This section, from near Siskiyou Summit (elev. 4,310’) in southernmost Oregon to the Washington border, is not only the shortest, but is also the easiest to hike or ride. Oregon’s Cascade Range is a subdued volcanic landscape, having a gentle crest that is fairly constant in elevation. The highest point in Oregon is an unnamed saddle (elev. 7,560’) north of Mt. Thielson. This, and other ancient volcanoes-Diamond Peak, Mt. Washington, and Three Finger Jack, plus recently active Mt. McLoughlin, Mt. Mazama (Crater Lake), the Three Sisters, Mt. Jefferson, and Mt. Hood – punctuate the skyline and can be seen from miles away. However, these towering edifices don’t hinder progress since the PCT skirts along their slopes.
The only major elevation change in Oregon is the 3,160’ drop into the Columbia River Scenic Gorge to cross Interstate 84 and the Columbia River on the Bridge of the Gods (elev. 180’). Whereas the prominent volcanoes are visible magnets luring travelers onward, so too are the lakes. These are not randomly scattered, but occur mostly in clusters, some of which are found north of Highway 140 in the Sky Lakes Wilderness.
The trail traverses Crater Lake National Park, where a spur trail leads to the rim for a spectacular view of this magnificent lake. The PCT passes the largely unvisited small lakes and ponds of the Diamond Peak Wilderness before crossing Highway 58 near Willamette Pass. More small lakes and ponds are found in the Three Sisters Wilderness and north of Highway 20 in the Mt. Jefferson Wilderness and the adjacent Olallie Lake Scenic Area.
In northern Oregon, the PCT is largely lake-free, although the trail visits or presents views of several sizable reservoirs. The Chief attraction for this stretch is glacier-robed Mt. Hood (elev. 11,235’), Oregon’s largest and most hazardous active volcano. Precipitation in this section results in dense, shady forests, dominated by Douglas, silver, and noble fir at lower elevations and sub-alpine fir nearer the tree-line. Other plants include pinedrops, prince’s pine, and Oregon grape in the dense forests, while pasque flower and fireweed frequent open spaces. Animals include mice, squirrels, beaver, fox, deer, and elk. Songbirds pursue insects while nutcrackers gorge themselves on pine seeds and grouse forage on the ground.