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Table Mountain Loop Hike

From Oregon Hikers Field Guide

Looking south at Bonneville Dam from near the summit of Table Mountain (Steve Hart)
Looking at the cliff face from Heartbreak Ridge. (Steve Hart)
Looking down from the top of the cliffs. (Steve Hart)
The Heartbreak Ridge (East Way) Trail travels up the middle of this talus slope (cfm)
Trailmarker (cfm)
Map of the route (in red) and other nearby trails and forest roads. Note: many of side trails outside of this hike (marked in green) are non-maintained and their condition is unknown. Use the Dick Thomas Trailhead for this hike; the Aldrich Butte Trailhead is now closed to the public.
  • Start point: Bonneville TrailheadRoad.JPG
  • End point: Table Mountain
  • Trail Log: Trail Log
  • Hike Type: Out and back
  • Distance: 8.0 miles round trip
  • High point: 3,417 feet
  • Elevation gain: 3350 feet
  • Difficulty: Difficult
  • Seasons: April-October
  • Family Friendly: No
  • Backpackable: Yes
  • Crowded: Yes
Falling
Nettles
Ticks

Contents

Hike Description

As of January 2017, the Bonneville Hot Springs Resort & Spa has been closed to public entry. The Dick Thomas Trailhead at the former resort is no longer an option. The only legal choice for hikers is to begin this hike at the Bonneville Trailhead:

  • Distance: 15.5 miles round trip
  • Elevation gain: 4320 feet


Foundations Recovery Network (the new owners of the former resort) are sensitive to these recent and sudden changes and are partnering with Bonneville Trails Foundation to develop other trailhead access. However, those options are not available for the short term, so the Bonneville Trailhead is the only option for now. This Field Guide entry will be updated when the situation becomes clear.

Table Mountain is one of the outstanding features of the Columbia River Gorge, its sheared 800-foot south face revealing layers of Yakima basalt over mud flow sediments up to 22 million years old. The south ridge of Table Mountain features the eroded remains of basalt dikes, craggy pinnacles that protrude above the forest canopy. One such prominence is Sacaquawea and Papoose Rocks, known to rock climbers as the "Rabbit Ears." The great Bonneville Landslide, which temporarily dammed the Columbia River and formed what the indigenous people called the "Bridge of the Gods," contains much of Table Mountain and Greenleaf Peak. Originally, geologists thought the landslide was about 800 years old, but recent evidence suggests that it could be associated with the last great Cascadia earthquake in the year 1700. The hike described below is the shortest standard way to the summit as it begins at the Dick Thomas Trailhead at the Bonneville Hot Springs Resort & Spa.

Walk up the gravel track at the west end of the large parking area. The corridor here supports a natural gas pipeline. The former beginning of the Dick Thomas Trail headed through a clump of blackberries: now walk a little farther west in the pipeline corridor, crossing a flowing rivulet, to pick up the trail entering the woods on your right. Cross a four-log footbridge and then drop to step across a small creek. The old trail alignment comes in from the right here. Continue up on a rooty tread, winding through sword ferns under Douglas-fir, western hemlock, and big-leaf maple. Drop to skirt a vernal pool and then gradually descend through a sword fern/Oregon grape carpet. At the Carpenters Creek Crossing, use the makeshift footbridge.

Reach the Aldrich Butte-Dick Thomas Trail Junction, with grassy, alder rimmed Carpenters Lake, a former beaver marsh, to your right. Go right at the junction, and after 60 yards, at the junction with the Two Chiefs jeep track, go left up the slope on another old vehicle track. Hike up under Douglas-firs and hemlocks as the road swings right. At the next switchback, the Aldrich Butte-Aldrich PCT Bypass Trail Junction, stay right and walk up the eroded road bed to the east of the ridge crest.

Soon the trail enters the Cedar Creek drainage. The PCT is hidden in the trees, just above you to the right, so don't be surprised if you hear people. The two trails parallel each other for a ways and they intersect about one mile from Carpenters Lake at the Pacific Crest-Aldrich PCT Bypass Trail Junction. You can take either path north from here as they intersect again about 150 yards farther north. From this second junction turn right on Pacific Crest Trail as it begins to climb the west side of Table Mountain (If you miss this turn, the road comes down to Cedar Creek, crosses the creek and soon disappears).

