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Cedar Mountain Loop Hike

From Oregon Hikers Field Guide

This page is marked as a Lost Hike. The "trail" may be dangerous and hard to follow and is not recommended for beginning hikers without an experienced leader. Beginning hikers should check out our Basic Hiking Information page.
Sacaquawea and Papoose Rocks from Cedar Ridge (bobcat)
Gillette Lake and Hamilton Mountain (bobcat)
Table Mountain from Carpenters Lake (bobcat)
Vine maple (Acer circinatum), Aldrich Butte Trail (bobcat)
Cedar Creek at the winter crossing (bobcat)
Oaks on the ridge, Cedar Mountain (bobcat)
Cedar Falls, Cedar Creek (bobcat)
The hike to Cedar Mountain via the Pacific Crest Trail (not a GPS track) (bobcat) Courtesy: Caltopo
  • Start point: Bonneville TrailheadRoad.JPG
  • End point: Cedar Mountain
  • Hike Type: Lollipop loop
  • Distance: 17.1 miles
  • Elevation gain: 3970 feet
  • High Point: 1,995 feet
  • Difficulty: Difficult
  • Seasons: All year
  • Family Friendly: No
  • Backpackable:No
  • Crowded: No
Nettles
Poison Oak
Ticks

Contents

Hike Description

The loop up and over Cedar Mountain takes in some of the territory south of Table Mountain in the Columbia River Gorge. Since the closure of the Bonneville Hot Springs Resort & Spa in January 2017, the approach just got much longer and necessitates using the Pacific Crest Trail from the Bonneville Trailhead. Once you are in the Cedar Mountain area, the trails are all unofficial and there are no junction signs. While you're mostly in shady woodland, there's a diversion to Cedar Falls (best seen in the rainy season) and, higher up on Cedar Ridge, there is an excellent viewpoint. You may, of course, extend the loop by continuing to the summit ridge of Table Mountain via the West Way Trail.

Note that Foundations Recovery Network, the new owners of the former Bonneville Hot Springs Resort & Spa, are sensitive to the recent and sudden decommissioning of the Dick Thomas Trailhead and are partnering with Bonneville Trails Foundation to develop closer trailhead access. However, those options are not available for the short term, so the Bonneville Trailhead is the only option for now.

The hike starts at the Bonneville Trailhead, on the Tamanous Trail. Ta-mah-no-ous is a Native American word translated roughly as "vision quest". Young men proved their readiness to be adults by going on a search for guardian spirits. From the parking lot, you start out on a gravel road, but quickly divert up a wooded path that starts straight uphill (Incidentally, if you continue down the gravel road another 100 yards, you'll see where the nearby train track enters a tunnel). It won't be long before you have a nice viewpoint to the south overlooking the river just east of the Bonneville Dam. There won't be much more in the way of views for a while. It is somewhere in this trail section where the route crosses over the top of the aforementioned tunnel...but you'll be hard-pressed to see where!

After a little more than half a mile from the trailhead, you'll come to a junction with the Pacific Crest Trail. Turn left and you'll be heading toward Canada (even if you are heading more west than north). There are two ponds near this junction, both unnamed - the first is seasonal and you may not notice it during the warmer months; the other is farther up the trail just an 1/8 of a mile or so: watch downhill and you'll see it between the trees. Follow the trail closely in this section, and do not divert onto the overgrown forest roads that intertwine here.

In about a mile, you'll come to a clearcut as the trail turns sharply to the right. In fact, there are several clearcuts through this part of the hike; they are from different eras and in various stages of regrowth. While they are an eyesore to many, they represent a long history of forestry in this area and underscore the work of conservation groups that are responsible for the preservation of all the abundant forests that remain. Furthermore, they provide the only nearby views of Table Mountain and Greenleaf Peak. The trail can be a bit faint through here, by Pacific Crest Trail standards, but it should be easy to follow as you wind your way across the terrain of the Bonneville Landslide. It is also a strange mix of public and private land through here. Property owners have allowed access for through hikers, but it is not recommended that you divert far from the trail.

