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Bells Mountain Hike

From Oregon Hikers Field Guide

Cedar Creek at the footbridge (bobcat)
East Fork Lewis River from the high bridge, Moulton Falls County Park (bobcat)
The Dole Valley from Spotted Deer Mountain, Bells Mountain Trail (bobcat)
Cedar Creek, Bells Mountain Trail (bobcat)
Old burn snag on Bells Mountain (bobcat)
Route of the Bells Mountain Hike (not a GPS track) (bobcat)
  • Start point: Moulton Falls Upper TrailheadRoad.JPG
  • End point: Cedar Creek Bridge
  • Trail Log:
  • Hike Type: In and out
  • Distance: 15.6 miles
  • Elevation gain: 3040 feet
  • High point: 1,690 feet
  • Difficulty: Difficult
  • Seasons: All year
  • Family Friendly: No
  • Backpackable: Yes
  • Crowded: No

Contents

Hike Description

The Bells Mountain Trail has been designated part of a 31-mile “National Recreation Trail” which begins at the Hantwick Road Trailhead and ends at the Bluff Mountain Trailhead. This moniker is slightly ironic as there is no trail in our area that takes in so many clearcuts and brand-new logging roads; in this respect, and because of destructive ATV incursions, it has been declared an “endangered” trail by the Washington Trails Association. The trail was constructed by the Chinook Trail Association, using a substantial grant, which has included it in their vision for a 300-mile loop trail around the Columbia Gorge. From the clearcuts, there are great views on a fine day of the Dole Valley, back to Yacolt, Kloochman Butte, Larch Mountain, Silver Star Mountain, Mount Saint Helens, and Mount Adams. Wildflowers will be out in the spring and the second half of the hike runs along quiet Cedar Creek.

A car shuttle is possible in the spring and summer when the road to Cold Creek Trailhead is open.

WARNING: Pay attention to temporary signs posted at the trailheads and junctions. There is frequent logging activity along this trail. The trail may be closed at some points, entirely closed, or closed on weekdays.

You can visit both Moulton Falls and Yacolt Falls before crossing the East Fork on the high bridge and heading down the East Fork Lewis River Greenway on the “baby stroller” trail on the old railroad grade. To reach the bridge from the Moulton Falls Trailhead, walk on the path next to the highway and then cut in past a shed and traverse up the hill to the bridge. From the Moulton Falls Upper Trailhead, which has many more parking spaces, drop in Douglas-fir woods with a sword fern, salal, Oregon grape, and salmonberry understory to a junction. Go left here and head up to cross the East Fork High Bridge and get a bird’s eye view of the gorge on both sides.

Keep straight on the wide, flat railroad grade to pass another picnic area down to the right. Get a view through the alders and cedars to little Moulton Falls pushing through its cleft. Pass under a rock face and then through an alley of red alder. Drop gently to a footbridge and, a few yards later, come to the Moulton Falls-Bells Mountain Trail Junction, with its kiosk and signboard indicating 7.2 miles to Cold Creek.

Go left here, rise up the slopes of Bells Mountain, and switchback in mossy Douglas-fir, big-leaf maple, and alder woods with a sword fern carpet. Then the trail makes a descending traverse and crosses a footbridge above a small waterfall. Ascend in three switchbacks and come to the 0.5 mile marker (You will see these DNR half-mile posts the length of the hike). Keep left at a junction with a trail that leads down to a clearcut. Cross a footbridge at a spring sprouting skunk-cabbage and keep rising to pass your first clearcut of the day. There’s a view back down the Dole Valley to Yacolt from here. Reenter a stand of forest left along a creek and then enter a replanted clearcut, crossing the end of a logging spur. Enter leafy woods again, cross a creek and come to another clearcut (It should be said that the clearcuts leaf out with lush shrubbery and blooms in the spring and early summer, making the trip a little more palatable). Navigate the slope, cross another forested creek drainage, and meet a large clearcut, hike across it, and then enter a Douglas-fir plantation. Cross a bulrush-hemmed stream at the 2.5 mile marker and make a gentle descent to a logging road. Go right for 15 yards and resume the trail, which drops alongside and alder-shaded creek. Join an old road bed and descend to switchback down to a sturdy footbridge over the creek which runs between Bells and Spotted Deer Mountains.

The trail rises in mossy secondary forest, crossing above a spring in an alder-shaded bowl. Enter a recent clearcut with a view back to Bells Mountain. Cross a newly decommissioned logging road and pass through two forested creek corridors at Milepost 4.0 before hitting clearcut slopes again. The trail reaches a road. Here you need to head 200 yards up to the left before finding the resumption of the path. Hike across another wide swath of clearcut slope with views ahead to Silver Star Mountain. Pass through a tree island and reach a road. Go right 15 yards and find the trail one more time. Alternate more clearcut and forested corridors before reaching a clearcut slope with a direct view to Larch Mountain. The trail has been rerouted down the left side of this cut and then angles down to cross an abandoned ATV track that parallels Cedar Creek.

The rest of the hike heads up the creek, sometimes crossing or using the ATV track. Posts have been set to prevent ATVs from taking the foot trail. The lush woods along the creek are comprised of Douglas-fir, western hemlock, western red-cedar, red alder, and big-leaf maple interspersed with skunk-cabbage bogs. Footbridges cross the tributaries to Cedar Creek. Where the ATV track fords Cedar Creek, head up a sword fern slope, and then traverse down to creek level. The trail rises again in mossy woods of older Douglas-fir, cedar, and hemlock. Drop to a boggy area of devil’s club, skunk-cabbage, and salmonberry. At about Milepost 7.0, get views of the Cold Creek Day-use Area across Cedar Creek. Switchback down from the edge of a clearcut, cross a creek, and hike on the level to the large “continental bridge” over Cedar Creek to reach the Cedar Creek Bridge.

This is a good turn around point. To the right is a small viewing platform at a pretty scene: tall conifers shade a short drop in the cold, clear waters of the creek and you might observe a dipper bobbing for insects in the spate. From the junction, the Bells Mountain Trail continues another 0.6 miles to its junction with the Tarbell Trail. If you are doing a car shuttle, it’s 0.2 miles on a universal trail to the Cold Creek Day-use Area.


Maps

Regulations or restrictions, etc

  • Share trail with mountain bikers and horses
  • Be prepared to encounter logging activity on weekdays
  • Occasional trail closures because of logging activity

Trip Reports

Related Discussions / Q&A

Guidebooks that cover this hike

  • Afoot & Afield: Portland/Vancouver by Douglas Lorain
  • Day Hiking: Columbia River Gorge by Craig Romano

More Links


Contributors

Oregon Hikers Field Guide is built as a collaborative effort by its user community. While we make every effort to fact-check, information found here should be considered anecdotal. You should cross-check against other references before planning a hike. Trail routing and conditions are subject to change. Please contact us if you notice errors on this page.

Hiking is a potentially risky activity, and the entire risk for users of this field guide is assumed by the user, and in no event shall Trailkeepers of Oregon be liable for any injury or damages suffered as a result of relying on content in this field guide. All content posted on the field guide becomes the property of Trailkeepers of Oregon, and may not be used without permission.