If you’re into self-sufficiency and adventure, forget the trails popular with the masses; go for the remote, off these beaten track, and rugged destinations.
The Alvord Desert
The Alvord Desert is a Great Basin salt desert below the enormous east face of Steens Mountain in the far southeastern corner of Oregon. Drive out into the desert, set up camp, and you’re good to go. Be sure to look up at the massive East Face of Steens Mountain which lights up at sunrise.
What to do: Frolic in the weird openness of the sands. Hike up Pike Creek or Wildhorse Canyon. Check out Mickey Hot Springs, but don’t try and soak—it’s way to hot.
Nearest town: Fields
Drift Creek Wilderness
Drift Creek is to wet what the Alvord Desert is to dry. A deeply cut canyon in the Oregon Coast Range, Drift Creek offers a backpacking trip through old growth forests. Embrace a mossy world with 120 inches of rainfall a year.
What to do: In autumn, fish for steelhead, Coho, and Chinook salmon. Keep an eye out for bears and elk. Swim.
Nearest Town: Waldport
Badger Creek Wilderness
Mount Hood is certainly on the beaten track…but not this wild, remote southeast corner. Badger Creek is usually sunny when the rest of the Mountain is rainy or cloudy. A mid-elevation mix of Ponderosa pine, White oak, and Douglas fir,
What to do: Backpack to Badger Lake. Or hike to Gumjwac Saddle, where four trails radiate in different directions. Mountain bike the forest service fire roads.
Nearest town: Wamic
Paddle the Lower Columbia
West and North of Portland, the Columbia River turns into an island-filled river that becomes steadily more ocean-like as you meet the sea west of Astoria. As you paddle west, the river widens, winds rise, the tide exerts its pull, and barnacles begin to cling to river pilings.
What to do: Paddle the Lower Columbia Water Trail either in day-trip segments or in one fell swoop. Skills paddling in wind are required.
Nearest town: Astoria, Clatskanie, Rainier
Hart Mountain National Antelope Refuge
A giant fault-block rising high above the high desert plateaus of Southern-Central Oregon, Hart Mountain is one of the most remote places in Oregon. There are virtually no established trails, but it’s a wide open landscape the exploring. It’s also misnamed: its namesake critter, the Pronghorn, is actually unrelated to African Antelope.
What to do: Camp near hart lake. Hike or backpack cross country or drive and camp the back roads, or explore by horseback.
Nearest town: Plush
Cascade Head from the Water
Thousands of people hike up Cascade Head for the ocean view. But it’s even more stunning beautiful from below, from the seat of a sea kayak. From the water, the rugged handland is pocked with sea caves, tunnels, and arches. On a calm day, skilled sea kayakers can venture into Poseidon’s den to explore this rugged coastline as no other craft can. Not for novices or the faint of heart.
What to do: on calm days with skills, venture out along the Head. For a more protected adventure, paddle the salt marshes of the Salmon River.
Nearest town: Otis
The Hidden Willamette River
Since 80 percent of Oregon’s population lives in the Willamette Valley, it may seem hard to think of the Willamette as “wild" but it is. A few minutes from a boat launch in Eugene, Corvallis, or Salem, you’ll feel like you’re in a wilderness, screened from roads and farms as the river glides by hidden in its valley and screened off by trees. Camping spots abound. You’ll just need a canoe and someone to shuttle your car around.
What to do: Paddle 3-5 days from town to town.
Nearest towns: Eugene, Corvallis, Albany, Salem