As you approach Gillette Lake, the forest gets thick again. You head up the right hand side of a dried-up creek valley and begin to gain more elevation. The trail eventually empties out at a forest road. Actually, this is the access road for the powerlines that you'll notice buzzing nearby overhead. The lake is on the other side of the road, downhill and just out of view. Look for where the trail picks back up as it heads downhill quickly. You'll see Gillette Lake, a natural lake, on your left. Continue down the hill and look for a small spur to the left. It takes you to a nice lakeside campsite. The lake is stocked with golden trout, and there are often ducks as well, particularly in the winter. In addition, check around for signs of beaver activity; there's a beaver lodge at the far end of the lake. Deer are common around dusk, feeding in the clearcuts. Putting aside the powerlines overhead, it is a pleasant, tranquil location. The lake often has a green coloration that gives it some character. The distinct profile of Hamilton Mountain is in evidence to the west.

Back on the Crest Trail, cross the Gillette Creek Bridge and continue through logged areas above dark little Greenleaf Pond. From here, you'll cross Greenleaf Creek Bridge over rushing Greenleaf Creek (You'll hear a waterfall cascading below, but this is on private land). Now, you're officially in the Gifford Pinchot National Forest as you head up an escarpment to the Greenleaf Viewpoint for a great view of the Columbia River Gorge. Farther on, you'll reach the abandoned road that today forms the Two Chiefs Trail. Turning right here would lead you to Greenleaf Falls. Make a left, however, to get to the target area of this hike.

The old track begins to descend a small valley that runs with trickling streams and harbors skunk-cabbage bogs. Below, you'll soon begin to recognize the grassy expanse of Carpenters Lake, a former beaver marsh now choked with vegetation. The trail now loops down the west side of the "lake". About 0.8 miles from the Pacific Crest Trail, you'll reach the Aldrich Butte-Two Chiefs Trail Junction. From the junction, you can walk to your left down to the verge of the marsh and get a great view of Table Mountain along with a clear perspective of Sacaquawea and Papoose Rocks. Locals say that there had always been an actual lake here until quite recently. The lake dried up when beaver activity diminished. Go right from the junction on what is known as the Aldrich Butte Road. As it begins to rise, the road makes one bend and then another, where you’ll arrive at a junction with a trail heading north. This road heads north toward Table Mountain and another junction with the Pacific Crest Trail. You are going to stay left on the main track which begins heading up the backside of Aldrich Butte.

At this point, you are gaining elevation steadily and traveling south toward the top of Aldrich Butte. Here, the road-like quality of the trail is most defined and runs nearly straight. Incidentally, this road was originally built in 1942 as an access to a gun emplacement at the summit of the Butte, the intention being to provide a defensive position for the Bonneville Dam in the late stages of World War II. About half way up this straight section, keep your eye out for a junction on your right, just after a large rock outcropping. This is the Aldrich Butte-Cedar Falls Trail Junction. If you’ve been to the top of Aldrich Butte and would rather skip it this time, then this is where you would turn off the main trail. If you haven’t, you should! There’s a nice clearing up there, with some great views of the entire Bonneville area. Looking north from the summit you get your first view of Cedar Mountain. However, your best views are toward the Gorge looking south. When you’re up there, be sure to take the light trail up to the true summit. It’s wooded, so it’s not quite so obvious. Here, you will see the remains of the old military position.

Return to the Aldrich Butte-Cedar Falls Trail Junction, and go left. Head southwest down Aldrich Butte’s western slope. Past a large, decaying log, the road bed becomes a trail. Then, briefly, the trail uses an alder-colonized road bed again before dropping down the slope, Switchback between two Douglas-firs, and then switchback again at the Cedar Falls-Aldrich Butte Cutoff Trail Junction. Reach the cedar groves at the Cedar Creek Crossing. At times of high water, you can head about 100 yards downstream and, past a large grand fir with an old growth Douglas-fir looming up the slope, cross on a mossy log that has been refurbished to provide better footing; during dry periods, this is an easy rock hop.

The trail resumes on the opposite bank, rising and then dropping before ascending again and rounding the nose of a ridge along an extremely steep slope. You should be able to see Cedar Falls below at this point. Reach the four-way Cedar Falls-Cedar Mountain Trail Junction. The rough, steep trail down to Cedar Falls drops down the ridge crest and switchbacks at a stump. Switchback twice more and reach the alder-shaded creek. There are good views of the three-tiered falls from the creek bank; the falls are best seen from late fall to spring, when the water levels are high and the leaves have dropped from the alders: in summer, they become a mere trickle. The falls pours over a shelf of conglomerate from the Eagle Creek Formation, sediments laid down during the Miocene before the massive Columbia River basalt flows.

