Best practices and resources for exploring Oregon
Whether you’re new to getting outdoors or an old pro, interested in a short stroll or an epic adventure, it’s great to refresh your knowledge on some of the basic ways to be responsible, safe, comfortable, and have fun when you’re exploring Oregon’s wild places.
First off, we all need to do our part to be responsible to the outdoor spaces we share with each other, wildlife, plants, and water. Learn more at Leave No Trace and the Center for Outdoor Ethics.
In addition, we’ve compiled some best practices and other resources on the following topics:
To get ready for a hike, doing a little research and preparing the right gear can mean the difference between a great outdoor experience and one turned memorable for all the wrong reasons. Think through some basics about your trip so you don’t have any nasty surprises.
- Schedule your trip for the best time: This can mean planning to avoid high-elevation areas during mosquito season, visiting wildflower meadows in early summer, or avoiding a popular hunting area during elk season. To avoid heat- and cold-related illnesses, consider timing your hike to avoid the hottest or coldest time of day, or forgoing your planned hike in bad weather conditions. (Hunting seasons range from late summer through fall, when it is best to wear bright colors. Learn more at ODFW.)
- Consider your group’s needs: Consider that not every friend or family member you take hiking has the same physical ability or stamina, interests, or experience outdoors. When planning a hike, consider these differences, talk to your companions in advance, and build some flexibility into your plans. Especially if you are hiking with kids, getting from point A to point B might be less doable than just exploring the trail, and it’s best to come prepared with extra snacks and fluids to keep them happy.
- Know where you are going: It’s easy to rely on GPS on your phone or vehicle these days, but when going out to explore you may find yourself out of range and thus unable to navigate. It’s a good idea to have a good road atlas or other map with you, and to find and write down directions to your hike in advance. Use directions from hiking guides or the National Forest or other agency that manages the area you’re going to ensure GPS directions are correct.
- Know what permits and regulations apply to an area:
- At some trailheads, a fee or permit is required to park and use the area, which is generally made clear by a sign and fee box. If you are on national forestlands, the most common fee is $5, which can usually be covered by the Northwest Forest Pass. National parks are covered by an America the Beautiful Pass. Golden Eagle passes also work for all of these. State parks are a different entity, and permits may be different. Check with local agency offices.
- Regulations in designated Wilderness areas limit group size to no more than twelve people, and a free self-issued permit is often required. Mountain bikes and any motorized equipment are not allowed in designated wilderness. Mushroom gathering is also prohibited in wilderness areas.
- Know what other users you might encounter: Regulations for each trail are often posted at the trailhead, but it’s a good idea to be aware of the types of activities an area is open to before you go.
- Be sure to let someone know where you are going and when you plan to be back, so that if you get stuck or lost someone knows that you are missing.
- Don’t assume you will have cell phone coverage and keep in mind that batteries drain faster when searching for signal. Consider bringing an external charger or turning your phone to airplane mode to save battery when there is no cell service.
- Check the weather and road conditions in advance, and be prepared for the conditions you might encounter. This includes being prepared for snow, mud, high water in streams, or storms that may come in during your trip. In Oregon, TripCheck.com is a good source of information for major travel routes. Condition reports for many trails can be found on websites like www.hikeoregon.net and www.oregonhikers.org.
Carrying a comfortable backpack or other bag with layers and key essentials is recommended even on short hikes - it’s good to be prepared!
Wear the right clothing: It’s best to be prepared with comfortable layers of appropriate clothing for sun, shade, rain, snow, and a variety of temperatures. You don’t need to have high-tech clothes, but should avoid wearing cotton if it will be wet or cold. Wear comfortable and sturdy shoes, preferably closed-toed to avoid getting poked or punctured, but you don’t need to have specialized hiking boots for most trips.
Carry “the ten essentials” which can help you answer two basic questions: Can you prevent emergencies and respond positively should one occur (items 1-5)? And can you safely spend a night--or more--outside (items 6-10)? Use this list as a guide and tailor it to the needs of your outing.
- Navigation. The essential basics are a reliable map and a compass (and the knowledge to use it). Be prepared with a physical or pre-downloaded map and directions.
