The Best Day Hikes on the PCT in Oregon

Let’s be real here—very few of us are able to take half a year off to hike the Pacific Crest Trail. Which is when day hikes come in handy! They’re great because you can choose any distance based on the amount of time you have or desired difficulty, and if you find yourself not ready to turn around and go back to the car, you can keep on walking down the trail! Just remember to hike wisely and don’t run out of food or water. We have been especially crushing on PCT Oregon day hikes lately. Here are some of our favorites.

For an easy day hike

Little Crater Lake to Timothy Lake
4.4 miles out-and-back

If you like having a forest to yourself, a nearby section of the PCT will be your kind of trail. You start out in a big, beautiful meadow that seems as if it should be filled with deer and elk. As for Little Crater Lake, don’t think you’re heading for something that even remotely resembles the famous Crater Lake to the south. The latter is in a caldera, while your destination is technically an artesian spring, which means that neither of Oregon’s “crater” lakes is in a crater.

None of that matters, of course. Little Crater Lake is a jewel hidden away in a pocket of trees just 500 feet into this hike. It was formed when the earth cracked along a fault and water came up through a gravel layer to wash away soil on the surface. It’s 45 feet deep, about the same distance across, and a constant 34°F.

For a tough day hike

Timberline Lodge to Paradise Park
13.7 miles out-and-back

“Going through hell to get to heaven” might seem a bit of an extreme way to put it, but this is a tough hike, especially since you have to cross a 600-foot-deep canyon twice. But Paradise Park is about as nice as things get in Oregon.

Our destination is a mountainside garden of flowers, water, and stones at the foot of a mighty volcano. As either a long day hike or an easy overnight, Paradise Park will reward your efforts with pleasant walking through fantastic scenery—after you’ve paid the price of admission.

For a stunning day hike

Wickiup Plain to Sisters Mirror Lake
15.1-mile loop

This loop through the South Sister area is dramatic in several ways. It’s volcanic, alpine, forested, moonlike, and watery at the same time. It can be a long day hike or a simple overnight or serve as the basis of a multiday exploration of the Three Sisters Wilderness. In spite of all this, the total elevation gain is barely 100 feet per mile!

If you’re feeling especially energetic, or if you’re camping in the vicinity and you have some time to explore, consider putting in a few miles south on the PCT. It first passes Camelot Lake—apparently a Forest Service ranger thought the area resembled a medieval jousting field, hence Camelot and the aformentioned Lancelot—and then it climbs 600 feet in 1.5 miles to the top of Koosah Mountain, where a sweeping view takes in South Sister, Broken Top, and Mount Bachelor.

For a day hike with the kids and dogs

Olallie Lake to Upper Lake
4.6 miles out-and-back

this casual stroll through the lovely Olallie Scenic Area visits, or comes close to, about a dozen lakes. While it might not be dramatic or challenging enough by itself to merit the long drive, the area around Olallie Lake, at this trailhead, is the perfect place to spend a weekend hiking, camping, fishing, or just lazing around.

For more PCT Oregon hikes, grab a copy of the new Day & Sections Hikes: PCT Oregon by Paul Gerald.

Tanya Twerdowsky
tanya@adventurewithkeen.com

I am a Jersey girl living in Alabama who loves to run far and eat lots.

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