Mt Hood National Forest
To celebrate the impending end of winter, I decided to make one of my favorite treks from the snowy slopes of Mt. Hood National Forest to the Oregon Coast. I spent a few days romping around in the deep snow of the mountains seeing how far back on some of my favorite logging roads I could get without having to winch myself out. The system of forest service and fire roads in Oregon’s MHNF are one of my very favorite places to explore. Once the snow melts I will spend weeks up there getting lost in the wilderness. This time of year I’m usually the only person camping up in this part of the woods. The bitter cold and threats of extreme weather tend to keep most overnighters out of the mountains. The end of winter is almost perfect for what I’m looking for up on the mountain, I spend my days walking by the roaring creeks and listening to the Varied Thrush call life back into the landscape.
Once I’d had my fill of high elevation exploration I started my descent from Government Camp down the spine of the Oregon Cascades working towards Estacada and the endless wilderness off of highway 22 around the Santiam river. I never have to compete with the crowds to get into my favorite tucked away spots. The thick moody fog that often paints this landscape offers ample opportunities to capture stunning imagery. While it is always a little disappointing that backwoods access is restricted in the winter, the forests of the Oregon Cascades provide unparalleled beauty regardless of the season. I’m shocked by the vivacity of the Pacific Northwest forests, everything can be under 10 feet of snow yet there is still life thriving underneath.
Following the rivers down from the mountains towards the ocean the landscape blossoms. Where the forests meet the fields lies Silver Falls State park. The Silver Falls hike of ten falls is an incredible way to spend a day in the forest, though this time of year a sturdy pair of ice cleats and some trekking poles will be necessary if you are going to explore the icy trails. After making my pit stop to photograph the first few falls on the hike I headed out into the farmlands of Polk County. I could wander around these lush pastures for days appreciating the rustic beauty. It’s hard to describe the pleasure I get from watching the fields evolve into mountains; transitioning up through this gentle ascent is like a lesson in landscape ecology. The fields turn to patchy trees leading up through the thickening flora while the small creeks become lush streams leading to waterfalls.
I sat and watched a giant red-tailed hawk survey his domain in search of food along the bank of the roaring Nestucca River, these little moments of tranquility always stand as a reminder as to why I hold habitat conservation so dear. With only a third of our public lands permanently protected the vast majority of our outdoor resources are under constant and growing threat of recreational and energy development. I believe that there can be a healthy balance of low impact recreational use in conjunction with long-term conservation.
The little barrier the Siuslaw National Forest provides between the rich farmlands and the coast acts as a welcomed intermission and a chance to catch my breath before I’m spat out onto one of the most scenic stretches of landscape that America has to offer.
I don’t know if there’s anywhere with more abundance of life than the Oregon coast. Witnessing the wildlife teeming over from the steep foggy hillsides that slope sharply to meet the wild waters, I am also the reminded that my life is better lived being in touch with what makes me feel human. I often wander the jagged coastal crags of Cape Perpetua wilderness for hours searching the tidal pools for life and hoping to see the amazing fauna that the Pacific Ocean makes so readily available. I remember my first time sitting high on the rocks above Cape Cove next to the historic Heceta Head lighthouse. Watching the massive waves crash fifty feet over the crags below was awe-inspiring. Since that first experience, I’ve always made an effort to visit these majestic cliffs every year during the rainy season. Experiencing these moments of clarity in the outdoors reminds me of the freedom and opportunity full-time travel allows me. I can be sitting next to the ocean before the sun comes up, and watch the moon rise over the mountains that same evening. Deciding to spend most of this winter in the Pacific Northwest has been one of my better ideas. I grew up watching everything die and then gradually creep back to life in my native Ozarks, so to see the landscape power through the winter with such green ferocity on the West Coast is incredible.
This winter I’ve seen deserts, canyons, redwoods, eagles, whales, bears, foxes, otters, giant majestic waterfalls. I’ve spent the night in dried lake beds, hiked to glacier-capped mountains, explored lush vibrant valleys, seen dozens of epic sunsets and sunrises, slept in the long grass on a tiny island in the Pacific ocean, slogged through more snow than I knew what to do with, and sat through way more rain then I would have liked.
There’s nothing like traveling in the winter, it feels like everything belongs to you. A lot of people seem to only be headed from here to there, leaving most of the outdoors open to those who are willing to brave the harsher conditions. Being a full-time traveler allows me to take my time deciding where I want to be, I generally start my winters in the southwestern deserts and then gradually work my way up the west coast as things begin to melt.
I spend a lot of time exploring the West Coast and generally if the weather isn’t to my liking I can head somewhere else. This winter was different. I endured the floods of northern California and spent chilly nights tucked up in the waist deep snow of the Mt Hood National Forest. There’s a little leak in the cabin window of my Chinook camper, I kept telling myself to fix it last summer but couldn’t find the time. The months of emptying the little Tupperware that I put under the drip has served as a constant reminder to get things done.
This winter hasn’t been very easy as a full-time traveler. I started off the season with some pretty terrifying mountain road descents in Colorado, sub-zero temperatures in Utah, losing my wallet in Death Valley, flooding in Northern California, before settling for endless rainy nights in Oregon. This winter has also been one of the most visually rewarding few months of my life, I’ve seen bald eagles soar through foggy trees overlooking the ocean and baby gray whales practicing their breach in Big Sur. While there are countless reasons that I choose to travel full-time, access to the diversity of landscape that this life affords me is by far one of the greatest benefits.
* OutdoorX4 Magazine – Promoting responsible 4×4 adventure travel and outdoor recreation