Hike Saddle MountainIf you have ever driven to Astoria across the Columbia River upon the great length of the Megler Bridge – its far end lost in haze and sea spray to Astoria – and seen looming above this white city on the river a massive triple-peaked mountain, you have no doubt wondered as to what its name may be.

Crowning the Oregon Coast range, Saddle Mountain is an anomaly in this otherwise somewhat drab line of nondescript hills and ridges that extend from California to the Columbia River. ThisHike Saddle Mountain peak has seen many ages come and go, from ancient lava flows to sheets of glacial ice, to dense forests of giant trees that rolled in an unbroken sea from the Pacific to the Cascade Mountains, before all were felled when settlers crossed the land and sea to colonize this wild region. Now Saddle Mountain occupies a small state park just large enough to contain its bulk, the edges of the park sharply defined by ragged clearcuts. Despite the visual blight of this industrial forest land, the views from the top are amazing, unequaled in their breadth and singular nature. From how many other peaks might one’s gaze follow a mighty river from the snow-clad volcanoes of the Cascades through the hills and farmland to the Pacific Ocean?

Hike Saddle MountainTo reach the foot of Saddle Mountain is an adventure in itself. Whether from Portland, Astoria, Longview or the Oregon Coast, you have to drive long circuitous highways to a narrow side road that strikes out in a higgledy-piggledy tangle of curves winding through a narrow corridor of parkland, occasionally blighted by views into adjacent clearcuts. Just when you think this drive might be endless, the mountain looms before you, intimidating in its appearance, yet just begging to be climbed.

The trail dates back to the CCC (Civilian Conservation Corp) era and is as impressive as all such trails and other constructs of the CCC are. The climb to the peak is 2.6 miles and is popular, so don’t expect solitude. There is a long ascent through trees with meadows, views and precipices ever increasing in size and number as you climb. Hike Saddle MountainEventually, the trail breaks out into a vast alpine prairie, perched precariously atop basalt cliffs. This is a rare remnant of the prairies that crowned all of the peaks in the coast range following the retreating glaciers of the last ice age, and all but a few of which have been swallowed up in the encroaching forests. Rare plants, such as the Saddle Mountain Buttercress, and chocolate lilies, as well as endangered butterflies, such as the Oregon Silverspot butterfly, grace these delicate fields, some hovering on the brink of extinction. Tread with care.

The final section of the trail may bring on a case of vertigo as it traverses the massive mound of basalt, where winding switch backs are situated above yawning voids. This harrowing stretch yields the greatest reward, with a wide summit replete with the aforementioned stunning views a hundred miles wide. Not only will you have attained the highest point in the Coast Range, but the hike will also bring home the power and scope of the ancient Columbia River basalt floods, which have influenced the topography of much of the Pacific Northwest.

Hike Saddle Mountain

Other nearby hikes include trails in Oswald West State Park, the Banks-Vernonia Rail trail, Neahkahnie Mountain, as well as numerous smaller parks and points of interest such as Fishhawk Falls in Lee Wooden County Park. A weekend in Northwest Oregon, whether spent strolling through alpine prairies filled with spring flowers, or poking about the sea-mist haunted forests of the coast is a tonic for cabin fever while the high country is still blanketed in snow and slush.

Hike Saddle Mountain

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