around the loop.
Ridgefield National Wildlife Refuge — Oaks to Wetlands Trail
Winter is the best time to visit the refuge because of all the migratory birds! You don’t have to walk very far on this easy 2 miles out-and-back trail to see and hear the noisy and beautiful swans that flew south for the winter. Along the trail, you may even come across deer, birds of prey, ducks, and more. Bring a pair of binoculars and stop to read any interpretive signs. A section of the trail is closed on Thursdays and there is a fee to park. Consider a drive on the nearby Auto Tour Route to see even closer-up views of winter waterfowl and birds of prey.
Oxbow Regional Park – Ancient Forest Loop
Winter means fewer visitors at popular Oxbow Regional Park, which means animals are more likely to be out and about. The gentle 1.5 mile Ancient Forest Loop is a great place to track animals year round, but winter is an especially good time to practice your fox walking and owl eyes skills. Use caution near the swift river and save time for some playground play.
Old Salmon River Trail
If you’ve ever wanted to hike through a fairy forest, the Old Salmon River Trail in Welches is the place to visit. You can hike up to 3.8 miles out-and-back along the river through a mossy old-growth forest. There are multiple parking areas and every section of this trail is beautiful. Plan on playing by the riverbank and climbing on and hugging massive trees. Keep an eye on kids around drop-offs and the swift river.
Cooper Mountain Nature Park
This Metro-run park is a fantastic place to hike in winter. You can combine small loops to hike up to 3.2 miles of oak savannah and ponderosa pines. The trail has some elevation gain, depending on the loops you choose. Keep an eye out for deer, birds of prey, and views of Mt. Hood. There are interpretive signs along the trail, as well as ‘listening trumpets’, which are designed to amplify the sounds of nature. No dogs are allowed and there is an awesome nature playground at the trailhead.
Looking for even more ideas? Check out Jessica Becker’s recommendations for Less Crowded Kid-Friendly Hikes.
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