Outdoor fun during a pandemic? Sure!
With many places closed and thousands of people still working from home, there's a great need for some sense of summer normalcy.
One of the lowest risk activities nowadays is getting outdoors, and Mount Hood and the surrounding area has an abundance of options of places to get outside while distancing from others.
While not all of the area's favorite destinations are open yet, here are some of the places open and ready for your next hike, kayak or swim.
Hiking on Mount Hood
Fortunately for those seeking adventure in the Sandy and Estacada area, it's a short trip to multiple Clackamas County Parks, Milo McIver State Park, Wildwood Recreation Site and most locations on the Mt. Hood National Forest.
The forest offers ample opportunities for hiking, fishing and biking, and most day-site locations are now open to the public after previously being shut down because of the COVID-19 outbreak.
Ben Watts, a recreation specialist on the Mt. Hood National Forest, noted that the area has seen many people recreating lately — including many first-time visitors.
"It's probably a byproduct of a lot of big vacations being canceled and the overall desire to get out of the house and into the woods," he said. "Everything seems to be busier this year. There's a pent up energy. People want to get outdoors."
Along with adhering to state safety guidelines to prevent the spread of COVID-19, Watts encouraged visitors to find areas to recreate off-the beaten path.
"If there's not a parking spot open, consider going elsewhere," he said. "Find trailheads off of (highways) 26 and 224. Have an adventure."
Some places people don't always think of in summer, Mt. Hood National Forest public affairs officer Heather Ibsen added, are the mountain's ski areas.
"Some places that have a greater capacity are some of our ski areas, which have parking lots open so people can access trails," she explained.
From the Mt. Hood Meadows area off of Highway 35, people can access the scenic Umbrella Falls. And from Timberline Lodge, people can easily find access to Timberline Trail.
"I think a lot of people just think of those areas for winter recreation," Ibsen said. "We're recommending, too, whenever people choose that, they have a plan B or even plan C. If you go to a place you think is your secret spot and it's crowded, have a backup plan."
That said, Ibsen also said people should just be planning more in general when visiting the forest.
Many of the recreation areas are open, but not all have restrooms open to the public.
"Especially these days I feel like I do a little extra prepping to just go to Fred Meyer," Ibsen explained. "So, it's probably good to do a little extra prep before going out into the woods. Know how to go in the woods and take care of your own sanitation."
She adds that people should also always be prepared to pack out whatever trash and items they pack in, especially now without regular garbage pickup occurring on the forest.
Passes to access the forest are available online at www.fs.usda.gov/recarea/mthood, as are numerous printable trail guide maps. The ranger stations remain closed to the public for the overall safety of employees and customers, but multiple local stores also offer passes for in-person purchase.
"National forests can be a great place to get social distance, but we're asking people know before they go and be safe not only for yourself," Isben added. "We're all working together to try and keep people safe and healthy."
Kayaks on the Clackamas
For those more interested in social distancing on rivers than trails, there are multiple places to prepare for some kayaking and paddle boarding on the Clackamas River. The Estacada and Sandy areas offer several options for equipment rentals, including Clackamas River Outfitters, 360 S.W. Zobrist St., and Next Adventure, 38454 Pioneer Blvd.
Both Deek Heycamp of Next Adventure and Luke Spencer of Clackamas River Outfitters noted that activities on the water like paddling easily lend themselves to social distancing.
"Paddling can offer something healthy and fun, with natural distancing with the sport and how it works," said Spencer.
"People have figured out that going outside is a great thing to do, and it's something we can do," Heycamp added. "With paddling, by nature, you have to be separated, especially when you're moving. It's a safe and healthy way for people to get outside."
Clackamas River Outfitters is still offering guided river tours for small groups of people.
"Most of our tours are one to four people. We kept them small before, so we didn't have to change them much" Spencer said.
Because of the pandemic, both Clackamas River Outfitters and Next Adventure are taking additional steps to ensure the safety of their customers, including increased sanitizing procedures for rental items upon their return.
