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Archer Mountain Hike

From Oregon Hikers Field Guide

This page is marked as a Lost Hike. The "trail" may be dangerous and hard to follow and is not recommended for beginning hikers without an experienced leader. Carry detailed maps of the whole area and/or a GPS unit and compass.
Arrow Point, Archer Mountain (Adam Schneider)
Rock wall and steps, High Valley (bobcat)
Larch Mountain from the yellowjacket fir, Archer Mountain (bobcat)
View to Archer Falls from Scott Point (bobcat)
View to Beacon Rock and Bonneville Dam from Arrow Point, Archer Mountain (bobcat)
Trail map (Adam Schneider)
  • Start point: High Valley TrailheadRoad.JPG
  • End point: Arrow Point
  • Hike Type: In and out
  • Distance: 4.4 miles, plus optional detours
  • Elevation gain: 2,000 feet
  • High point: 2,020 feet
  • Difficulty: Moderate
  • Seasons: Spring through fall
  • Family Friendly: No
  • Backpackable: No
  • Crowded: No
Falling
Nettles
Poison-Oak

Contents

Background

Archer Mountain is the westernmost of a quartet of similarly formed basalt prominences on the Washington side of the Columbia River Gorge, the others being Hamilton Mountain, Table Mountain, and Greenleaf Peak. All are the result of layers of Columbia River Basalts backflowing up creek valleys. Softer strata between them are now highly eroded into expansive bowls or deep creek valleys.

The mountain was named after Finch R. Archer, an Englishman who was granted title to 178 acres at the foot of the mountain in 1901. Archer homesteaded on the west side of Archer Creek. He had been special agent to the Quinault Indian Reservation and was later appointed as Warden of the infamous McNeil Island Penitentiary in Puget Sound. Archer Mountain was dragged out of obscurity when embers from the 2017 Eagle Creek Fire jumped the river and created the only part of that burn on the Washington side. The rough trail system suffered as a result, but has become more simplified and a little easier to follow.

This area is divided between two jurisdictional bodies: Gifford Pinchot National Forest and the Washington Department of Natural Resources’ Columbia Falls Natural Area Preserve. The preserve, which covers the upper cliffs and reaches of High Valley, as well as Archer Falls, is off limits to the public (although none of the "Trail Closed" signs remain); it protects two threatened plants, four sensitive plant species, and the rare Larch Mountain salamander. However, Archer Mountain's summit, the cliffs facing the Columbia River, and the lower entrance to High Valley are all part of the National Forest, and a network of user trails will take you to these destinations from the south.

Hike Description

From the trailhead at the end of Smith-Cripe Road, walk up the road bed (formerly Forest Road 1853), and pass around a gate above a forest of secondary-growth Douglas-fir. After walking through the west side of an open field, you'll approach a thicket where the track splits below a thin poplar that gleams bright yellow in the fall. Bear right here, and in about a tenth of a mile you'll see a small sign for the Archer Mountain Trail heading downhill to the right. (Note that these are all user trails, with no official signage.)

From 1971 until the 1990s, there was a hippie commune in this area, called High Valley (pun intended?). If you'd like to visit the former site of the commune, follow the instructions in the paragraph below to take a 1.2-mile detour in the form of a figure-eight loop:

Instead of going down the Archer Trail, keep straight/left on the old roadbed. Pass through a thicket of encroaching blackberries, and then enter a woodland of big-leaf maples and large Douglas-firs with snowberry bushes overhanging the track. Leave the forest to hike up through a grassy field studded with bracken ferns, getting a view up to the cliffs of St. Cloud Point, also known as Indian Head. Reach another track, and make a right. Drop down into Douglas-fir woods with an understory of thimbleberry, Oregon grape, and sword ferns. The road curves to the left, and becomes a footpath under a vine maple bower. Return to the bracken field, and keep right (southwest) on the grassy track. After re-entering the woods, you’ll arrive at a stone wall where a homestead once stood. There’s an old electrical box hidden in the shrubbery near this site. Follow the road as it descends past a blackberry thicket which conceals the foundations and electrical boxes of the commune. A thick stone wall, now very much concealed by brush, runs along the bottom of the slope to your right. Pass under some old apple trees and you'll soon reach the main track again. The turnoff for the Archer Mountain Trail is 500 feet to your left (north).

