Hiking Oregon’s “Banana Belt”

written by Anna Bird | photo by Tom Ashton

By this time of year, cabin fever has likely set in. We yearn for sunshine, even if that means dusty trails. Luckily for Oregonians, there are microclimates within reach that create a “banana belt” effect—warmer average temperatures than surrounding areas. If you want to hit the trail without heavy layers and snowshoes or muck boots, consider these banana belt hikes.

Brookings: Samuel H. Boardman State Scenic Corridor

Average February high: 56 degrees

Brookings is Oregon’s most well-known banana belt with unusually warm temperatures year-round for an Oregon coastal town. In the southwestern-most corner, Brookings even has a few palm trees. Samuel H. Boardman State Scenic Corridor, a 12-mile linear state park between the ocean and Highway 101, is easily the most beautiful section of the Oregon Coast. The 27-mile Oregon Coast Trail meanders through part of the park, and there are plenty of short, easy hikes with beautiful views. Spend the day exploring the length of the park, complete with forests of 300-year-old Sitka spruce, small sandy beaches, rugged cliffs, wildflower-covered capes (during spring) and amazing rock formations offshore. Alternatively, take a short, leisurely hike to Pistol River State Scenic Viewpoint (on the north end of the park) and enjoy a picnic with incredible views.

Distance: Varies

Medford: Table Rock

Average February high: 53 degrees

Upper and Lower Table Rock are two popular volcanic plateaus near Medford, perfect for year-round hikes, especially for those interested in plants, bird watching or geology. The diverse landscape surrounding the two 800-foot mesas includes mixed hardwood forests, grasslands, oak savannah and lava rock. Spring is perhaps the best time to visit Table Rock because of the wide variety of wildflowers, including the dwarf wooly meadowfoam that grows exclusively on these rock formations. It is also the prime season for migratory bird watching. There are also vernal pool fairy shrimp, rare freshwater crustaceans that inhabit seasonal vernal pools atop each Table Rock. Once you reach the summit, you will also be treated to panoramic views of the Rogue River Valley. On a clear day you can see Mt. McLoughlin, Mt. Ashland and Pilot Rock (the volcanic plug, not the town).

Despite their names, Upper Table Rock and Lower Table Rock are about the same height, and Lower Table Rock is a little bit more difficult because the trail is steeper. The area is co-managed by the BLM and Nature Conservancy, and both agencies offer interpretive tours so you can learn more about this ecologically and geographically interesting place.

Distance: Upper Table Rock, 2.7 miles roundtrip | Lower Table Rock, 3 miles round trip

Hermiston: Lewis and Clark Commemorative Trail

Average February high: 49 degrees

About ten miles from Hermiston, closer to Umatilla, is the start of the Lewis and Clark Commemorative Trail at McNary Beach Park. The gravel trail follows the Columbia River for a 7.6-mile portion of the famous expedition. With intermittent sandy sections, the relatively flat trail meanders through desert landscape and along rugged cliffs above the mighty river. Toward the end of the trail at Warehouse Beach Recreation Area, you’ll want to stop for lunch at Hat Rock State Park. Take a rest under the willow trees and enjoy views of basalt rock formations and the 70-foot monolith landmark, Hat Rock itself.

Distance: 7.6 miles one way

For more exploration of Brookings and Oregon’s other banana belt locales, find a copy of the upcoming March/April issue, on newsstands March 7.

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