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Table Mountain North Ridge Hike

From Oregon Hikers Field Guide

Looking off the edge, Table Mountain (bobcat)
Gillette Lake and Hamilton Mountain (bobcat)
Table Mountain from the Pacific Crest Trail (bobcat)
Smooth-leaf douglasia (Androsace laevigata var. laevigata), Table Mountain (bobcat)
Phlox meadow, North Ridge, Table Mountain (bobcat)
Steam donkey carriage, below Birkenfeld Mountain, PCT (bobcat)
View back to South Birkenfeld, Pacific Crest Trail (bobcat)
The route described in red (not a GPS track) (bobcat) Courtesy: Caltopo
  • Start point: Bonneville TrailheadRoad.JPG
  • End point: Table Mountain
  • Trail Log:
  • Hike Type: Lollipop loop
  • Distance: 19.5 miles round trip
  • Elevation gain: 4350 feet
  • Difficulty: Difficult
  • Seasons: April-October
  • Family Friendly: No
  • Backpackable: Yes
  • Crowded: Yes, but not on the north loop
Falling
Nettles
Poison Oak
Ticks

Contents

Hike Description

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 uses the West Table Mountain, a.k.a. the West Way Trail, to ascend to the summit ridge. On the return, you'll explore the less visited north ridge of Table Mountain, taking in vistas that include the Cascade peaks in Washington and more wildflower meadows. When you reach the Pacific Crest Trail below South Birkenfeld Mountain, you begin your return.

Note that, as of January 2017, this hike became considerably longer and more difficult with the sale of the Bonneville Hot Springs Resort & Spa and the decommissioning of the Dick Thomas Trailhead there. 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.

The hike starts on the Tamanous Trail. Ta-mah-no-ous is a Native American word translated roughly as "vision quest". Young men proved their readiness to be adults by going on a search for guardian spirits. From the parking lot, you start out on a gravel road, but quickly divert up a wooded path that starts straight uphill (Incidentally, if you continue down the gravel road another 100 yards, you'll see where the nearby train track enters a tunnel). It won't be long before you have a nice viewpoint to the south overlooking the river just east of the Bonneville Dam. There won't be much more in the way of views for a while. It is somewhere in this trail section where the route crosses over the top of the aforementioned tunnel...but you'll be hard-pressed to see where!

After a little more than half a mile from the trailhead, you'll come to a junction with the Pacific Crest Trail. Turn left and you'll be heading toward Canada (even if you are heading more west than north). There are two ponds near this junction, both unnamed - the first is seasonal and you may not notice it during the warmer months; the other is farther up the trail just an 1/8 of a mile or so: watch downhill and you'll see it between the trees. Follow the trail closely in this section, and do not divert onto the overgrown forest roads that intertwine here.

In about a mile, you'll come to a clearcut as the trail turns sharply to the right. In fact, there are several clearcuts through this part of the hike; they are from different eras and in various stages of regrowth. While they are an eyesore to many, they represent a long history of forestry in this area and underscore the work of conservation groups that are responsible for the preservation of all the abundant forests that remain. Furthermore, they provide the only nearby views of Table Mountain and Greenleaf Peak. The trail can be a bit faint through here, by Pacific Crest Trail standards, but it should be easy to follow as you wind your way across the terrain of the Bonneville Landslide. It is also a strange mix of public and private land through here. Property owners have allowed access for through hikers, but it is not recommended that you divert far from the trail.

As you approach Gillette Lake, the forest gets thick again. You head up the right hand side of a dried-up creek valley and begin to gain more elevation. The trail eventually empties out at a forest road. Actually, this is the access road for the powerlines that you'll notice buzzing nearby overhead. The lake is on the other side of the road, downhill and just out of view. Look for where the trail picks back up as it heads downhill quickly. You'll see Gillette Lake, a natural lake, on your left. Continue down the hill and look for a small spur to the left. It takes you to a nice lakeside campsite. The lake is stocked with golden trout, and there are often ducks as well, particularly in the winter. Check the shore for signs of beaver activity: there's a lodge at the far end of the lake. Deer are common around dusk, feeding in the clearcuts. Putting aside the powerlines overhead, it is a pleasant, tranquil location. The lake often has a green coloration that gives it some character. The distinct profile of Hamilton Mountain is in evidence to the west.

Back on the Crest Trail, cross the Gillette Creek Bridge and continue through logged areas above dark little Greenleaf Pond. From here, you'll cross Greenleaf Creek Bridge over rushing Greenleaf Creek (You'll hear a waterfall cascading below, but this is on private land). Now, you're officially in the Gifford Pinchot National Forest as you head up an escarpment to the Greenleaf Viewpoint for a great view of the Columbia River Gorge. Farther on, you'll cross an abandoned road that today forms the Two Chiefs Trail. Turning right here would lead you to Greenleaf Falls. For this hike, continue straight ahead.

