Sometimes, trees and mountains aren’t enough…what you really need is solitude in the wild. And I have just the place in mind: the Strawberry Mountain Wilderness.
This is a tiny, mostly overlooked part of Eastern Oregon, a few miles south of Prairie City in the Malheur National Forest. Bordered by craggy peaks, this 69,350-acre wilderness is stunning. Expect alpine lakes, pine forest and sweeping meadows sprinkled with — you guessed it — wild strawberries.
Odds are you’ll only encounter a few travelers in these woods, and most will be at Strawberry Campground and Little Strawberry Lake. (Yes, there’s a theme here.) But leave the people behind by wandering up the Strawberry Mountain Loop Hike if you desire a quiet but impressive hike.
This trail includes the best of the Strawberry Mountains, and starts at multiple trailheads, but pick the one named Strawberry Trailhead for the best-maintained path. You’ll climb about 4,500 feet in elevation on the way up as you hike up high passes that lead back down to scenic lakes tucked between mountain slopes. With its clear waters, Slide Lake is a beautiful stopping point. If you brought a fishing rod, now would be the time to whip it out, as brook trout populate the cold waters.
It's a loop trail, so it's easy to find your way up and down. Avoid side trails that are clearly not well used or marked, unless you're a pro hiker. And then cool off at the beautiful Strawberry Lake at the bottom, perhaps while munching on some of those strawberries you gathered during your hike.
Directions: From Portland, take highway 26 East 278 miles to Prairie City.
From Prairie City, head south on McHaley road and drive about 0.3 miles. Here the road turns left, then turn right when a sign indicates "Strawberry Lake.” You’ll find a campground and facilities here.
Note: The 2015 Canyon Creek Complex Fires swept through this area and wrecked damage to certain areas. Many of the trails within the wilderness area have yet to be cleared. All trails are currently open, but check ahead for road closures due to tree debris removal.