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Catherine Creek West Loop Hike

From Oregon Hikers Field Guide

Rowland Lake from the Rowland Wall (bobcat)
Atwood Road as it ascends the canyon, Catherine Creek (bobcat)
Early Grass Widows (Steve Hart)
Rowland Lake, Mount Hood and the Columbia River Gorge (Steve Hart)
The loop up to Sunflower Hill at Catherine Creek (not a GPS track) (bobcat) Courtesy: Google Maps
  • Start point: Catherine Creek TrailheadRoad.JPG
  • End point: Rowland Lake Viewpoint
  • Trail Log:
  • Hike Type: Loop
  • Distance: 3.4 miles
  • High point: 1,310 feet
  • Elevation gain: 1040 feet
  • Difficulty: Easy
  • Seasons: Year round
  • Family Friendly: Yes
  • Backpackable: No
  • Crowded: Yes


Hike Description

This hike starts at the Catherine Creek Trailhead and offers a route up the wooded west side of the Catherine Creek Canyon to the open slopes of Sunflower Hill, where there are views extending east to the Rowena Gap and Columbia Hills and west over the Rowland Basin to the Labyrinth. Many trails and trail junctions are unsigned, so pay attention to directions. The hike is best done anticlockwise as described so you are facing the magnificent vistas over the Columbia River Gorge as you descend the slope: this loop should only be done on a sunny day, and the months of March through May are best for wildflowers.

From the parking area, head in past the green gate and up rocky Road 020 (Atwood Road) in a ponderosa grassland. After 80 yards, keep left at a junction with the new Catherine Creek Loop Trail, opened in 2019. Then descend into the oak forested Catherine Creek Canyon. Note that poison oak flourishes everywhere here. Catherine Creek rushes to your right. At a road junction, go left and hike up under oaks and ponderosas on abandoned Atwood Road.

There are views across to the Catherine Creek Arch, now crowned by a pole and rail fence. You may notice Lewis’s woodpeckers flitting about in the trees, turkeys may scuttle off in the undergrowth, and there are views back to the Columbia River. Keep up the main road bed and pass under powerlines. Big-leaf maples and Douglas-firs suddenly become the dominant canopy. In dark Douglas-fir woods, the track drops to the Atwood Road-Old Stove Road Junction (There's an old stove just down the road to the right). Keep left here and curve up on a poison oak-lined track to emerge from the woods onto the vast grassy slope of Sunflower Hill. Death-camas and bare-stem desert parsley bloom in profusion here in the spring, and views extend east to the Columbia Hills and across the river to McCall Point and Memaloose Hills near Mosier.

You'll soon reach the trail post at the Atwood Road-Bitterroot Trail Junction. Drop down to the left a grassy former jeep track. Swing towards the west side of the slope and, between two powerline pylons, locate the unmarked Bitterroot-Rowland Wall North Tie Trail Junction (There's a patch of balsamroot at this junction). Go right for about 90 yards and come to the Rowland Wall-Rowland Wall North Tie Trail Junction, where you can begin descending the edge of the escarpment on a faint trail that becomes clearer as you continue dropping.

Follow the trail as it winds down the rim of the Rowland Wall, getting views of Rowland Lake, a former marsh inundated by Lake Bonneville, and the town of Mosier across the river. Pungent desert parsley blooms on exposed rocky ground and saxifrage and camas can be seen in the seeps. Stop to admire the mossy snag leaning against the wall at the Rowland Lake Viewpoint, and pass above the Rowland Pinnacle. The trail continues to snake roughly down, and you’ll pass the Rowland Wall-Rowland Wall South Tie Trail Junction (The tie trail descends to the Rowland Basin and the Indian Pits area - see the Catherine Creek-Rowland Basin Loop Hike) and also enjoy more views across Rowland Lake and Mosier to Mount Hood. The path then turns east through scattered thickets of ponderosa pines, some of which have been killed or damaged by an infestation of California five-spined bark beetle (Ips paraconfusus). The trail is often rubbly and loose as you alternate rocky descents with lush camas swales. Reach a rocky flat with a population of scabland wild buckwheat and beautiful bitterroot, the latter blooming in late April/May. Pass through more green seeps and then veer away from the rimrock towards a boggy expanse that is lit up by yellow monkey flower in the spring. Bitterroot blooms on the exposed rock and there’s a vernal pool that issues from a bubbling spring here (The pool dries up by early May).

The trail joins FR 015 and comes to the Rowland Wall-Bitterroot Trail Junction at a camas swale behind a copse of oak and ash trees. Make a right on the road bed as it heads between the copses and then descend a grassy slope where camas, saxifrage, and shooting stars bloom in early spring, while cluster lilies, sand clover, and brodiaea flower later. You'll soon arrive at the trailhead gate and parking area.


Regulations or restrictions, etc

  • $2 toll for the Hood River Bridge
  • Dogs must be on leash all year
  • Port-a-potty at trailhead

Trip Reports

Related Discussions / Q&A

Guidebooks that cover this hike

  • 70 Virtual Hikes of the Columbia River Gorge by Northwest Hiker

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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