Soon, the trail contours across a ridge above Carpenters Lake. The PCT-Aldrich Bypass Trail, another abandoned road, soon parallels the PCT for a ways and they intersect at the Pacific Crest-Aldrich PCT Bypass Trail Junction about one mile from Carpenters Lake. You can take either path north from here as they intersect again about 150 yards farther north. From this second junction take the Pacific Crest Trail northward as it begins to climb the west side of Table Mountain.

A half mile later, you'll come to the Heartbreak Ridge Trail with its signboard about the Table Mountain Natural Resource Conservation Area. You can take this way to the summit ridge of Table Mountain, but it is recommended that you continue on the Pacific Crest Trail for another half a mile to the Pacific Crest-West Table Mountain Trail Junction.

Go right here and hike steeply up to reach a scree slope with views down to Cedar Mountain, Aldrich Butte, and Hamilton Mountain. Keep making your way up the rocky tread alongside the basalt fins know as Windbreak Rocks. In spring, the rock gardens here offer much color and variety: look especially for Columbia lewisia, spreading phlox, chocolate lily, and rock penstemon. Briefly enter stunted forest and then emerge to continue up the west cliffs in and out of cover. At the Table Mountain Lower Viewpoint, there are views across the expansive Hamilton Creek valley to Hardy Ridge as well as south to the Oregon side of the Columbia River Gorge. As you get higher, you’ll also get a vista to South Birkenfeld Mountain and then Birkenfeld Mountain behind it. Noble firs enter the forest mix. Follow the trail as it veers right into the summit woodland. As you drop, you’ll pass a connector that leads to Table Mountain’s North Ridge Trail (You can take this a little way to get the great views of the snow-capped Washington stratovolcanoes at the Table Mountain North Viewpoint). Return to the main trail to reach the signposted Heartbreak Ridge-West Table Mountain Trail Junction and keep left 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 at the West Table Mountain-Table Mountain Summit Trail Junction. Head right along the summit, sometimes dropping a little, to pass above a steep, grassy meadow and reach the 800-foot vertical drop where the mountain sheared away during the Bonneville Landslide. Enjoy the views here to Mount Hood, the Bonneville Dam, and various Columbia River Gorge landmarks.

Walk back to the West Table Mountain-Table Mountain Summit Trail Junction, and keep right along the ridge in a carpet of bear-grass. There is a view to Greenleaf Peak and then a large open area with a campsite. Lewisia, phlox, and Martindale’s desert parsley bloom here in the spring. Enter noble fir/Douglas-fir woods and come to a junction at the west cliffs: this is the cutoff trail from the West Table Mountain Trail leading in. Go right to the Table Mountain North Viewpoint and enjoy the expansive views to Mount Saint Helens, Mount Adams and Mount Rainier. Before you reach the viewpoint, note a trail leading steeply down the rocks on the left from the Table Mountain Summit-Table Mountain North Ridge Trail Junction.

Drop down this narrow tread and hike along a narrow, steep-sided ridge with small wildflower meadows. Descend through a serviceberry, hazel, rose, vine maple thicket: when this is leafed out, you may have to push your way through! Hike along a rocky ridge and then drop gently through an extensive vine maple thicket to an old road bed. Hike along the road bed, which blooms with violet, trillium, solomon plume, and bleeding heart in the spring. Western hemlock and Douglas-fir form the canopy. Vine maple and Sitka alder crowd the trail until you reach the saddle below South Birkenfeld Mountain: this is also the Table Mountain North Trailhead for vehicles who can make it here (some clearance required). From this spot, there is a great view across the forested bowl below Greenleaf Peak.

Take the powerline road leading down to the left with views to Table Mountain, Cedar Mountain, and Hamilton Mountain. The road turns left and reaches the Pacific Crest-Table Mountain North Ridge Trail Junction. Go left here and pass across a talus depression with the wreck of a massive support structure, perhaps a steam donkey sled from Wilhelm Birkenfeld’s logging days in the area. Hike through a bear-grass/vine maple/huckleberry forest under powerlines and descend into a woodland of young Douglas-firs on an old road bed. Pass a campsite with a rushing creek below. Get a view to Hardy Ridge as you descend a wide road covered with forbs and shaded by alders and maples. Pass a landing at the end of the road bed and then begin to cross talus slopes below Table Mountain’s west ridge. From here, there are sweeping views over Hamilton Creek and back to South Birkenfeld Mountain. Keep traversing, crossing a couple of rocky gullies and another talus slope blooming with serviceberry in the spring.

When you get to the Pacific Crest-West Table Mountain Trail Junction, you complete the summit loop and can head back to the Bonneville Trailhead along the Pacific Crest Trail.


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

Regulations or restrictions, etc

  • Northwest Forest Pass required

Trip Reports

Related Discussions / Q&A

Guidebooks that cover this hike

* The guidebooks below cover standard approaches to Table Mountain, mostly using shorter routes that are no longer possible, and usually do not mention the north ridge.

  • 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.

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