- Associated Press - Sunday, April 6, 2014

SALEM, Ore. (AP) - The highlight of being an outdoors writer in Oregon is visiting places best described as “hidden gems.”

These are destinations every bit as spectacular as Oregon’s main tourist draws - Mount Hood, Columbia River Gorge, Silver Falls - that are visited a fraction of the time.

One the state’s best concentrations of hidden gems is the Central Coast Range, that long slice of green between the Willamette Valley and Oregon Coast.

Monstrous old-growth trees, 100-foot waterfalls and mountaintop viewpoints all can be had on trails here, mostly administered by Siuslaw National Forest.

In almost every case, the reason these places aren’t visited is remote location and a lack of knowledge. Not only are these trails little-known, but they’re often tucked deep at the end of confusing logging roads.

But now that we’re entering spring - the best time to enjoy these moss-draped trails - I thought I’d spotlight my top five favorite hikes of the Central Coast Range.

For exact mile-by-mile directions, follow the links to the original story.

Honorable mention: Valley of the Giants

My conscience won’t allow writing about destinations in the Central Coast Range and not mentioning Valley of the Giants, flawed though it might be.

Home to some of the largest and oldest Douglas-fir and hemlock trees in Oregon, Valley of the Giants is an island of old-growth that offers a short but stunning 1.6-mile loop.

The downside is an awful drive on confusing, unmarked and pothole-filled logging roads that requires two hours and 20 minutes from Salem.

Trailhead coordinates: N44 56.184 W123 42.933 / 44.434344, -123.929792

Info: Call or visit BLM’s Salem District Office for mile-by-mile directions and a map: (503) 375-5646; 1771 Fabry Road, SE Salem, OR 97306.

5) Niagara Falls Trail

Despite the famous name, and despite its close location to Salem, few people have even heard of this spectacular hideaway, home to a pair of 120-foot waterfalls.

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