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Larch Mountain Hike

From Oregon Hikers Field Guide

The Benson Bridge at Multnomah Falls is one of many exciting destinations on the way to Larch Mountain (Steve Hart)
Ecola Falls along the Larch Mountain Trail (Steve Hart)
One of the many small cascades on Multnomah Creek (Tom Kloster)
The big talus slope, Larch Mountain Trail (bobcat)
Sherrard Point with a covering of snow (bobcat)
Mount Hood from Sherrard Point (on Larch Mountain) (Jeff Statt)
Map of the hike—note there are several loop options with nearby trails (click to open in full size)
  • Start point: Multnomah Falls TrailheadRoad.JPG
  • End Point: Sherrard Point (Larch Mountain)
  • Trail Log: Trail Log
  • Hike type: Out and back
  • Distance: 14.4 miles round trip
  • High point: 4,055 feet
  • Elevation gain: 4010 feet
  • Difficulty: Difficult
  • Seasons: Apr–Nov
  • Family Friendly: No
  • Backpackable: Yes
  • Crowded: Extremely crowded to Falls Lookout; quite crowded to Wahkeena Trail junction

Contents

Hike Description

NOTICE: Most trails on the Oregon side of the Columbia River Gorge are closed until further notice because of damage from the Eagle Creek Fire. The closure involves ALL trails between Rooster Rock State Park and Hood River. It is anticipated that most of these trails may not reopen until Spring or Summer 2018. Please check the list of Columbia Gorge trail closures before you plan for a hike.

For a hike that gains almost exactly 4,000 feet, this excursion seems relatively forgiving for those in decent shape. The gain is, in fact, constant, and usually not steep enough to quicken your heart beat once you set your pace. The goal is the volcanic plug at the top of Larch Mountain known as Sherrard Point. The mountain itself is one of the three Boring stratovolcanoes (the others being Mount Sylvania and Highland Butte) and is the highest point in the west Gorge; thus, the views are expansive. In addition, throw in some imposing old-growth Douglas-firs and hemlocks, a lush mossy understory, and a variety of Gorge blooms at Sherrard Point in the summer. Part of the route crosses the westernmost tongue of the Mark O. Hatfield Wilderness. A car shuttle will make this a seven-mile traverse hike.

The Larch Mountain trail was constructed in 1915 by founding members of the Trails Club of Oregon. Portland residents might recognize the names of a few early members such as store owners Julius Meier and Aaron Frank, newspaperman Henry Pittock, and Columbia River Highway Builders Sam Lancaster and Simon Benson. Today the Trails Club still maintains Nesika Lodge on a spur trail off of the Larch Mountain Trail.

The hike begins at Multnomah Falls Lodge, a historic building built in 1925 to serve early automobile travelers. From a photographer's viewpoint, get a head on vista of both the lower and main tiers of 635-foot Multnomah Falls and the picturesque span of the Benson Bridge. From here, the trail is a gently sloped quarter-mile up to the Benson Bridge, constructed in 1914 by Simon Benson, one of the builders of the old highway. This part of the trail is paved and very crowded, although one small flight of a few stairs blocks the way to wheelchairs beyond the lower falls viewpoint.

Beyond the bridge, the asphalt trail switches up steeply for another mile to a ridgecrest (There are 11 switchbacks to be exact). At the first switchback, you'll come to the Larch Mountain-Gorge Trail Junction. At the fourth switchback, a scree slope shelters a busy colony of pikas, which tend to disappear when the midday crowds show up. As you ascend higher on the slope, look for Columbia River views. From the Switchback #9 at the top, the trail drops slightly to a junction labeled "Multnomah Falls Viewpoint". The asphalt follows the side path to the Multnomah Falls Upper Viewpoint, a balcony of sorts at the lip of Multnomah Falls looking down on the lodge and the crowds below.

On returning to the main trail, turn upcreek and cross a rock-faced culvert over Multnomah Creek. Pass the old junction with the Perdition Trail, a lower link to the Wahkeena Trail across the face of the Gorge that was severely damaged by the October 1991 Perdition Fire and permanently closed. The next three miles of the Larch Mountain Trail parallel Multnomah Creek offering numerous scenic views. The trail passes Lower, Middle and Upper Dutchman Falls, followed by a unique trip through a creek washed overhang called Dutchman Tunnel. Just beyond the tunnel, you'll come to Weisendanger Falls (A plaque honoring Albert Weisendanger, a Forest Service ranger, can be found in Dutchman Tunnel). The trail switchbacks four times above Weisendanger Falls, and soon passes the lip of Ecola Falls. The trail is rocky in places, but the climb isn't nearly as steep as it was in the beginning. Another quarter mile brings you to a trail junction with the Wahkeena Trail and then another creek bridge, this one made of steel (Note that the bridge is damaged and, as of 2017, only one person at a time should cross).

