Whether you’re looking to explore the Grand Canyon Rim to Rim, summit Mount Hood, tackle the Mt. Whitney stretch of the PCT, head across the world to take on Mont Blanc, Kilimanjaro, or any other major trail or peak this summer, nothing is better for hiking conditioning than hiking.
That is to say stair steppers and incline treadmills just can’t compete with the variable terrain or length of climbing an actual mountain and they sure don’t have the bonus views along the way. Of course living in the Portland area (or visiting, you’re welcome to use this guide too) there are almost too many trails out there so to help you narrow down the options to routes that will get you ready for your adventure, here are a few of my picks.
Angel’s Rest. With around 1,450′ of gain over 2.4 miles (one-way), topping out Angel’s Rest is hardly a sign that you are ready to take on Mount Shasta but it is a great place to start and a no-excuse trail even on workdays. With consistent incline throughout much of the route and a few rocky spots to work on stabilization, Angel’s Rest will get your legs working for a couple hours while its location just 30 minutes from downtown Portland makes it easy to slot in.
Hamilton Mountain. Heading across the Columbia River into Washington, Hamilton Mountain is often overlooked by hikers who assume 2,000′ in >3.6 miles just doesn’t stack up. But, if you look at the profile, you’ll see that Hamilton really stacks its climbing after Rodney Falls and often equals the rise over run rate of bigger hikes. Add in a couple hundred more vertical feet by starting at Beacon Rock and then >600′ more hiking Beacon before you return to your car and you have yourself a 3,000′ day.
Dog Mountain, the harder way. This one should come as no surprise of course; Dog Mountain is listed as a measure of fitness for several PNW climbs. While I think that’s overstating its challenge, there’s no doubt that the 2,800′ climb over just 3.4 miles taking the harder fork up makes for a solid incline, a meaningful day, and a fast enough route to totally take up the daylight hours. The long drive out and crowds are however drawbacks.
King’s Mountain. Keeping to the spirit of quick hikes with consistently good elevation gain, King’s Mountain in the Tillamook Forest is damn near perfect. With 2,500′ to climb over 2.5 miles and a flat stretch at the start, it’s not a huge day but it is a great, hour long burn to the top with sections that come close to scramble steepness. Smaller crowds plus the option of looping in the incredibly steep Elk Mountain make this a great choice.
Mount Defiance. If your goal is a big, dirt hike like Mount St. Helens in late summer, the Grand Canyon, Half Dome or so on, Defiance is basically the exact testing ground you need. Heck, Defiance may be bigger than your climb but without any altitude or major gear needs to consider. At over 4,800′ of climbing in just about 5 miles, the hike is steep, long and perfect for building up or testing out endurance. Take the Starvation Ridge loop up for a really aggressive start.
Eagle Creek to Twister Falls. While 1,700′ of gain over 13 miles is not exactly steep climbing, there are plenty of adventures to train for that require crossing distance in addition to elevation gain. Covering distance is hard to force yourself to do and Eagle Creek’s endless waterfall views go a long ways to making up for that while the spread out incline keeps you working well into the day, even if just lightly. Head all the way to Twister for a little more climb, distance and views.
Timberline Lodge to Palmer. Big mountain objectives usually do mean steep, steep days and for that, plus snow experience, Palmer is a great run for experienced climbers stepping it up and newcomers alike. The 2,500′ gain along the well traveled climber’s route is easy to follow (on a nice day which is not always the case) and generally all snow in Spring. Start alpine style for a chance to get use to the cold and work on those crampon skills, at least higher up the route.
McNeil Point. Accessed off the Top Spur trailhead, McNeil point is a stunning hike offering a change of pace from the gorge without being anything too crazy. While the 2,200′ climb over about 5 miles doesn’t seem like much, parts certainly are steep and in Spring much of the route can be snow covered making for a much more direct ascent. If you want to extend the climb it’s easy to wander further up the mountain later in the season.
Mount St. Helens. While Helens may be the goal for some, if you’re looking at bagging something big, it’s a great place to train on up. Hit the mountain in April or May for over 5,700′ of climbing in around 5.5 miles with plenty of snow making it one of the longest day objectives in the area. Even the “summer” route is a great burn with 4,400′ up in 4.5 miles of boulders & snow in the early season.
Camp Muir. To close out the big day objectives and with a drive that’s just barely within the day-trip range, the hike to Camp Muir combines distance, elevation gain, altitude and snow all into one making it a great destination to train for many peaks including Rainier its self. With ever changing weather and no real facilities for the day, Muir is an ideal place to work on everything from route finding to pack weight to snow skills as well, potentially even sleeping at the camp’s public shelter, just be sure to get a permit for that!
Of course there are plenty more options out there to consider too so leave a comment and share your favorite spots for views or a little conditioning!