Return to the Cedar Falls-Cedar Mountain Trail Junction and keep straight up the ridge crest (See the Aldrich Butte-Cedar Falls Loop Hike for a description of a loop to the west of here). Hike up a rough path to the steep, narrow ridge crest: this is a basaltic dike intruded into the Eagle Creek conglomerates and the slope falls away almost vertically to the west. A small creek runs down to the right as you continue up under Douglas-firs through a carpet of Oregon grape. You’ll reach the first of several oak meadows and then the trail skirts an active slide with a couple of Douglas-firs arching skyward, clinging to Cedar Mountain’s ridge with a labyrinth of roots. Above a cliff, you’ll get a good view of the western slopes of Hamilton Mountain. Hike through a mossy clearing and then up a grassy crest strewn with a few boulders, getting more views west. Keep to the open ridge to pass through a small copse of oaks. Look back to get views of the Oregon Gorge. The trail goes up over a large slab of conglomerate and reenters Douglas-fir woods on the ridge crest. Drop slightly and then continue up above a grassy slope that offers another vista west. As you reenter the woods at a patch of pinemat manzanita, you’ve reached the summit of Cedar Mountain.

CAUTION: This next section of the route can be tricky to navigate correctly once the foliage comes out in spring and summer.

Now enter a dark, young Douglas-fir forest. You’ll notice rectangular white reflector patches on trees here. The track here can be rather obscure as it wends through the Oregon grape and there may be winter debris strewn about. Reach a more mature coniferous woodland and then a maple/alder saddle. The trail veers right as you pass by many rotten snags, the remnants of an old burn. Drop off the saddle and trend left at an old logging track right above a spring. Pass a large Douglas-fir and wade through Oregon grape under an avenue of alders. Where a pile of sticks blocks the road, the Cedar Mountain Trail heads up the ridge crest to the left.

(For a shortcut back to the Pacific Crest Trail, keep right through a carpet of Oregon grape, vanilla leaf, candy flower, and bleeding heart. Reach a large log across your path. Go over the log and then make your way through vine maples before dropping down the slope to your right. You’ll reach a road bed, where you go left. The road reaches a slope and turns down to the right. Descend past a spring and reach Cedar Creek. Find a way down to the creek (It’s very steep) and then up Cedar Creek’s east bank. Try to pick this crossing to be opposite a slump in the hillside opposite. You’ll reach the PCT, where you go right.)

To continue up Cedar Ridge, wind up and then ascend precipitously on the ridge to reach a great viewpoint of the Bonneville Dam and Sacaquawea and Papoose Rocks from the edge of a steep, oak-lined meadow (This is actually in the easternmost section of Beacon Rock State Park). Undulate along the ridge and then rise through young Douglas-fir forest before dropping a little and then reaching a small ridgetop meadow with a campsite. Continue on the ridge crest from here to the signboard at the Pacific Crest-West Table Mountain Trail Junction - if you're ascending Table Mountain, keep straight here.

To complete the Cedar Mountain loop, go right on the Pacific Crest Trail, and drop through coniferous forest. Pass the Pacific Crest-Heartbreak Ridge Trail Junction with its signboard about the Table Mountain Natural Resource Conservation Area. Wind down and cross a creek before descending to a vine maple gully. Pass some large snags and swing left under a mossy rock face to reach the first Pacific Crest-Aldrich PCT Bypass Trail Junction. Keep right and cross a slumping slope with Cedar Creek flowing down to your left (This would be where you cut across to take the shortcut described two paragraphs above). Descend above Stick Camp and come to a four-way junction (This is the second Pacific Crest-Aldrich PCT Bypass Trail Junction).

Go left here to keep on the Pacific Crest Trail all the way back to the Bonneville Trailhead.

Fees, Regulations, etc.

Maps

Note that only the Pacific Crest Trail part of the route is shown on these maps:

  • Green Trails Maps: Bonneville Dam, OR #429
  • Green Trails Maps: Columbia River Gorge - West #428S
  • Geo-Graphics: Trails of the Columbia Gorge
  • U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service/Bureau of Land Management: Columbia River Gorge
  • U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service: Mt. Adams Ranger District
  • U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service: Gifford Pinchot National Forest

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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.