October brings an abundance of autumn color to Oregon's Coast Range forests. However, with so many great leaf-peeping hikes around Portland, this area sometimes drops off my radar.
|A big a%$ leaf maple!
The Coast Range, full of grand, mossy fir forests, copious swordferns, and acres of deciduous trees, is a beautiful place to visit. But it's hard to love - overrun with noisy motorized recreational traffic and target shooters, and riddled with clearcuts from logging activities, I often avoid hiking here.
However, the last Friday in October I was looking for a nearby trail with good fall colors. After waiting out a morning rainstorm, I wasn't interested a long drive. Then I remembered the University Falls Trail in the nearby Coast Range. Having visited last fall, I remembered it had good "bang for your buck" autumn leaf color.
|Old stump from logging days
This year it's been difficult to predict peak leaf color. Some places have had foliage turn early, others have lagged later than usual, while a few places had the leaves drop without much color at all (my theory blames the September wildfire smoke). But as I pulled into the University Falls trailhead parking area, the adjacent forest was lit up in brilliant shades of yellow. So far so good!
|Sunlit yellow leaves
I like to hike the loop starting at the Gravelle Brothers Trail. It wanders behind a state highway maintenance yard before diving into the forest. Beginning my trek on the trail proper I noticed lots of huge leaves from nearby Big-leaf maples (or as I like to call them, Big-a$% Leaf maples) littering the ground, and I couldn't resist snapping a few selfies to show their scale.
The path dived downhill through an area of intense yellow leaves. Backlit by the sun, they lit up the forest and brightened my mood.
The first two miles delivered autumn hues in spades! Yellow and orange leaves accented the mossy fir trees. It was so beautiful, forward progress moved at a snail's pace as I tried to capture it all with my camera.
From last year's hike, I remembered finding the best leaf colors at the creek crossing. The trail intersects with the Devils Lake Fork of the Wilson River and the surrounding area is resplendent with deciduous trees of many varieties.
|Old mossy tree
And on this day it delivered once again. Not only lovely yellow and orange fall colors, there was also the added beauty of red vine maple leaves mixed in.
|Splashes of red amidst the yellow
All leaf color appeared to be at it's peak. I think this was my favorite spot of the entire hike.
|Devils Lake Fork of the Wilson River
After taking several images of the leafy beauty, I climbed uphill away from the creek, skirted a clear-cut before diving back into dense, mossy forest once again.
|Lots of vine maple by the creek
The forest here was magical. Trees draped heavily with furry moss, they looked like something out of a fairy tale. Large, green ferns lined the forest floor. This is the Coast Range scenery that I love.
|Lovely red vine maple
Since I was hiking the day before Halloween, some of the trees reminded me of ghostly bodies with spooky outstretched arms.
|Forest full of mossy trees
Want to get into the Halloween spirit? Just hike through a dark forest like this one.
|I love coastal forests
Popping out of the forest, my trail bisected an ugly clearcut (ugh!) before once again entering the woods. Leaving the clearcut behind, I glimpsed a few spots of orange from left-behind bushes glowing through the trees.
|Colors peeking through the trees
Then I followed the path downhill for a half mile to my main destination - University Falls.
|Eroded tree roots
This waterfall is a hidden gem. Nestled in a forested canyon, it's a surprisingly tall cascade, dropping 100 feet over a rocky cliff.
There was some great green color from adjacent foliage reflecting in the creek directly below the falls.
|Green reflections below the falls
As is my routine, I snapped a bunch of moving water pics before taking a short snack break. (Photos first, then food!)
|Water in motion
After my waterfall break, I continued the loop by climbing out of the canyon, past another ugly clearcut. The loggers had cleared an entire hillside but left one lone tree remaining. Why??
|Ugly clearcut (with one tree remaining-why?)
The rest of the loop wasn't quite as scenic, nor as colorful, so I was able to make up for lost photography time. That, and about halfway to my car I began to hear gunshots echoing through the forest. Not knowing the location of the source nor the character of the people shooting (were they responsible hunters having a safe target practice or beer-chugging rednecks?) was quite unsettling and caused me to quicken my pace.
|Bright yellow leaves
The gunshots continued for most of the final two hours it took to cover the remaining 5 miles. (I kept thinking how can these people afford to shoot off so much ammunition?) It was anything but relaxing, hustling through the forest, hoping the shooters weren't nearby nor aiming towards the trail. I ran into a couple of older ladies out mushroom hunting who also weren't happy about the loud disruptions.
|Forest of gold
Finally I came to the last large hill climbing through another clearcut. Then it was a short downhill ramble back to my car. Although by now the shooting had finally stopped, I was more than ready to be done with this hike.
I was happy to have hit the Coast Range fall colors at their peak. University Falls was gushing and lovely as always. However, I could have done without the endless sounds of target practice in the woods. But if you're going to hike in Oregon's Coast Range, you gotta take the good with the bad. Looking back a month later I'd say that seeing the coastal forest dressed in spectacular fall splendor was worth it.