- Headlamp or flashlight. Include spare batteries.
- Sun protection. Wear sunglasses, sun-protective clothes, and broad-spectrum sunscreen rated at least SPF 30.
- First aid Basics. Include bandages; skin closures; gauze pads and dressings; roller bandage or wrap; tape; antiseptic; blister prevention and treatment supplies; nitrile gloves; tweezers; needle; nonprescription painkillers; anti-inflammatory, anti-diarrheal, and antihistamine tablets; topical antibiotic; and any important personal prescriptions, including an EpiPen if you are allergic to bee or hornet venom.
- Knife. Also consider a multitool, strong tape, some cordage, and gear repair supplies.
- Fire. Carry at least one butane lighter (or waterproof matches) and firestarter, such as chemical heat tabs, cotton balls soaked in petroleum jelly, or commercially prepared firestarter.
- Shelter. Can be as simple as a large black garbage bag or lightweight emergency bivy sack.
- Extra food. For shorter trips a one-day supply is reasonable.
- Extra water. Carry sufficient water and have the skills and tools required to obtain and purify additional water.
- Extra clothes. Pack additional layers needed to survive the night in the worst conditions that your party may realistically encounter. And because this is Oregon, a rain jacket and rain pants are always a good idea.
Trail Etiquette: Be Considerate of Other Trail Users
It’s best to follow the golden rule when it comes to other trail users: treat them as you would like to be treated.
- Keep loud voices and noises to a minimum and let nature’s sounds prevail.
- Keep dogs under control. Dogs can be great companions on hikes, but it’s important to realize that they can have an impact on plants, wildlife, and other trail users. It is best to keep dogs on-leash and on-trail to prevent conflicts and ecological damage.
- Sharing the trail. Many trails are used by people on horseback, mountain bikes, and sometimes even motorized vehicles. Regulations for each trail are often posted at the trailhead. To avoid conflict, be aware of your surroundings and follow right-of-way etiquette:
- Hikers going uphill are working hard and should be given the right of way over hikers coming downhill. Sometimes uphill hikers will prefer to stop and let you pass coming down so they can get a short break. The uphill hiker should get to make the call. Hikers should yield to backpackers.
- Get off the trail on the downhill side when horses or other livestock approach. Quietly greet the rider and ask if you are ok where you are. Hold still, but do not hide, until they are past. Speaking softly in a calm voice will help stock animals identify you as human and not a “pack monster.”
- Watch and listen for mountain bikers, which can move quite quickly. Bikes should generally yield to hikers, but if it makes sense in the moment, step off the trail to let bikes go by.
Playing It Safe: How to Handle Emergencies
While most people have no issues while enjoying outdoor adventures, it’s good to be prepared and to know what to do in emergencies. Remember, you must take personal responsibility for your safety and well-being as you explore Oregon!
You should always carry some first aid basics if you can. You can purchase a standard first aid kit, or put one together on your own. Consider including bandages; skin closures; gauze pads and dressings; roller bandage or wrap; tape; antiseptic; blister prevention and treatment supplies; nitrile gloves; tweezers; needle; nonprescription painkillers; anti-inflammatory, anti-diarrheal, and antihistamine tablets; topical antibiotic; and any important personal prescriptions, including an EpiPen if you are allergic to bee or hornet venom.
Brush up on your first-aid knowledge or consider taking a first-aid course. A good resource for outdoors first aid can be found here.
In Oregon the most common plant that can cause a skin rash if contacted is poison oak, which grows in diverse environments. Their leaflets grow in groups of three and are sometimes shiny, and they usually grow as low shrubs but can also climb trees as a vine. If you are exposed, wash your skin with soap and cold running water, and wash clothing in hot water when you return home.
Avoid eating any plant, berry, or mushroom that you can’t positively identify as edible and safe. If you’re not sure, don’t eat it.
Heat- and Cold-related Illnesses
You can generally avoid heat- and cold-related illnesses by following basic preparedness tips. However, in extreme heat or in wet, cold weather, the life-threatening conditions of heat exhaustion, heat stroke, or hypothermia can occur.
