Nesmith Point Hike
From Oregon Hikers Field Guide
- Start point: John B Yeon Trailhead
- End Point: Nesmith Point
- Trail Log : Trail Log
- Hike Type: Out and Back
- Distance: 10.6 miles round trip
- High point: 3,872 feet
- Elevation gain: 3800 feet
- Difficulty: Difficult due to elevation gain
- Seasons: Apr-Oct
- Family Friendly: No
- Backpackable: Yes
- Crowded: No
So you think you want to climb mountains, huh? This climb is a good stamina builder, and it's often used by mountain climbers in training. You'll have some great views along the way, and you'll burn a few carbs too. The destination is an old lookout site atop the red cinder cone of a Boring volcano, intruded into Columbia River Basalts less than a million years ago. The Nesmith volcano was sheared in half by the Bretz (Missoula) Floods at the end of the last Ice Age, resulting in an unstable lower slope that gives rise to frequent, and sometimes massive, landslides. Along the way to the viewpoint, you'll get views to Cascade peaks and Gorge features across the river in Washington, encounter some small groves of impressive old growth, and come close to the boundary of the Bull Run Watershed Management Area, which is closed to the public.
This hike starts in the John B Yeon State Park parking lot. This place might be the highest-theft lot in the Gorge. Leave your valuable things at home! You'll start up the trail, pass an old water tank, switchback, and come to a trail junction, all in the first 50 steps. Take the right trail fork, marked as the Nesmith Point Trail #428.
The first mile of the trail doesn't climb too steeply. The trail makes a wide sweeping curve, but you'll notice a shortcut, known as the Mazama Cutoff, that heads up: stick to the official trail to keep the erosion down. The trail swings back to a rushing creek, and the former trail junction with the Gorge Trail #400, headed west. This trail was completely wiped out by a 1996 landslide and now overgrown with slide alder.
The hike then continues up the Nesmith Point Trail and here we really mean up! Switchbacks are the norm, and they're pretty steep. However, you'll earn several viewpoints as rewards for your climbing, including views of Mount Adams, Mount Saint Helens, the south face of Beacon Rock, and most of the Washington side of the Columbia River Gorge, as well as good looks at the huge 1996 landslide that started from Nesmith and closed the freeway for days. You'll also start getting views across the McCord Creek drainage to the cliffs on the face of Wauneka Ridge.
After about two miles of heavy climbing, things get a little easier. You'll traverse the top of the ridge at Corky's Corner and head right, still climbing. The trail wends gradually up now in noble/silver fir forest until you reach the Nesmith Point Trail-Nesmith Point Road Junction about five miles from the trailhead. Turn right on the road and hike about 500 feet to the end of the road and the location of an old fire lookout above the steep, reddish cinder slope of the Nesmith Point volcano, an eastern representative of the Boring Lava Field. Trees have grown up here, but you'll still have a good view to the east. For a better view, continue down a small path past the lookout and the old lookout outhouse. A short distance down the slope, there's a great lookout with a view of the entire gorge. Soak in the sights and return the way you came.
Climbers setting out for Nesmith Point in winter and early spring should watch trip reports for snow levels and trail conditions. While the lower part of the Nesmith Point Trail is navigable in moderate snow, it can disappear altogether on the upper reaches, causing climbers to drive their way straight up a ravine or simply kick-step a convenient path or two uphill. As with many higher-elevation hikes in the Gorge in winter, the ridge route to Nesmith Point can be equally difficult to trace, making snowshoes, effort, route-finding skills, and good judgment essential.
Nesmith Point is named for James Willis Nesmith, a Canadian born lawyer and politician who moved to Oregon in 1843. He served as a captain in the militia forces during the Rogue River War in 1853 and the Yakima Indian War in 1855. From 1857 to 1859 he was superintendent of Indian affairs for Oregon and Washington Territories and later was elected U.S. Senator from Oregon (1861-1867) after the state achieved statehood.
In March, 1915, the Oregon Historical Society working with the Mazamas and the Oregon Geographic Board, named the peak Mount Nesmith, noting that it was "the highest point immediately adjacent to the Columbia River between Portland and The Dalles." The naming was done "in honor of Oregon's pioneer Indian fighter and Senator Colonel James W. Nesmith, a pioneer of 1843."
- Maps: Hike Finder
- Green Trails Maps: Bridal Veil, OR #428 and 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: Zigzag Ranger District
- U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service: Mt. Hood National Forest
Fees, Regulations, etc.
- Search Trip Reports for Nesmith
Related Discussions / Q&A
- Search Trail Q&A for Nesmith
Guidebooks that cover this hike
- Day Hikes in the Columbia Gorge by Don J. Scarmuzzi
- Day Hiking: Columbia River Gorge by Craig Romano
- Afoot & Afield: Portland/Vancouver by Douglas Lorain
- Hiking the Columbia River Gorge by Russ Schneider, revised by Jim Yuskavitch
- 100 Hikes in Northwest Oregon & Southwest Washington by William L. Sullivan
- 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
- Oregon Hiking by Sean Patrick Hill
- Pacific Northwest Hiking by Scott Leonard & Sean Patrick Hill
- Oregon State Parks: A Complete Recreation Guide by Jan Bannan
- Nesmith Point Trail #428 (USFS)
- Nesmith Point Hike (Northwest Hiker)
- Nesmith Point (Friends of the Columbia Gorge)
- Nesmith Point (Such Great Hikes)
- Nesmith Point Trail #428 (Columbia River Highway)
- Portland, OR: Nesmith Point (Backpacker)
- 08 Apr Nesmith Point (Pacific Northwander)
- Nesmith Point (Oregon Adventures)