PHILOMATH, Ore. (AP) — It was one of those fall days that had the potential to be perfect if the low-hanging clouds would just burn off.
On a recent Thursday afternoon in the Willamette Valley, the sun was working to come out as I drove from Salem through Corvallis and Philomath up to Marys Peak — known for being the highest point in the Oregon Coast Range. Sure enough, by the time I got to Corvallis, the skies were clear and robin-egg blue.
As I drove up the winding switchbacks that lead to Conner's Camp Trail at Marys Peak, sunlight danced through the brightly colored autumn leaves above me, and the temperature was brisk.
I parked the car, gathered my water bottle and a granola bar and added a couple of layers to start up the East Ridge Trail.
At the trailhead, there's a small map that outlines the 5.5-mile-round-trip hike that heads gradually north through the Suislaw National Forest dominated mostly by Douglas fir trees. The beginning of the hike starts at a pretty low elevation and is very shaded (hence the extra layers). After the first few hundred feet, the trail crosses a gravel road that was blocked off by a gate but continues north through the forest.
About 1 mile into the hike, I came upon a bench that marks a fork in the trail. I stayed to the left of the fork and was led up a slightly steep and challenging hike to the summit of Marys Peak. All trails lead to essentially the same area at Marys Peak Summit, but almost a mile and a half after the fork, the East Ridge Trail opens up into a large meadow where you get your first glimpse of the mountains in the distance.
From the meadow, Mount Hood, Mount Jefferson and the Three Sisters are all visible east of Marys Peak on a clear day. The ocean also is rumored to make an appearance on a clear day, but usually, it's a bit too hazy.
After I passed through the short meadow, the trail continues on and leads to a gravel road. To get to the summit of Marys Peak, one can take the gravel road, which gradually wraps around the side of the small mountain, or you can cross the gravel road and take a more direct and steep route.
Of course, I took the fastest and most difficult way up, my patience growing thin after getting a glimpse of the East Cascades from the meadow.
Once at the top, the silence is overwhelmingly perfect.
After about an hour and 20 minutes of hiking at a moderately quick pace, the view from the summit of Marys Peak is everything I'd hoped it would be. To the east, five different snow-peaked mountains were illuminated by the bright sunshine, making it seem like Mount Jefferson was a walkable distance from Marys Peak. To the northwest, the rolling green hills of the Willamette Valley stretch for miles, and you can't really discern any city landmarks because of the elevation. Directly to the west of the summit, the haze was a bit too heavy to see the ocean, but the beauty of the valley stretched for as far as I could see.
After eating a quick lunch and walking around the perimeter of the summit to see all angles of the beauty, I sat at a picnic table, soaking up what's left of this fall's gorgeous sunshine for nearly an hour.
On the way back down from the summit, I saw a fox trotting through the meadow. He stopped to turn and look at me and then quickly scurried off. The descent back to my car was effortless and simple, and as the sun started to go down, the forest was quiet and cool.
While I went on a Thursday and no one was around, Marys Peak is one of the most popular hikes within an hour of Salem. It is now on my list of best hikes in Oregon, giving Cascade Head near Lincoln City a run for its money.
The original story can be found on the Statesman Journal's website.
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