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Lyle Cherry Orchard Hike

From Oregon Hikers Field Guide

Cherry Orchard Trail sign (Steve Hart)
View to Crates Point from the Cherry Orchard Trail (bobcat)
Panicled death-camas on the hike up to the Lyle Bench (Steve Hart)
Chocolate lily (Fritillaria lanceolata), Cherry Orchard Trail (bobcat)
The second seasonal pond (Steve Hart)
Old cherry in bloom, Lyle Cherry Orchard (Steve Hart)
The route to the cherry orchard in yellow; other options shown as dotted lines (not a GPS track) (bobcat) Courtesy: Google Maps
  • Start point: Lyle Cherry Orchard TrailheadRoad.JPG
  • End point: Lyle Cherry Orchard
  • Trail Log: Trail Log
  • Hike Type: Out and back with loop at end
  • Distance: 5.2 miles
  • Elevation gain: 1250 feet
  • High point: 1100 feet
  • Difficulty: Moderate
  • Seasons: All year, best in spring
  • Family Friendly: Yes
  • Backpackable: No
  • Crowded: On spring weekends
Poison Oak
Snakes
Ticks

Contents

Hike Description

Friends of the Columbia Gorge founder Nancy Russell purchased the core of this 500+ acre property and, over the years, added parcels to the west that abut the town of Lyle. Until 2009, the property was under Nancy's name, but then she bequeathed it to the Friends. Long before that, a hiking trail open to the public allowed visitors to climb above the rimrock layers and visit the old homestead site labeled by Nancy as the "Cherry Orchard" after the few old cherry trees that remained. This hike offers ever expanding views to the east and west as it climbs to the oak forest that cloaks the upper slopes. Poison oak abounds along most sections of the trail, so stick to path and keep your dog on a leash. The wildflower season here begins in February with the early grass widows and Columbia desert parsley and runs into June.

The unsigned trail begins at the east end of the parking area under an imposing basalt spire. It climbs through a scrub oak forest carpeted with poison oak. Soon reach an old road bed, the remains of entrepreneur Sam Hill's "convict road" (See below). Follow the road to the left. You'll come to a beautiful trailhead sign at the western edge of the defile. There a boot brush here that you should use both going in and coming out (The main invasive culprit here is yellow star thistle, which blooms in the summer). Just behind the sign is a metal box of releases. This is Friends of the Gorge land, but they have permitted the public access with a signed release. The release simply says that each hiker assumes all risks from hiking on the property and that the landowner isn't responsible for any injuries or problems. The hikers also agree to not start a fire. To left of the sign, the convict road runs out to the rimrock cliffs.

The trail leaves the old road and starts up a small draw, which blooms with prairie star, fiddleneck, and lupine in the spring. Switchback and arrive at an open meadow blooming with death-camas in April. A user trail leads left across the lower of the two Lyle benches, and here you get views across bright clumps of poison oak to Sevenmile Hill, Crates Point, and The Dalles. To the west, past McCall Point, you'll see the summit of Mount Defiance. Switchback twice more up an open slope which brightens with the yellow blooms of balsamroot in spring. After almost a mile, there's a side trail heading west into the large flat area of the upper Lyle Bench. An excursion here offers a great view of the town of Lyle from the west end of the bench.

The trail rises steeply up to the east and switchbacks at a post. Notice the bright green vines of wild cucumber (big root) on the slope. Switchback into an oak copse, and get views of Sevenmile Hill on the Oregon side of the Rowena Gap. Switchback again to the summit of the trail about 1.3 miles from the trailhead. From here, the going gets dramatically easier. The path works its way east, with slight ups and downs, through a carpet of buttercup and lupine in the scrub oak forest. At Mile 1.5, after one more switchback, come to a small, seasonal pond that's just packed with butterflies in the early spring. Ponderosa pines and chocolate lilies enter the forest mix here. At about Mile 2.4, you'll come to an old farm road.

Turn right here, and pass a collection of rolled up fencing from a 2015 project that removed most of the fences on the property. Pass an old homestead site at the edge of a grassy area. The path splits, so head left to the top of a grassy knoll that offers commanding views east to Crates Point and The Dalles. Down the slope a few yards are two ancient cherry trees, gnarled, broken, and half-dead, all that remains of the Lyle Cherry Orchard. A lot has happened in the world since these trees were planted. Hidden away on this hill, the world has pretty much passed them by. Plan on spending a little time with the old girls. They're old and frail, but they're not quite done yet. The cherry trees are most noticeable in April, when their last living branches bloom. Other white-blooming shrubs in the area are serviceberry. Below, on the edge of the oaks, is a line of posts, some harboring nesting boxes.

Descend the grassy knoll, and follow a path south into the oak woods. This trail ambles along through the buttercups, passing your return junction. Continue until the vista opens westwards above the rimrock: from here, you can see back to McCall Point and Mount Defiance. This is a great picnic spot on a sunny day with light wind! Then return to the last junction, and go left to return to the Lyle Cherry Orchard.

Other options:

1. To extend the hike, you can head north on the farm road to pass a stock pond and reach the powerline corridor. Go left on the powerline maintenance road, newly graveled, for some steep ups and downs on a ridge that gets you high enough for glimpses of Mount Hood, Mount Adams, and Mount Saint Helens. Turn back when you reach a gate.

2. Either going or coming, you can attempt the loop on the faint trails of the upper and lower benches to the west of the trail.

3. Another option, for careful scramblers, is to follow the track of the Convict Road, which takes you about half a mile towards Lyle, passing above the SR 14 road tunnels. This route is exposed, with gullies of loose scree to negotiate. The road was constructed in 1910 by business mogul Sam Hill using convict labor. Hill was attempting to convince the Governor of Washington, Marion E. Hay, of the feasibility of a system of good paved roads to aid commerce in the state. At some point, Hill lost Hay's support, and the peeved Hill crossed the river to successfully advocate for the Columbia River Highway.

Maps

Regulations or restrictions, etc

  • Complete the signed release when you get to the trail sign.
  • No fires; day use only
  • Dogs on leash

Trip Reports

Related Discussions / Q&A

Guidebooks that cover this hike

  • Curious Gorge by Scott Cook
  • PDX Hiking 365 by Matt Reeder
  • Day Hiking: Columbia River Gorge by Craig Romano
  • 70 Virtual Hikes of the Columbia River Gorge by Northwest Hiker
  • Columbia Gorge Getaways by Laura O. Foster

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.