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Tooth Rock Loop Hike

From Oregon Hikers Field Guide

The Historic Columbia River Highway Trail winds around Tooth Rock (Steve Hart)
Moss and ferns on the old stone walls (Steve Hart)
The old wagon road (Steve Hart)

Contents

Hike Description

NOTICE: Most trails on the Oregon side of the Columbia River Gorge are closed until further notice because of damage from the Eagle Creek Fire. The closure involves ALL trails between Rooster Rock State Park and Hood River. It is anticipated that most of these trails may not reopen until Spring or Summer 2018. Please check the list of Columbia Gorge trail closures before you plan for a hike.

When the original Columbia River Highway was designed by Samuel Lancaster and others it was decided to skirt Tooth Rock on a pair of viaducts. The construction of Bonneville Dam in the 1930s forced the relocation of the highway and the original route was abandoned in 1937 when a new tunnel was drilled through the rock. The old viaducts remained in place largely forgotten for almost 60 years. In 1996 this portion of the old highway was refurbished as a hiking and bicycling path. The Eagle Creek Viaduct was repaired from the rockfall damage and a new pedestrian bridge was built over the east portal of Tooth Rock Tunnel. This hike explores all of these areas and more. It's a great place to take a lot of time on a slow day and drift back in time.

Start at the Tooth Rock Trailhead and hike the Historic Highway eastward. The first part of the path is little more than a freeway shoulder but soon you'll veer away form the freeway a bit as the old highway works it way through the trees. After a half mile or so, you'll come to a trail junction marked by a broken sign. Turn off the old highway and head up the hill here. This trail is actually an even older road, built in the 19th century to allow wagons to be portaged around the Cascades. You'll climb steadily, twisting and turning, to a summit. Right at the top is a use path branching off to the right, that heads steeply up the hill to the Gorge Trail and Tanner Road #777. Now the old wagon road drops as steeply as it climbed. It's not hard to drift back in time and picture men struggling with wagons and oxen up and down these hills. Soon you'll reach a spot where the old road was blasted out of existence during construction of the Historic Highway in the early 1900s. A switchbacking informal trail leads 20 feet down to the Historic Highway Trail.

This piece of the original Columbia River Highway was built in 1914 and abandoned in 1937. Just as the wagon road was demolished to make room for the highway, so too was this older version of the highway destroyed to make room for the new. To connect these various pieces as a trail, modern trail builders had to resort to a staircase to link the different levels together.

Walk west on the old highway and you'll soon come to a modern footbridge across the east end of the freeway tunnel. Just beyond that is the Eagle Creek Viaduct. This viaduct is actually a "half-viaduct", with half the road resting on a narrow ledge blasted from the rock and half the road on the viaduct. The railing here is the same as the standard arched, rubble masonry walls used as guardrails on much of the highway. Much of the original railing was lost and the viaduct was heavily damaged by a rock slide during the construction of a new powerhouse at the dam. The deck and railing have been repaired for trail use. The old road loops around Tooth Rock with some amazing views of Bonneville Dam, the Columbia River and the westbound freeway lanes constructed in the 1950s. There's even an improved viewpoint at the Eagle's Nest. Soon you'll come to Tooth Rock Viaduct, which is basically a bridge pinned to the side of the mountain. A section of this viaduct had collapsed from the weight of accumulated rock and was repaired in 1996. Railings here are similar to the Moffett Creek Bridge and the Sheppard's Dell Bridge. The old highway crosses the modern freeway and meanders west back to the trailhead.

Maps

Fees, Regulations, etc.

  • Northwest Forest Pass required at trailhead

Trip Reports

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Related Discussions / Q&A

Guidebooks that cover this hike

  • 100 Hikes in Northwest Oregon - 3rd Edition, by William L Sullivan

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.