And - choose a nearby trail.
|Lovely backlit leaves
When I'm pressed for time but still want a good bit of exercise, the Hardy Ridge Trail always fits the bill. Located in Beacon Rock State Park, it's close-in location (Washington side of the Columbia River Gorge) means a quick drive for those of us in the Portland area. If you're looking for the most hiking bang for your buck, this path delivers!
|Bright colored leaves and dewdrops
Friday was predicted to be the lone sunny day for this final week of October, before more rain moved in again (just in time for the weekend, of course!). So after completing all my morning commitments, I eagerly loaded up my backpack and camera. Pulling into the Hardy Ridge parking lot at high noon, I knew I'd have to hustle if I was going to complete the entire 9-mile loop before dark.
|Yellow leaves and blue sky
The first mile or so follows an old abandoned road, lined on both sides by thick forests. The leaves were in full color mode and I took many "photo breaks" to capture their lovely hues. Bright sunshine backlit some leaves and leftover morning dewdrops, making them sparkle like jewels.
|The famous "boot rock"
After following the old road, and detouring on a short trail through the forest, my climbing began! With a total elevation gain of 2500 feet, I climbed for quite awhile. Although the autumn colors were mostly over in these higher forests, I did pass by one local landmark, an unusual boot-shaped rock sitting on an old tree stump.
|A lot drier now than last spring!
Arriving at the junction of my loop trail, I had to get a GoPro selfie to compare with the photo I took here during last spring's soggy hike.
|Columbia River view from on high
Then I kept climbing until my path leveled out on the ridgetop. Unlike last spring's foggy, rainy hike, today's sunny skies unveiled the fabulous Gorge views this trail is known for. The Columbia River spread out below, like a wide blue ribbon.
Heading due east across the ridge, I was treated to this grand view of Table Mountain.
|My route along Hardy Ridge
Everything looked so different in the fall! Instead of lush green foliage and vividly colored wildflowers, the treeless ridgetop was mostly brown. But I was loving the big blue sky and panoramic vistas.
|Dazzling green moss
A sketchy user trail takes hikers across Hardy Ridge's spine until terminating at Phlox Point. As I approached the end, I noticed a huge patch of electric lime-green moss covering the ground.
|Mt Hood made an appearance
Phlox Point makes a wonderful resting/lunch/photo point. Today's sunny skies meant I could see the entire Gorge and Columbia River spread out below. Mt Hood's pointy top rose above the Gorge foothills, sporting her new coat of winter white.
|My lunch view
Rest break spots don't get much better than this!
|Patchwork color on the ridge
After soaking in the views and enjoying my snack, I knew it was time to get moving if I wanted to get back to my car before dark. At least the downhill trip would be quicker than my climb!
|Leaves in afternoon light
So back across the ridge I went, snapping a few more shots of the fab view. I could see clouds starting to move in from the west - tomorrow's rainstorm approaching. Made me glad I rearranged my schedule and fit this hike in today's weather window.
|Barren trees give way to river views
I took a different trail back down the ridge. It switchbacked steeply and endlessly. I thought I'd never reach the next abandoned road section, but of course it did finally materialize. Following a flat stretch for a bit, I enjoyed more Gorge glimpses through the now-bare forest.
There was still quite a bit of green hanging on in these forests. And a few golden leaves too.
|Beautiful woods walk
Late afternoon light illuminated the adjacent woods beautifully.
|Late afternoon light on the forest
And lower down, the trees still retained their golden leaves. But not for long....I could tell autumn colors were nearing the season's tail end.
|Last of the fall color
Finally I reached the same road I'd walked in on. From here it was an extremely long mile-plus trudge to my car - that seemed to take forever (I swore the trail stretchers had been out!) But the promise of a reward - beers and burger at one of my favorite Gorge brewpubs had me arriving at my car well before sundown. (Beer and food are always good motivators!)
The entire month of October was so rainy, I'm glad I took advantage of this rare sunny day to get my weekly outdoor fix.