Short Hikes with Big Rewards
Want that dramatic, far-as-the-eye-can-see view without having to travel as far as the eye can see? That breathtaking, awe-inspiring punch of nature that's just a few steps away? That stunning marvel that feels like it's in the middle of nowhere without being hard to reach? Here are a few trails that are easy-walking, with fewer steps and mostly even grade, that reward even small efforts in a big way. And some of these sights you can drive right up to— simply park, get out of the car and amble over to the amazing view.
Please check each trail for individual accessibility requirements, as each trail has differing features.
Salt Creek Falls
Notoriously easy, this jaw-dropping waterfall is hardly a hike. From the parking lot, a short walk on paved paths leads to a well-maintained viewing area. Meander along the railings for different viewpoints of Oregon's second tallest single drop waterfall plunging into the canyon below.
Please note that stair steps limit wheelchair accessibly to all the vantage points, but there some pretty amazing views from the initial level. Along with an interpretive center and restrooms, Salt Creek Falls is a must-stop on any Oakridge-area tour.
On the Aufderheide near Oakridge, take this short trail through towering trees. Constitution Grove is an easy stroll into the Cascade forests for sublime "forest bathing". Admire the old-growth, listen to the birds sing, watch for wildlife in the stillness. While you won't go far into the woods, you'll be in the thick of it in just a few steps.
Waterfalls are one of nature's most rewarding sights. At Sahalie Falls it is not the drop but the power of the roaring waterfall charging full volume over the rocks. Feel the spray on your face as you lean against the rails. Like Salt Creek Falls, a short, paved path connects the parking lot with the viewing area.
Once again there are varying levels around the viewpoint, some with stairs. In the event that the parking lot is full, you can park at Koosah Falls a short distance away and hike to Sahalie Falls—but then you've got a longer walk.
Dee Wright Observatory
Drive out to this castle in the lava fields. The walk to the top spirals upward but it is paved and gentle if you pace yourself. From the top of the rock-built observatory, built by the Civil Conservation Corps in the 30s, take in stunning views across the lava landscape to distant snow-topped peaks of the Cascades. Dee Wright Observatory is one of those visually striking destinations that you will not soon forget.
Secret Garden at Belknap Hot Springs
This short walk is on the lodging property of Belknap Hot Springs Resort along the McKenzie River. From the lodge amble along a wide flat gravel path until you stumble across a side path leading to an ancient-looking water garden in the midst of the riverside woods. Elegant pools and fountains, moss-covered, with minimal landscaping, make an atmosphere of mystery and discovery.
The garden is beautiful and unexpected. After a few photos and some quiet reflection, walk back to the lodge for a hot springs soak. Day passes are available or stay the night.
Baker Beach Trail
A short jaunt through the forest and grassy sand dunes spill out onto the beach. Along the way enjoy birdwatching and magnificent beach views. Baker Beach Trail is popular with horseback riders, so step aside and stand still to let horses pass. This trail is great for mushroom hunting, newt spotting in springtime and birdwatching.
Popular with families, this short forest walk is just off Highway 101. Uneven ground with tree roots need to be noted as the path dips down through an entanglement of moss and ferns—but the momentary darkness and uneven ground quickly give way to a glorious wide-open sandy beach. It's like discovering a new land and the short journey inspires the imagination of young and old.
Once on the beach, enjoy the Oregon Coast's best with its pristine beauty. Parking for Hobbit Trail can be limited along the highway. Please use caution when crossing to the trailhead.
Sea Lion Caves
An admission fee is charged to access the coastal cliffs at Sea Lion Caves, but strolling their paved paths is delightful. Interpretive signage enhances the wildlife watching possibilities. Look across the ocean to the Heceta Lighthouse with its picturesque silhouette against the coastal cliffs.
When you are inside the grounds, you can also take the elevator down 200 feet into the marine grotto. As your eyes adjust to the darkness, you'll see the gigantic cave which is home to sea lions much of the year. Another option to this gated stroll is simply driving to a public pull-out along Highway 101, just a few miles past the Sea Lion Caves that offers a stunning view of the lighthouse, but unlikely glimpses of sea lions.
The highest point along the coast offers amazing views of the ocean and the sea cliffs. While (fool)hardy people may choose to hike from sea level up on Amanda's Trail, you can simply drive to the tippy top, park (day pass required, and take a few steps to see the stunning view. Halfway up Cape Perpetua is the visitors center with interpretative displays and mid-point views, but keep going up for the full view at the top.
Bring along a picnic lunch and find a bench or picnic table with birds-eye views worth soaking up for a while. You're king of the mountain, on top of the world, and rising above it all...and it was easy!
Sure you can hike straight up from the park below, or just drive to the top of Skinner Butte —so much easier! This classic "lovers lookout" has romantic views of Eugene-Springfield all the way to the opposing Spencer Butte. Spot Autzen Stadium to the east and downtown Eugene directly below. If you are trying to get a "lay of the land" view, this is the perfect introduction to Eugene.
Hardly any commitment is needed for this flat wetlands wander with multiple trailheads at Delta Ponds. Tucked between a busy highway and residential apartments, discover an oasis of wildlife along flat paths that almost encircle the ponds (but not quite). Delta Ponds attracts birders, plein air artists and those wishing for a meditative stroll.