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Gnat Creek Hike

From Oregon Hikers Field Guide

Little Barrier Falls on Gnat Creek (bobcat)
Lipstick cladonia (Cladonia macilenta) on the Upper Gnat Creek Trail (bobcat)
Gnat Creek at the trailhead (bobcat)
Douglas-fir/western hemlock forest on the Upper Gnat Creek Trail (bobcat)
General route of the Gnat Creek trails (bobcat)


Hike Description

The trails along Gnat Creek showcase a verdant 100-year-old forest of western hemlock and Sitka spruce and the creek itself supports runs of steelhead, coho, and Chinook salmon. There’s a fish hatchery to explore, a couple of small waterfalls to see, and Gnat Creek’s deep upper ravine to investigate. The trails can be divided into three sections, so there are a few alternatives for hikers: (1) Gnat Creek Campground to the hatchery (2.5 miles round trip); (2) The Nature Trail Loops at Barrier Falls and in the forest west of the hatchery road (about 1.5 miles total); (3) the Upper Gnat Creek Trail (about 4 miles in and out). The last two sections can be hiked from the Gnat Creek Hatchery Trailhead.

From the Gnat Creek Trailhead, hike past the information board up some steps into mature hemlock/Sitka spruce forest. Deer fern, salal, and long strands of spikemoss form the carpet. Cross a footbridge and get a view down into the creek from a collapsing bank. The trail drops above a bottomland of red-cedar, hemlock and salmonberry. Wind up through young trees above the steep creek bank cross a footbridge over a brook. A spur leads left down to alder and maple shaded Gnat Creek. Hike along a step bank above the creek, drop, and then wind up again before switchbacking down to another creek access point. This is a favorite fishing hole for some. From this point, wind up and cross Highway 30, Taking an old road bed before swinging left into tall hemlocks and crossing a footbridge. Cross a lawn and pass staff houses to reach the Visitor Parking area at the Gnat Creek Hatchery Trailhead.

Take time to walk around the hatchery facilities, read the information signs, and view the rearing tanks. There is one where large fish are kept year-round; a dispenser here allows you to feed them. Near this tank is an overlook to a 15-foot waterfall on a tributary stream of Gnat Creek. You can access the creek bank opposite the fall by taking a road bed down from the north end of the hatchery property.

From the covered picnic shelter at the Visitor Parking area, walk past the sign that states “Barrier Falls 1100’”. There are numbers for an interpretive hike: check and see if there are brochures at the trailhead. The path heads under powerlines and enters secondary spruce/hemlock/alder woodland. Soon you will find yourself close to the hatchery road. At a junction, go left and cross the road to the Barrier Falls Viewpoint. This is really just a five-foot drop over a basalt shelf, the Gnat Creek drainage conduits for the Columbia River basalt flows of the Miocene epoch. The trail leads down to the creek. Go left to access the falls and then head upstream cross to the creek bank. There are interpretive signs here and botanical labels, designed by a local Boy Scout troop, on some plants. There are several tie trails, but complete the loop by heading back on the “Nursing Log Sloping Trail” your original descent point and crossing the road.

Go left and reach a junction at Sign #22. This is the beginning of a another interpretive loop in replanted forest. Generally, keep right at all junctions until you return to the main trail at #15 and the beginning of the Upper Gnat Creek Trail.

Mountain bikes also use this trail, so be ready to step aside! The trail crosses a railed footbridge over a gully as it enters a clearcut replanted with hemlocks. Walk high above the creek with the clearcut on your right and tall hemlock, spruce, cedar, Douglas-fir, alder, and maple on the steep slope and creek bottom. Cross a creek in a thicket of salal, and hike through a beautiful woodland of large hemlock and Douglas-fir, with a few spruce. Huge, rotting stumps attest to the logging that took place here over a century ago. Switchback, make a traverse, and then drop through an alder grove. Head down a replanted slope and reach the level of Gnat Creek under alders and big-leaf maples festooned with strands of Methuselah’s beard. The understory here is primarily elderberry, salmonberry, and sword fern. Reach the spot where McNary Creek flows into Gnat Creek and hike up above the latter. Walk over a log bridge and up a slope to the junction for the short loop at the end of the trail.

Go right up to an old alder-shaded road bed and descend it to a junction at Bigfoot Creek. The unmarked trail going right heads up for less than a quarter of a mile to the end of a spur off Bigfoot Creek Road. The little loop continues around to a small stand of Douglas-firs and hemlocks that shade a bench overlooking Gnat Creek: an excellent lunch spot. Complete the loop and head back the way you came.

The end of the hatchery road is at a weir and fish ladder/counting station. Keep on the trails near the creek to pass the Barrier Falls Viewpoint and more interpretive signs. Pass under a mossy vine maple arbor and then through the salal thicket under the powerlines. Walk under the elaborate trellis that is the official trailhead and see the viewing point to the tributary falls on your right. From this point, cross the hatchery grounds to return to your vehicle.

Note: Gnat Creek Falls, a 100-foot waterfall, and its accompanying drops, are upstream from the end of the trail. The falls can be accessed using forest roads, but are on private property. Signs at the hatchery admonish waterfall-seekers to get permission from the property owner to do this.


Fees, Regulations, etc.

  • Share trail with mountain bikers

Trip Reports

Related Discussions / Q&A

Guidebooks that cover this hike

Afoot & Afield: Portland/Vancouver by Douglas Lorain (lower portion of trail)

More Links


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.

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