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Cape Horn Overlooks Hike

From Oregon Hikers Field Guide

The Upper Waterfall Viewpoint on the Cape Horn Trail (bobcat)
Sign at the beginning of the Cape Horn Trail (bobcat)
The "Tipping Tree" at Pioneer Point (Steve Hart)
View upriver to Phoca Rock, Cape Horn Trail (Dan Huntington)
Pholiota mushrooms, Cape Horn Trail (bobcat)
The section of the Cape Horn Trail that is open all year (bobcat) Courtesy: Caltopo


Hike Description

The Cape Horn Trail threads parcels of Forest Service land to a series of viewpoints, but the entire loop is open only for 5 1/2 months (See the Cape Horn Loop Hike). The lower end of the loop which traverses the cliffs at Cape Horn is closed between February 1st and July 15th to protect nesting peregrine falcons. You will need to turn around where horses have to turn around, at the Windblown Fir Viewpoint on the second tier of cliffs. During the closure months, there are a variety of out and back options which will take you to some of the higher elevation viewpoints.

From the Park and Ride lot, walk past an information kiosk with its large map, and cross Salmon Falls Road to pass a sign for the Cape Horn Trail. Keep right at a junction to stay on the Upper Trail. Hike above a blackberry-choked gully, and pass a gnarly Douglas-fir. Switchback down to a footbridge over a creek, and then begin walking up a slope of maples and alders. Make a switchback on a rooty trail that rises past boulders draped with licorice fern. Seven more switchbacks take you up through sword fern, snowberry, and thimbleberry. Ignore side trails leading off to the right to reach a powerline corridor. Enter a Douglas-fir wood, and make a traverse along a steep slope. Switchback under a mossy basalt face, and then wind up along the powerline corridor, where you'll get views to Silver Star Mountain on a clear day. At a junction, make a left for a viewpoint (Horses must stay right.). The view from here to the east and south includes the Prindle Cliffs, Hamilton Mountain, Beacon Rock, Phoca Rock, Multnomah Falls, Mist Falls, Yeon Mountain, and Larch Mountain. Looking west, you'll see the promontory of Cape Horn and the viaduct that carries Highway 14. Continue up from the viewpoint to where a short spur leads left to Pioneer Point, also known as Tipping Tree Point because of the large tree that fell over here with rootball exposed. Views from here are similar to those from the lower viewpoint. See if you can make out Angels Rest, Devils Rest, and Coopey Falls on the Oregon side of the Columbia River Gorge.

You're now 1.4 miles into the hike. To continue on the main trail, keep left at the junction with the horse bypass. The trail turns away from a fence at the meeting of Forest Service and Friends of the Gorge Land Trust property near the high point of the hike. Drop down a slope, and switchback to pass between gate posts and follow an abandoned road bed up an alder/maple hillside. Soon leave the road bed, and hike up under powerlines before bearing left past a fence corner. Now you'll follow a straight line with young Douglas-firs, a blackberry hedge, and a horse pasture to your right. Cross Strunk Road at a sign, and bear left along the edge of a field. A small communications tower juts skyward, and you'll pass by a closed gate.

Follow the gravel road leading right from the gate, and get views west across open fields to the forested prominence of Biddle Butte, also known as Mount Zion, with its communications array. At a neat line of alders, you'll see the trail leading off to the left. Descend past the site of the house that was demolished in 2008 after being purchased by Friends of the Gorge Land Trust. Switchback down twice from a grove of impressive Douglas-firs, and take the spur trail heading left to the walled amphitheater at the Nancy Russell Overlook, 2.6 miles from the trailhead. Views from here extend up the Columbia River Gorge as far as Hamilton Mountain and Beacon Rock. This is a good turnaround point for those out for a half day outing. If you wish to continue to the lower viewpoints, you'll be descending (and ascending on the way back) 560 feet.

Return to the main trail, and switchback down four times in mixed forest to keep left at another horse bypass. The trail reaches a viewpoint directly above the Highway 14 viaduct, and you can see the anchors that hold the nets which prevent rockfall onto the road. There is a great view of lonely Phoca Rock from here. Rejoin the main trail, switchback, and keep left at the horse bypass. Pass through a dense vine maple thicket, and switchback down three times above a deep gully. Pass a couple of imposing Douglas-firs, and switchback at a small overgrown shed. Cross a wide footbridge over the blackberry-choked gully, switchback up, and make a traverse under rustling alders. You can see Highway 14 down to your left. Switchback again, and walk through the tunnel under Highway 14.

Descend, and cross a footbridge over Cape Horn Creek to reach the junction with the 0.2 mile trail that leads down from the Cape Horn West Trailhead. A spur trail drops down to the left and reaches the Upper Waterfall Viewpoint at 3.9 miles. The upper tiers of Cape Horn Falls spill down the basalt face here, and views extend to Beacon Rock as well as Bridal Veil Falls, Coopey Falls, and Angels Rest. Sand Island, part of Rooster Rock State Park, is across the main Columbia River channel to the southwest. Make a traverse to cross another footbridge, and hike along a rim of white oaks and contorted Douglas-firs. At the next junction, 4.2 miles from the Cape Horn Trailhead, horses must turn around, and this is also the farthest point you can hike during peregrine falcon nesting season (February 1st to July 15th). Take the spur that switchbacks steeply down to the Windblown Fir Viewpoint at a copse of oaks, enjoy the views east along the river, and return the way you came.


Regulations or Restrictions, etc.

  • Restrooms and information kiosk at trailhead
  • Day use only
  • Dogs on leash
  • Share trail with horses
  • The lower part of the loop is closed February 1 to July 15 to protect nesting peregrine falcons. The upper part of the loop, down to the Windblown Fir Viewpoint 1/2 mile below SR14, is open all year.

Trip Reports

Related Discussions / Q&A

Guidebooks that cover this hike

  • PDX Hiking 365 by Matt Reeder
  • Day Hikes in the Columbia Gorge by Don J. Scarmuzzi
  • Day Hiking: Columbia River Gorge by Craig Romano
  • 100 Classic Hikes: Washington by Craig Romano
  • Take a Hike: Portland by Barbara I. Bond
  • Best Hikes Near Portland, Oregon by Fred Barstad
  • Afoot & Afield: Portland/Vancouver by Douglas Lorain
  • 100 Hikes in Northwest Oregon & Southwest Washington by William L. Sullivan
  • Oregon Favorites: Trails and Tales by William L. Sullivan
  • Pokin' Round the Gorge by Scott Cook
  • Fires, Faults, and Floods: A Road & Trail Guide Exploring the Origins of the Columbia River Basin by Marge & Ted Mueller

More Links


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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