Signs of heat exhaustion can include nausea, dizziness, headache, excessive sweating, and other symptoms of dehydration. It can often be treated by drinking fluids and resting in a cool place. Left untreated, the condition can progress to the more serious heat stroke, indicated by dry, red skin and worsening symptoms of heat exhaustion. In the event of heat exhaustion or heat stroke, get to a cool place, preferably in or near a stream, and bathe your skin with cool water.
Hypothermia occurs when a person’s body temperature drops too low, caused by exposure to extreme cold or when body heat is lost too fast. Initial symptoms include shivering and mental confusion which can worsen if shivering stops. The key to recovery is to get warm and dry as soon as possible. This can mean changing into dry clothes, wrapping in blankets, and drinking warm beverages.
Accidents, Injury, and Insect Bites
Small cuts, scrapes, and blisters are the most common injuries on the trail and can easily be cleaned and bandaged with items in a basic first aid kit. For more serious injuries like sprains and broken bones, the most important thing to do is to immobilize the injured area and get assistance to return to the car and get medical help. If you can’t walk out, send someone to call for help. Remain on the trail and do not move more than necessary while you wait for help.
Stinging and biting insects are common in many areas. Bring insect repellent to avoid bites from mosquitoes and ticks. If you are bitten by a tick, remove it with a pair of tweezers as close to the skin as possible. If you’re allergic to bee or wasp stings, be prepared with antihistamine or an EpiPen.
Encounters with Wildlife
The best way to avoid wildlife-related hazards is to be aware of your surroundings and make noise as you are hiking to alert animals to your presence. Large mammals are very rarely encountered, but if you see a cougar, bear, or wolf cub/pup move away, as the mother is likely nearby and will be protective. If confronted by an adult don’t run or turn your back. Stand your ground or back away slowly, raising your arms to look big, talking firmly, or clapping. Give the animal a way to escape, and it will likely retreat. In the unlikely event that an animal attacks, fight back using your pack, rocks, sticks, or other tools.
Many groups and organizations work to engage a diversity of outdoor lovers, build and maintain trails, and raise awareness about challenges people face to getting outdoors. Check out some of these great organizations whose work is vital to ensuring Oregon’s wild places are safe and accessible to all.
Trails groups: Looking to volunteer? Check out Trailkeepers of Oregon or contact your local Forest Service office to ask what trail groups they partner with.
Hikes and other outdoor offerings: Looking for a group to hike or explore with? Check out these options with a focus on ecology or advocacy, or look up hiking clubs near you.
- Cascade Mycological Society
- Friends of the Columbia Gorge
- Great Old Broads for Wilderness
- Native Plant Society of Oregon
- Oregon Mycological Society
- Oregon Natural Desert Association
Enhancing diversity in the outdoors: Want to support diversity and accessibility in the outdoors? Here are some great groups doing that work.
We can’t do a deep dive on everything outdoors here, but our staff have compiled some favorite books and sites to help you go as deep in the woods as you want to.
Outdoor and hiking guides
- 100 Hikes / Travel Guide series by William Sullivan. www.oregonhiking.com
- A Woman’s Guide to the Wild. By Ruby McConnell
- A Girl’s Guide to the Wild. By Ruby McConnell
- Best Hikes with Kids: Oregon. By Bonnie Henderson and Zach Urness
- Hike Oregon
- Travel Oregon
- 50 Old-Growth Hikes in the Willamette National Forest. By John Cissel
Natural history guides
- Birds of the Pacific Northwest. By Shewey, John, and Tim Blount.
- Mushrooms of the Pacific Northwest. By Ammirati, Joe, and Steve Trudell.
- Oregon Wildflowers (phone app). http://www.highcountryapps.com/OregonWildflowers
- Pacific Northwest Foraging: 120 Wild and Flavorful Edibles from Alaska Blueberries to Wild Hazelnuts. By Douglas Deur.
- Plants of the Pacific Northwest Coast. By Jim Pojar and Andy MacKinnon.
- Trees and Shrubs of the Pacific Northwest. By Mark Turner and Ellen Kulhmann.
- Wildlife of the Pacific Northwest: Tracking and Identifying Mammals, Birds, Reptiles, Amphibians, and Invertebrates. By David Moskowitz