Hiking brings happiness

So, you say there is no place to go for spring break? You don’t have enough money? Hiking will solve both problems and more.

You can get out, see some sights, get some exercise and do it all for a minimal cost. Here are a few tips on what to bring, how to get there and what to look for.

Essential gear

Although it is not necessary to have the newest, most high-tech or most expensive gear, here are a few items to make your hike more succesful and enjoyable.

Proper footwear ranks as the most important item on your list. Lightweight hiking boots are sufficient for most types of terrain and are rather inexpensive. Cross-trainers and other hybrid shoes may work, but try to wear something with good ankle support.

Next, you’ll probably want a small backpack. It doesn’t have to be fancy or name brand. It just needs to hold a few trail necessities.

Bring water. You can live for days without food, but dehydration sets in quickly, clouding judgement and overall athletic performance.

Next, you’ll probably want some trail snacks. There are a variety of energy-dense trail foods, from granola to food bars to dried fruits, and don’t forget some chocolate (don’t worry, you’ll probably burn off the calories).

It’s also a good idea to have a map and compass, even for short, easy hikes. Make sure you know how to use them. You may not get lost, but you might want to know which peak is across from you and a map and compass can help you figure it out.

Be sure to bring a couple pairs of dry socks and an extra layer of clothing. The layer will keep you warm and comfortable and clean socks reduce the wear on your feet.

Finally, don’t forget rain gear. The Pacific Northwest is notorious for sudden rain, especially in the spring. If you can stay dry, you can keep hiking and enjoying yourself.

Here are a few hikes in the area, ranging from easy to difficult.

Easy hikes around Portland

Forest Park is a convenient launching ground for any beginning hiker, as well as being a rich resource of easy hikes that rest just at the edge of downtown Portland.

The park encompasses more than 5,000 wooded acres, making it the largest forested urban park in the United States. The Wildwood Trail is the centerpiece of the park. It starts in Washington Park and winds for 27 miles through beautiful landscapes, traveling far into the Tualatin mountains along the Columbia River.

Angel’s Rest is another great beginners hike with big rewarding views of the Columbia River Gorge and beyond.

Take Interstate 84 east until the Corbett exit. Follow the signs to the trailhead. The trail climbs about 1,500 feet over about 2.2 miles. The path is lined with old growth trees and leads to a rocky outcrop that affords views up and down the Columbia river. You’ll need a Northwest Forest Pass, which can be purchased at any U.S. Forest Service office and is good for a year from the purchase date.

Moderately difficult hikes

The Eagle Creek Gorge is probably the second most visited spot (behind Multnomah Falls) in the Columbia River Gorge. The trail can offer easy to more difficult hiking, depending on what you’re up for.

An easy hike leads from the Eagle Creek fish hatchery, just off I-84, to Punchbowl falls. The trail skirts along spetacular cliffs then ends up in a canyon where years of erosion have carved out a half bowl where water thunders over a stone lip, dropping into a pristine pool before migrating further down stream.

More adventurous hikers could make this a very difficult hike by walking 26 miles to Whatum Lake and back. Although this hike demands a high toll in sweat and effort, the determined hiker will receive a large payout in scenery and solitude by going farther back than most ramblers.

Silver Falls is another locale that can range from easy to more difficult. The park, which is off of Highway 22 heading east from Salem, boasts one of the largest concentrations of waterfalls in the world.

An easy loop traverses just under four miles and takes hikers underneath, around and behind huge waterfalls. For an extra four miles, one can take the 8-mile loop, which affords some extra waterfalls and a little more solitude.

Difficult hikes

For those that want a physical challenge, try Dog Mountain off of Washington Highway 14, just east of Bridge of the Gods at Cascade Locks. They call this the dog for a reason. The trail is steep and uphill all the way for over three miles.On a clear day, hikers are rewarded for their effort with Views of Mt. St. Helens, Mt. Hood and the Columbia River Gorge from the Washington side, which many claim is the better view.

Taking it to the next level

Perhaps you want something more than the typical day hike. Backpacking is for you. The gear and techniques are similar, but too varied for this article, but for those that are prepared, many sites are open and snow free.

Olympic National Park is a short drive away in the Olympic peninsula of Washington. Although the higher elevations are still socked in with snow, river trails such as the Hoh River and the Elwah River are open year-round.

Backpacking affords the opportunity to extend your range and enjoy wildlife that only comes out at dawn and dusk. The park sits deep in bear country, so make sure to hang your food. You will also get the opportunity to see elk, deer, various birds as well as some of the biggest trees on earth.

Be extra sure to prepare for rain. Some parts of the Olympic range receive hundreds of inches of rain every year.