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Mount Defiance from Columbia River Hike

From Oregon Hikers Field Guide

Mt. Hood from Mt. Defiance (bobcat)
The lower portion of Lancaster Falls, on the Mt. Defiance Trail. (RSDW)
A view of Wind Mountain, the Columbia River, and Mount Saint Helens on the climb to the summit of Mt. Defiance. (RSDW)
Leafy woods on the Mt. Defiance Trail (bobcat)
The summit of Mt. Defiance (4,959 ft.), as seen from the north at approx. 4,000 feet. (RSDW)
Crowd sourced GPS "average" track (aiwetir)

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.

At 4,959 feet, Mount Defiance is the highest point normally recognized as being part of the Columbia River Gorge. This hike, along with the accompanying Defiance-Starvation Loop Hike, are commonly referred to as the most difficult day hikes in our region, starting at a mere 130 feet above sea level at Oregon's Starvation Creek State Park along Interstate 84. From there, it's a long way up, comparable to the vertical distance between Timberline Lodge and the summit of Mount Hood, making Mt. Defiance an excellent training hike for mountaineers in late winter or early spring. In warmer months, it's simply a spectacular day-long adventure.

You'll start by heading westward on the Mount Defiance Trail, walking on the Historic Columbia River Highway which runs alongside I-84 from the Starvation Creek rest area. After about 0.2 mile, you'll be at a trail junction with the Starvation Cutoff Trail #414B. Continue west on the historic highway and you'll soon come to Cabin Creek Falls. There's a mammoth boulder here that's fallen from the cliffs to a spot in front of the waterfall, creating a kind of amphitheater. A short distance later, the trail leaves the old highway and crosses Warren Creek at Hole in the Wall Falls. This waterfall was created in 1938, when highway crews blasted a tunnel to divert Warren Creek away from the road. From here, the trail begins gently climbing to a junction with the Starvation Ridge Trail #414 and then on to Lancaster Falls. The lower tier of Lancaster falls directly on the trail, but the real show is hidden above another huge rock. The upper tier is well worth the trip, but it's a tricky scramble up a loose slope filled with Oregon grape, loose rocks, and sneaky little poison oak plants.

From here, it's up, and we mean up. The trail begins switchbacking up the side of the Gorge almost immediately. You'll gain over 3,000 feet in elevation over the next three miles, crossing the boundary into the Mark O. Hatfield Wilderness. Somewhere around the 3,500-foot level, the timber clears to reveal a rocky, open environment with spectacular views at every turn, and the abundant scree creates an ambiance that feels more alpine than the elevation would merit on its own. After five miles, you'll come to a junction with the Warren Lake Trail #417.

Now, it's back to climbing, as if it ever really gave up. There's another 700 feet to gain in this last half mile. About halfway up this last pitch, you'll come to a trail junction with the Defiance Cutoff Trail. This trail slabs around the west side of Mt. Defiance, providing views of Bear Lake. You're going up, though, so stick to the main trail and reach the summit of Mount Defiance. The disappointment here is that there are radio towers and even (gasp) pickups carrying service workers to the site. Furthermore, trees have begun to encroach upon the views. On the other hand, on the way up, you've seen Mount Rainier, Mount Adams, Mount Saint Helens, Mount Hood, Mount Jefferson, Chinidere Mountain, Indian Mountain, Tomlike Mountain, Larch Mountain, Dog Mountain, Wind Mountain, Cook Hill... (Insert your favorite mountain here). Be sure to pick a day with clear weather and unlimited visibility to get the most reward for your efforts.

The return for this hike is the same path you came up on, knee pounding though it may be.

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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.