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Rooster Rock Wagon Road Hike

From Oregon Hikers Field Guide

Rooster Rock, Phoca Rock, and Beacon Rock from the viewpoint off Rooster Rock Wagon Road (bobcat)
VW bug, Rooster Rock Wagon Road (bobcat)
'49 Studebaker at the burned cabin site (bobcat)
Falls on creek, Rooster Rock Wagon Road (bobcat)
Tundra swans and pintails on Mirror Lake (bobcat)
Route of the Rooster Rock Wagon Road (not a GPS track) (bobcat) Courtesy: Caltopo

Contents

Hike Description

The Portland Women’s Forum State Scenic Viewpoint at Chanticleer Point, just east of Corbett, is one of those mandatory stops when traveling the Historic Columbia River Highway (Highway 30) through the Gorge. The view here offers a sweeping panorama east past Beacon Rock. The site was once home to the Chanticleer Inn, built in 1912 but which burned down in 1930. In the 1950s, the Portland Women’s Forum, a group instrumental in the founding of the original Columbia River Gorge Commission, purchased the property and donated it to the state in 1963. Previous to the inn’s demise, travelers could detrain at Rooster Rock below and take a shuttle or walk the two miles up the hill via the old wagon road to enjoy a meal and the views at the inn. The road takes advantage of the gentler slopes in the large bowl between Chanticleer Point and Crown Point: most of this is in the Crown Point State Scenic Corridor.

The old Rooster Rock Wagon Road, also known as the Chanticleer Point Road and Water Line Road, is still there, and you can hike it all the way down to the railroad tracks to get close to Mirror Lake below Crown Point’s basalt ramparts (Don't cross the railroad, though; it is a private right-of-way). Late fall and winter are the best times to hike here because there are added bonuses: the wagon road itself operated as a vehicle road until the late 1980s, when it was finally closed. Some traveled the road merely to dump large pieces of garbage, such as appliances and old cars, some of the latter perhaps chop shop victims. Similarly, once Highway 30 was constructed, Crown Point itself became a favored dumping off point, and the steep sword fern slopes below harbor a number of vehicle carcasses. Also in winter, you may be able to glimpse the fleets of tundra swans that hang out on Mirror Lake. It’s also worth noting that Oregon State Parks has on its agenda a plan to develop the wagon road as a trail between Rooster Rock and Chanticleer Point.

Stop at the viewpoint which looks east to Crown Point, Larch Mountain, and Beacon Rock. Rooster Rock can be seen far below. An interpretive sign describes some of the geology of the Gorge, including the cataclysmic Ice Age floods that formed the scene we see today. A rock and plaque at the entrance to the viewpoint on Highway 30 honors Sam Hill, who, along with Samuel Lancaster, was one of the visionaries behind the original Columbia River Highway.

To begin the hike, walk past the white gate on the left (west) side of the turnaround area. The road bed of deteriorating gravel passes under an arbor of big-leaf maples and red alders before switchbacking across from a pasture. Descend above a blackberry bowl, and reach a second switchback. A trail leads left off the road and down the ridgeline here. As you descend, you’ll get a view of the First Presbyterian Church’s Menucha Retreat. Spring snowflakes (Leucojum vernum), a non-native garden plant, form a carpet next to the trail and begin their bloom in late January. Reach a bench at a viewpoint (partially obscured once trees leaf out) that offers a magnificent vista across to the Vista House at Crown Point and east to Beacon Rock. Rooster Rock is prominent along the Columbia River shoreline. Look down the slope from the bench: the thicket of blackberries partially conceals the first of the rusting autos you will see: a 1950s Pontiac Chieftain; also here are various appliances (stoves, toilets) that were dumped some time in the past.

Return to the road and continue your descent. On your left, note a tricycle in a tree, and check out a white Chevy station wagon parked down the steep slope. In the same bowl, you’ll see a VW bug and the remains of one (or perhaps two?) red Laher golf carts. Some larger Douglas-firs and grand firs appear in the forest mix, which is still mostly deciduous. After the road bed switchbacks, you’ll reach a culvert conveying a rushing stream (There’s a car door here, too) and a rusting gate fashioned out of a piece of railroad track. To your right, an overgrown track leads east across the slope. Follow this track for about a quarter mile as it negotiates thimbleberry thickets. You’ll end up at an old cabin site: the dwelling here caught fire and burned up completely in the mid-1980s. A bamboo thicket bows forlornly over the remains: a concrete shed, rusting appliances, a brick hearth. Just east of the cabin site, a green ’49 Studebaker battles the blackberries.

Return to the wagon road to continue your descent and switchback. Cross a creek at a small landslide, and notice the mossy basalt columns above. Cross another creek, this one with a cascading waterfall, before you begin to skirt a vast maple/alder bottomland below Crown Point. In the winter, you might notice some rusting hulks up the slope; there’s also a waterfall here that splashes into a small basalt amphitheater, a steep bushwhack up the sword fern slopes. Pass some USFS boundary markers as you reach the Union Pacific right-of-way. A few oaks shade the roadway here. A large pond appears to your left and Rooster Rock looms through the trees straight ahead. Mirror Lake glimmers straight ahead: in winter the lake, once a bay of the Columbia River, hosts dozens of tundra swans. Turn around here without trespassing on the railroad right-of-way, and head back the way you came.


Maps

Fees, Regulations, etc.

  • Dogs on leash
  • Park open 6 a.m. to 10 p.m.
  • Interpretive signs at Portland Women’s Forum State Scenic Viewpoint

Trip Reports

Related Discussions / Q&A

Guidebooks that cover this hike

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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.