Watts added that whether someone plans to hike or spend time on the water while visiting the forest, it's important to come prepared.
"Know before you go," he said. "Keep an eye out on the weather, know how to get there and where you're going."
Metro and the Gorge
It was a peaceful afternoon at Blue Lake Regional Park, just a stone's throw from downtown Fairview.
Because it was a free-parking day, there were slightly more people visiting the greenspace Thursday, July 16, though not nearly as many as would have normally flocked to the lake on a warm summer afternoon. Those who did visit, however, maintained proper safety precautions.
Fishermen socially distanced along the pier, casting out their lines and chatting about their bites — it was a good day to land a trout. Couples strolled along the trails, families huddled on picnic blankets and joggers wound their way through the park.
Most of the normal amenities that make Blue Lake a popular destination were shuttered, but in the time of COVID-19, a quiet afternoon outside can be a boon for bored residents across the region.
Blue Lake is one of two Metro Regional Parks in East Multnomah County that has remained open during the pandemic. It is joined by Oxbow Regional Park, though Metro asks visitors to bring their own wipes and sanitizer to each park.
Oxbow, 3010 S.E. Oxbow Parkway, is open from 6:30 a.m. to 7 p.m. Located along the Sandy River, visitors can explore 12 miles of trails with a blend of gentle grades along the river and steeper trails up a ridge. It's also a great place to spot wildlife like mink, beavers and black bears.
Metro reminds visitors that the campground, playground areas and welcome center at Oxbow are all closed, as are permanent bathrooms, although visitors can use portable restrooms. Picnic reservations are also suspended.
Blue Lake is a great place to spend a lazy afternoon along a lake fed by underground springs. The park at 21224 N.E. Blue Lake Road in Fairview, is open from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Thursday and 8 a.m. to 7 p.m. Friday through Sunday.
Many of the amenities at Blue Lake park are unavailable. The splash pad, swim beach, picnic reservations and boat rentals are closed until further notice. Similar to Oxbow, permanent restrooms are closed in lieu of portable options. The playgrounds, basketball and volleyball courts, horseshoe pits and park office are also off limits to visitors.
For all Metro parks, there is an air of unpredictability when visiting. Park staff can intermittently limit the amount of visitors to allow for physical distancing. When staff feels park capacity has been reached, visitors will see a "We are closed" sign at the park entrance.
Those more adventurous can make their way to the trailheads peppered throughout the Columbia River Gorge that have reopened after months of being shuttered, including about half in the famous waterfall corridor.
"The main emphasis in the Gorge is on respectful visitation," said Emily Reed, network director of the Columbia Gorge Tourism Alliance. "This means avoiding crowds by finding less popular trails, practicing COVID safety, and being kind."
The trailheads had been closed due to the ongoing pandemic as well as some remaining damage from the 2017 Eagle Creek Fire. Exasperating the issue has been the closure of the Historic Columbia River Highway between Bridal Veil and Ainsworth State Park, as well as from Larch Mountain and Angel's Rest. All recreation sites along the corridor are closed.
The Historic Highway is also closed between John B. Yeon and Cascade Locks.
But there are still hikes available. A list can be downloaded from the front page of readysetgorge.com and there is an interactive map showing what is open.
"The (website) has a great summary of venturing out here during this new normal," Reed said.
Hike at your pace
Here are a few hikes of different intensities to check out on the forest:
• Little Zigzag Falls Trail
Little Zigzag Falls Trail is shady, fairly flat and runs gently uphill. It's about one mile roundtrip with a view of the scenic Little Zigzag Falls along the way.
• Old Salmon River Trail
Old Salmon River Trail is an easy, laid back four-mile hike, which connects to the Green Canyon and parallels the wild and scenic Salmon River. It is fairly kid friendly, short and flat.
• Top Spur Trail
Top Spur Trail is short but allows access to other longer and steeper trails like the Pacific Crest Trail and Timberline Trail on the northwest side of the mountain. Ibsen advises that this is a higher-elevation trail and trekking poles might be helpful. It's also a good spot for huckleberries in August.
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