A half mile later, you'll come to the Heartbreak Ridge Trail. There's a Washington DNR sign with a map of the local trail system. From, here, you'll turn right and head up the hill. The trail is in pretty good shape, but this is one STEEP trail. Plan on struggling a bit and pausing often. You'll climb about 700 feet in the first half mile. At the top of the first pitch, the trail opens on a small rock viewpoint. This is a great place to stop and look down on how far you've come. There's also a good view looking up at the top of Table Mountain, where you're going to be. From here it's a short stroll through a flat, if steeply slanted, trail to the viewpoint we've labeled Heartbreak Ridge. You'll be right at the edge of the lower clifftops on the west side of the Table Mountain Slide Area. There's a great look at the higher cliffs across the way.

From here, the trail drops steeply for a couple hundred feet, then works its way through the forest. After a bit, the trail switchbacks upward again, regaining the elevation lost. Soon the trail comes to the bottom of the Table Mountain Talus Climb. Older versions of this trail traveled through subalpine meadows and hikers did a lot of damage to the fragile terrain. The current version of this trail avoids that problem by climbing straight up a rocky slope. Follow the path over somewhat loose rock. The trail is marked by poles stuck into the rock.

An obvious trail leads to the left from the top of the rock field. After a couple of switchbacks, reach the signposted Heartbreak Ridge-West Table Mountain Trail Junction and keep right to head up through a vine maple/ thimbleberry thicket. Emerge from the woods to head up to the summit ridge, where you’ll find another signpost, marked 'Pac. Crest Trail' at the West Way-Table Mountain Summit Trail Junction. Head right along the summit spine, sometimes dropping a little, to pass above a steep, grassy meadow and reach the 800-foot sheer drop where the mountain sheared away during the Bonneville Landslide. Enjoy the views here to Mount Hood, the Bonneville Dam, and various Columbia Gorge landmarks. Be careful here, as a stumble would mean sure death. Take your time exploring the summit, then head back to the West Table Mountain-Table Mountain Summit Trail Junction.

Keep right here and follow a trail northwest along the flat top of Table Mountain. (Alternatively, you may take an 'official' trail left at junction, and then turn right and uphill when you come to west-side drop offs, but you'll miss some views and also will have to regain the elevation going this way). Soon the the trail comes to wide-open views atop the west side cliffs - angle to the right and hike to the open North Viewpoint on the north tip of the summit plateau. There are views west, north and east - in good weather you may see Mount Saint Helens, Mount Adams, Mount Rainier, one of the best views of eastern Columbia Gorge, and countless smaller landmarks.

After you've had your fill of the north views, go down the trail that goes above the west side cliffs. The trail is steep in places; it alternates between small timbered patches and open hillsides. The open areas are mostly right on the edge of a cliff and have great views to the west. The trail drops to a large flat area at the Table Mountain Lower Viewpoint, marked by a 3-feet high cairn. If the trail seems to have disappeared, walk back looking for large cairns - they mark the continuation of the West Table Mountain Trail. Below the Lower Viewpoint starts particularly treacherous section. As the trail passes Windbreak Rocks, it's filled with loose stones that tumble with the slightest footstep. After about a quarter mile of slipping and sliding the trail reenters the woods. Hike down the steep wooded slope to the Pacific Crest Trail. Turn left here and walk about 4/10th of a mile to the Heartbreak Ridge Trail Junction. Continue south on the Pacific Crest Trail and return to your car the way you came.

Fees, Regulations, etc

  • $5 parking fee at Bonneville Hot Springs & Spa
  • Dogs on leash at spa and make sure you clean up after your pet!
  • $2 toll each way at the Bridge of the Gods

Maps

  • Maps: Hike Finder
  • Green Trails Maps: 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: Mt. Adams Ranger District
  • U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service: Gifford Pinchot National Forest

Trip Reports

Related Discussions / Q&A

Guidebooks that cover this hike

  • Afoot & Afield: Portland/Vancouver by Douglas Lorain
  • Day Hiking: Columbia River Gorge by Craig Romano
  • 60 Hikes Within 60 Miles: Portland by Paul Gerald
  • Take a Hike: Portland by Barbara I. Bond
  • 100 Hikes in Northwest Oregon & Southwest Washington by William L. Sullivan
  • Day Hikes in the Columbia Gorge by Don J. Scarmuzzi
  • Curious Gorge by Scott Cook
  • Washington's South Cascades Volcanic Landscapes by Marge & Ted Mueller
  • Skamania 231: A Scrambler's Guide by Kelly Wagner
  • Columbia Gorge Hikes: 42 Scenic Hikes by Don & Roberta Lowe
  • Washington Hiking by Scott Leonard
  • Pacific Northwest Hiking by Scott Leonard & Sean Patrick Hill

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.