Above this bridge, the trail follows Multnomah Creek a short distance up the hillside. You'll cross a wide creek: it's hard to keep your feet dry here in the wet season. When the trail drops back to creek level, it splits into two trails. The main trail runs right alongside the creek under an overhang of platy andesite, an outflow from the Larch Mountain shield volcano. During the summer, it's a beautiful walk next to the creek. In the spring, this area floods, so hikers will need to take the alternate route signed as the "High Water Trail" to switchback up the ridge. The two trails come back together opposite the place where Big John Creek flows into Multnomah Creek from the west.

After crossing Multnomah Basin Road and passing the Franklin Ridge Trail #427, your point of return on the lollipop loop, the trail enters a 2009 extension of the Mark O. Hatfield Wilderness and crosses the East Fork of Multnomah Creek and then the West Fork, both on single log bridges with handrails.

The trail switchbacks up from the creek in a lush understory of devil’s club and oxalis, and traverses a long ridge up the west side of the Larch Mountain Crater. Cross an open talus slope, and pass two massive Douglas firs. The verdant understory overflows with wood fern, deer fern, twin flower, foam flower, bleeding heart and huckleberry. There are more big trees as you hike up past a mossy boulder field to the Larch Mountain-Multnomah Creek Way Trail Junction. Continue on the Larch Mountain Trail, and cross a small closed road. Next, there's a stint on an often boggy tread through a vast stand of silver fir. You'll know you're getting close when you begin to pass abandoned picnic tables and firepits filled with moss and ferns. Eventually, winded and worn out, you'll reach an old turnaround: the Larch Mountain Trailhead is down to your right. There are restrooms there as well as a picnic spot.

From the turnaround, hike up a third of a mile on the paved Sherrard Point Trail #443 to Sherrard Point. The trail dips and passes the spur from the Larch Mountain Trailhead before ascending a series of steps in a summit forest dominated by noble fir. Blooming on the steep rock faces are Howell’s daisies, alumroot, rock penstemon, matted saxifrage, and Cardwell’s penstemon. The view from the top makes it all worth while. Below the point, you'll see a tarn and the crater meadow. The Columbia River can be seen west to Washougal and east past Mount Defiance. On the Washington side, you'll also see Silver Star Mountain, Birkenfeld Mountain, and Table Mountain, while behind them rise the snowy peaks of Mount Saint Helens, Mount Rainier, and Mount Adams. To the south, Mount Hood and the top of Mount Jefferson are visible.

You can return to Multnomah Falls by making a loop around the Larch Mountain crater using the Oneonta and Multnomah Creek Way Trails: this will add about two miles to your day.

Fees, Regulations, etc.

Maps

  • Maps: Hike Finder
  • Green Trails Maps: Bridal Veil, OR #428
  • 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
  • National Geographic Trails Illustrated Map: Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area
  • U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service: Zigzag Ranger District
  • U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service: Mt. Hood National Forest

Trip Reports

Related Discussions / Q&A

Guidebooks that cover this hike

  • 60 Hikes Within 60 Miles: Portland by Paul Gerald
  • Afoot & Afield: Portland/Vancouver by Douglas Lorain
  • Day Hiking: Columbia River Gorge by Craig Romano
  • Best Hikes Near Portland by Fred Barstad
  • 70 Virtual Hikes of the Columbia River Gorge by Northwest Hiker
  • Hiking the Columbia River Gorge by Russ Schneider, revised by Jim Yuskavitch
  • Take a Hike: Portland by Barbara I. Bond
  • Columbia Gorge Hikes: 42 Scenic Hikes by Don & Roberta Lowe
  • 35 Hiking Trails: Columbia River Gorge by Don & Roberta Lowe
  • 70 Hiking Trails: Northern Oregon Cascades by Don & Roberta Lowe
  • 100 Oregon Hiking Trails by Don & Roberta Lowe
  • Short Trips and Trails: The Columbia Gorge by Oral Bullard & Don Lowe
  • Oregon Hiking by Sean Patrick Hill
  • Hiking Oregon's Geology by Ellen Morris Bishop
  • Trail Running: Oregon by Lizann Dunegan
  • Best Hikes With Dogs: Oregon by Ellen Morris Bishop

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.