Making the Most of Your Ancient Forest Hike

ancient forest hike, oregon

For today’s weekly featured hike, we won’t be sharing a specific trail, but rather we are sharing some tips for making the most of your hike from Oregon Wild staffer and author Chandra LeGue. Chandra is a hiking expert and her tips can apply to any hike.

This post is an excerpt from Chandra’s new book, Oregon’s Ancient Forests: A Hiking Guide, and was originally shared on Mountaineers Books blog.

Going for a hike in an ancient forest is a lot more interesting if you are armed with an inquisitive attitude, a little knowledge and context, and some extra time to enjoy the special place you are in. Here are a few tips that can help you have the best experience.

It’s all well and good to watch the trail at your feet so you don’t trip or fall, and wonderful to admire the girth of trees at eye level, but most of the forest is towering above you. First, stop hiking (walking while looking up is a sure way to lose your balance). Once stopped, look up at the forest canopy, or follow a particular trunk to its top. Perhaps what you thought was a live tree is actually a snag. You might notice interesting characteristics like twisted branching arms or multistemmed tops, or cavities that owls might nest in.

Photo: Chandra LeGue

Being a student of the forest is a fun way to enjoy your hike even more. Become familiar with the different leaves and needles, bark, cones, and shapes of different trees. Even if you don’t know what every tree is, exploring the differences between them is a great way to learn. And remember, not all trees in an ancient forest are big and old, and there can be a variety of vegetation. Small trees, shrubs, and wildflowers in the understory are fascinating to learn about as well.

Editor's Note: To learn more about the types of ancient forests that exist in Oregon, check out our blog post on the topic.

Photo: Chandra LeGue

Enjoying the forest can mean thinking about the forest’s origins and how it has developed and changed. You don’t need to be a scientist to look for signs of past logging (like stumps or same-aged trees), signs of past fire (like burn scars, charred stumps, or down logs), and signs of different successional stages. It can be quite fascinating to think about how individual trees, small stands, and whole vast forests have changed over time—and there’s no better time to do so than when hiking through an ancient forest.

Photo: Chandra LeGue

Ancient forests, with their diverse vegetation and network of organisms, offer a smorgasbord of tasty treats if you know what to look for and take the time to properly identify them. From oxalis and wild ginger leaves lining the trail, to multiple types of huckleberries on late-summer shrubs, to chanterelles and morels popping out of the ground, wild foods can be nutritious and delicious. Remember that mushroom gathering is prohibited in designated wilderness and be sure you know what something is before you eat it.

Photo: Brizz Meddings

Enjoying ancient forests isn’t just about hiking the trails through them—it’s also about just hanging out to get the full experience. Sitting or standing still in the forest—over lunch, while resting, or just because—opens you up to seeing more wildlife, noticing more of the forest floor vegetation, listening to the forest sounds, and really getting a feel for the special place you are in.

Above all, have fun, use common sense, and enjoy your adventures in Oregon’s ancient forests.

Learn more about Oregon's ancient forests, one of the region’s most precious treasures, in Oregon's Ancient Forests: A Hiking Guide. A portion of the proceeds from the sale of this book benefit Oregon Wild and their advocacy work to protect Oregon’s most precious wild areas.

Plus, meet the author, Chandra LeGue, at one of several events around the state.

Remember to follow along for book updates and event info on Facebook at Oregon’s Ancient Forests, and Instagram @oregon_ancient_forests. And in return, we’d love to follow along on your ancient forest adventures! Tag your forest photos with #OregonOldGrowth and #ORAncientForests.

For more hikes and outdoor adventures, check out our suggested outings page. 


Photo Credits
Sarah Cuddy