The latest incarnation of the Archer Trail, with its handmade sign, was constructed in 2019. It descends gently through mixed forest for about 300 yards, then switchbacks down to a bridge made of logs tied together, including a "handrail." After crossing Archer Creek, the trail climbs steadily for another half a mile until it runs parallel to a small seasonal stream on the right. An old eastbound logging road is visible on the other side of the stream, but you'll continue uphill to the north.

Now you’re rising sharply on a tread of loose scree under a canopy of alders. Make numerous short switchbacks, and pass under a mossy basalt outcropping. Switchback at a small waterfall, and make seven more switchbacks up before crossing a steep hanging meadow rimmed by oak trees. Arrive at a viewpoint where you can look across to Larch Mountain and Multnomah Falls on the Oregon side of the Gorge. After eight more switchbacks, you'll arrive at a mossy point colonized by a single tough Douglas-fir. (The tree has also at times hosted a yellowjacket nest, so be careful about approaching too closely.) Views from here extend across the river to Larch Mountain but also downstream to Phoca Rock and the cliffs of Cape Horn. You can also see east to Quiver Point, which used to be accessible via a rough and narrow user path, but that route was totally scorched by the 2017 fire.

The trail traverses up from here – this was also the western edge of the fire. Switchback above a clump of clifftop manzanitas, and cross an open slope to get views down to the fields of High Valley as well as to St. Cloud Point and the valley’s western cliffs. At an unmarked but obvious trail junction, make a left to descend a narrow mossy ridge to Scott Point. From here, there’s a great view up Hidden Valley to 218-foot tall Archer Falls (a.k.a. Columbia Falls), which spouts off sheer cliffs in spectacular fashion during the wet season but runs totally dry in the summer. As a nice bookend, to the south you can see Multnomah Falls on the Oregon side of the river.

Return to the junction, and continue up under maples and alders to an old logging road. Swing right here to pass through thimbleberry thickets and reach another logging road coming in from the left. (If you choose to visit the summit of Archer, this is where you'll re-join the main trail.) Head straight and climb steeply up the slope, then work your way over a broad crest through thimbleberry and snowberry thickets which will be lush and overgrown in the spring; at times, some flagging might guide you. Begin a descent under moss-draped Douglas-firs. Swing right at a brush pile, and drop through a dense Douglas-fir wood to re-enter the burned area. When you reach the southern face of Archer Mountain, keep left to cross an extremely steep and unstable slope denuded of vegetation by the 2017 fire. (It may actually be safer to make this traverse higher up on the slope.)

Then turn right and work your way out along the narrow, rocky promontory of Arrow Point, which was also denuded by the fire. This is a far-reaching, if exposed, viewpoint with a serious downclimb (or traverse along the west side) if you want to reach the end. You don’t have to do this, however, to get views across the Columbia River to Horsetail Falls, Oneonta Gorge, Yeon Mountain, and Nesmith Point. On the Washington side, you can see Quiver Point across the steep bowl to the west, and down to Franz Lake. Bonneville Dam stretches across the Columbia River upstream from Beacon Rock, and Hamilton Mountain protrudes across the wide, forested bowl of Indian Mary, Duncan, and Woodard Creeks.

At this point, you can return the way you came. Or, to cap off your trip, you can attempt the short bushwhack to the summit of Archer Mountain. The summit doesn't have any views, but this detour does make the hike into a partial loop (and adds about 1/3 of a mile and 150' of elevation gain):

After leaving Arrow Point, scramble straight up the ridge ahead of you. Not much remains of the user trail that once threaded through the trees on this slope, but it's a ridge so it's easy to follow. Pass over a prominence, and descend to a shallow saddle. The next prominence is the true summit of Archer Mountain. The rather flat summit is carpeted with phacelia and other plants that have thrived since the larger trees were killed by the fire. Rather than descend the way you came, continue down the northwest side of the summit and look for a faint trail that may be marked by orange flagging tape. This path heads roughly northwest along a rounded ridge for about 300 yards, then winds its way downhill to the west and ends on a logging road. Turn left on this road; it appears to dead-end, but another less obvious track heads downhill to the right (southwest). Follow this for about 1/4 of a mile until you reach the main trail again. Turn right to return 1.5 miles to the trailhead.


Maps

Regulations or Restrictions, etc.

  • Stay out of the Columbia Falls Natural Area Preserve
  • Trails can be indistinct: experienced hikers only

Trip Reports

Guidebooks that cover this hike

  • none for this route

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.