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Sunflower Hill-Indian Pits Loop Hike

From Oregon Hikers Field Guide

Lupine on Sunflower Hill, Catherine Creek (bobcat)
Catherine Creek Arch, Sunflower Hill, Catherine Creek (bobcat)
Bitterroot (Lewisia rediviva), Catherine Creek (bobcat)
Upper Labyrinth Trail, Rowland Basin (bobcat)
Looking to Rowland Wall, Desert Parsley Trail, Rowland Basin (bobcat)
Rowland Pinnacle, Rowland Basin (bobcat)
The loop route up Sunflower Hill and above the Rowland Basin (not a GPS track) (bobcat) Courtesy: Google Maps
  • Start point: Catherine Creek TrailheadRoad.JPG
  • End point: Rowland Basin Viewpoint
  • Trail Log:
  • Hike Type: Loop
  • Distance: 4.9 miles
  • High point: 1,300 feet
  • Elevation gain: 1320 feet
  • Difficulty: Moderate
  • Seasons: All year: best time is spring
  • Family Friendly: Yes, for older children
  • Backpackable: No
  • Crowded: On Sunflower Hill
Poison Oak
Snakes
Ticks

Contents

Hike Description

Note that reroutes and decommissioning of some trails on Sunflower Hill are planned for 2017. Please obey all signs and stay off sensitive areas where signposted.

Catherine Creek and Coyote Wall have become increasingly popular with hikers and mountain bikers, and the springtime months are especially busy, with parking lots filling early. To avoid most of the crowds, try the area between the two above the Rowland Basin. You’ll still get views to the Catherine Creek Arch, the variety of habitat and wildflowers is greater, and the views are just as sweeping. The downside is that, once you have left Sunflower Hill, you will have frequent brushes with poison oak: know how to recognize it, wash the areas that have been touched immediately, wash your clothes as soon as you get home, and think twice about bringing your dog.

After you pass through the main gate, you’ll see two roads. Take FR 015, which heads up a grassy slope to the left. Camas, saxifrage, and shooting stars bloom here in early spring, while cluster lilies, sand clover, and brodiaea come out later. The road bed passes through a copse of oak and Oregon ash and reaches the unmarked Rowland Wall-Sunflower Hill Trail Junction.

Go right here to pass a camas swale which forms a pretty pond in early spring. The trail rises in ponderosa pine grassland to offer the first of many views of the Catherine Creek Arch from the oak-lined rim of the canyon. Continue hiking up along this rocky scarp, where lupine, death-camas, and the beautiful bitterroot bloom in mid-spring. Swing left into a ponderosa pine parkland and drop in and out of lush camas swales. As you head up on the more open slope of Sunflower Hill (It gets this name from the brilliant display of balsamroot that travelers across the river used to remark upon; then the cattle were grazed here and now few balsamroot plants remain), you’ll get more expansive views to Mount Hood as well as the Rowena Gap, McCall Point, Sevenmile Hill, and the Columbia Hills to the east. Come to the powerline corridor at a pylon and follow this up the open hillside, first getting views across the Rowland Basin to the Labyrinth. Pass the unsigned Sunflower Hill-Rowland Wall North Tie Trail Junction at a small clump of balsamroot before the maintenance track swings towards the east side of the hill and then ascends to the Atwood Road-Sunflower Hill Trail Junction.

Go left here and descend gently across the face of Sunflower Hill, getting views down the Rowland Wall to the Rowland Pinnacle. Enter shady oak woods carpeted with poison oak, with lupine and chocolate lilies blooming trailside. Cross a trickling Rowland Creek and transition from oaks to Douglas-firs. The road bed rises to the Atwood Road-Shoestring Trail Junction, where you keep right to stay on Atwood Road. Enter a ponderosa pine/whote oak parkland and then cross an open grassy slope with expansive views to the vineyards and cherry orchards of Mosier. The trail drops into oak/Douglas-fir forest to cross a seasonal creek. Reach an open slope again and look right for lilac bushes that bloom in mid-spring. Behind the lilacs are the ruins of an old homestead, where daffodils and German irises also bloom. Then come to the signposted Atwood Road-Upper Labyrinth Trail Junction.

Go left here on the Upper Labyrinth Trail #4424 (known formerly as the Hidden Valley Trail). Traverse the grassy slope and then make two wide loops down, getting views up the Columbia River to Memaloose Island and beyond. Wind down in and out of an oak copse and reach the Rowland Basin Viewpoint, a worthy pit stop on a sunny day that offers vistas from the Labyrinth to the Rowland Wall and beyond. The trail hooks west from the viewpoint and traverse down to the Labyrinth-Upper Labyrinth-Desert Parsley Trail Junction, where you can get a view to Mount Hood.

Make a left here to traverse the slope above the Rowland Basin on the Desert Parsley Trail. Enter a tongue of oaks and then cross a grassy slope before heading into more oaks and crossing a creek. Hike across a hillside of Columbia desert parsley and into a larger oak wood to meet the Desert Parsley-Shoestring Trail Junction. Go right here to loop down – look off to the left for a curious square stone structure overgrown by vegetation. Exit the oaks at a grassy slope and get a head-on view of Mount Hood. The trail makes two switchbacks down around an old apple tree with a magnificent skirt of poison oak. Then enter oak/ponderosa forest and wind down to a talus slope. Look for pits, windbreaks and old walls here attesting to an ancient human presence: this site (called the Rowland Basin Site) is on the National Register of Historic Places. Join an old road bed at the base of the Rowland Wall and reach the Desert Parsley-Raptor-Rowland Wall South Tie Trail Junction.

Go left here (Keeping on the road will take you out to the Raptor Trailhead, but this short section is closed from February 1st to July 15th because of nesting peregrine falcons). Hike up a scree slope, getting views left to the nearby Rowland Pinnacle. At the top of the rim you’ll come to the Rowland Wall-Rowland Wall South Tie Trail Junction and also enjoy more views across Rowland Lake and Mosier to Mount Hood.

Keep right at the junction and descend the rim of Rowland Wall through scattered ponderosa pines, some of which have been killed or damaged by an infestation of California five-spined bark beetle (Ips paraconfusus). The trail is often rubbly and loose as you alternate rocky descents with lush camas swales. Reach a rocky flat with a population of scabland wild buckwheat and beautiful bitterroot, the latter blooming in late April/May. Pass through more green seeps and then veer away from the rimrock towards a boggy expanse that is lit up by yellow monkey flower in the spring. Bitterroot blooms on the exposed rock and there’s a vernal pool that issues from a bubbling spring here (The pool dries up by early May). The trail joins FR 015 and comes to the Rowland Wall-Sunflower Hill Trail Junction to close the loop. Make a right on the road bed to return to the trailhead.


Maps

Regulations, facilities, etc

  • $1.00 toll for the Hood River Bridge
  • Dogs must be on leash all year
  • Port-a-potty at trailhead

Trip Reports

Related Discussions / Q&A

Guidebooks that cover this hike

  • none

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.