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Columbia Gorge Traverse Hike

From Oregon Hikers Field Guide

TKO put tools to trail here.png
Ecola Falls on the Larch Mountain Trail (Steve Hart)
Coopey Creek, on the Angels Rest Trail (bobcat)
View to Silver Star Mountain from the Angels Rest Trail (bobcat)
Looking west from Angels Rest (bobcat)
Orange honeysuckle (Lonicera ciliosa), Gorge Trail (bobcat)
Archer Mountain from the Gorge Trail (bobcat)
Indian plums above the Oneonta Gorge (bobcat)
Oneonta Bridge at Middle Oneonta Falls (bobcat)
View to Hamilton Mountain from Oneonta Bluff (bobcat)
Behind Ponytail Falls (bobcat)
Sign at west junction with the Gorge Trail, Ainsworth Loop Trail (bobcat)
Elowah Falls (Steve Hart)
A pair of spawning coho salmon in Eagle Creek (bobcat)
Bonneville Dam, Table Mountain, and Greenleaf Peak (bobcat)
Lower Ruckel Creek Falls, below the Gorge Trail on Ruckel Creek (bobcat)
Vine maple flowers, Gorge Trail (bobcat)
Dry Creek below Dry Creek Falls (bobcat)
The Herman Creek Pinnacles (Tom Kloster)
The bridge over Herman Creek (bobcat)
The main campsite at Herman Camp, near the Gorge Trail (bobcat)
Talus slope on the Gorge Trail between Herman Creek and Wyeth (bobcat)
Route of the Gorge Trail #400 from Angels Rest to Tanner Creek (road section in orange) (bobcat) Courtesy: Caltopo/MapBuilder Topo
Route of the Gorge Trail #400 from Tanner Creek to the new Wyeth Trailhead (bobcat) Courtesy: Caltopo/MapBuilder Topo
  • Start point: Angels Rest TrailheadRoad.JPG
  • End point: Wyeth Trailhead
  • Hike type: Traverse (car shuttle or multiple day hikes)
  • Distance: 34.7 miles one way
  • Elevation gain: 4725 feet
  • High point: 1855 feet
  • Difficulty: Moderate (in sections)
  • Seasons: All year
  • Family Friendly: Yes, in short sections
  • Backpackable: Yes
  • Crowded: No
Falling
Nettles
Poison-Oak

Contents

Hike Description

Work began in the mid 1970s to link up low level existing or abandoned trails in the western Columbia River Gorge between Multnomah Falls and Wyeth. However, the planners decided that the Angels Rest Trail was a worthy western section, given its outstanding features, and that trail now doubles as part of the Gorge Trail #400. In fact, much of the route already existed, with a few new connector sections added, the longest being between Herman Creek and Wyeth. This was also the last section to be completed, in the early 1990s. One part of the Gorge Trail has also disappeared since construction: the first mile of the route leading out of Dodson to join the Nesmith Point Trail was swept away in massive debris washouts during the February 1996 pineapple express weather event, thus leaving 2 1/4 miles of road between trail sections.

By far the greatest elevation gain is experienced in the very first section, the 1,400-foot rise to Angels Rest. This first section is also the farthest from the freeway, which can be a constant companion along some sections. Other sections that are a little more distant from civilization include the Pacific Crest Trail section (Cascade Locks to Herman Creek) and the Herman Creek to Wyeth section, where the trail also forms the northern boundary of the Mark O. Hatfield Wilderness. The trail offers views from a few vantage points (again, the best are at the beginning), and you do get to visit several of the Gorge's famous waterfalls, stare up at imposing basalt ramparts, and cross numerous burbling creeks. Bear in mind that since the 2017 Eagle Creek Fire, the affected areas of the Columbia River Gorge have been prone to winter slides and washouts. In addition, the fire burned intensely along many parts of the Gorge Trail #400, and without a canopy providing shade, some less hiked sections have become extremely brushy.

Very few people have been tempted to hike the Gorge Trail as an overnight backpack, but it could be done in one day by practiced distance hikers or runners. There's a campground at Ainsworth State Park but few trailside campsites: on the Angels Rest Trail, the Pacific Crest Trail, and at Herman Camp.

More often, the Gorge Trail is hiked as a way to get somewhere else. However, the trail can easily be hiked in stages, and it is accessible all year, other than in times of unusual ice or snow events. This makes the trail a great destination in the doldrum months of the winter, when it's difficult to find suitable walking paths of decent length. Trail runners, especially, have found the Gorge Trail a fast and easily accessed route during those months. Another option is to combine sections using a car shuttle or bicycle. Note that the section hikes add a little extra distance because of trailheads away from the Gorge Trail and a few recommended diversions.


1. Angels Rest to Multnomah Falls


Description: This section of the Gorge Trail didn't require any additional construction as it readily hijacked the existing routes of the Angels Rest Trail, Wahkeena Trail, and Larch Mountain Trail. This is a busy section because of the numerous highlights: Coopey Falls, Angels Rest, Wahkeena Spring, and several beautiful drops along Multnomah Creek as you head down to Multnomah Falls. You'll find some solitude only between Angels Rest and Wahkeena Spring.

Hike up a forested slope where the bases of large Douglas-firs bear scorch marks from the 2017 fire. Then you'll cross an open talus slope to get views to the Columbia River, Cape Horn, the Prindle Cliffs, and Silver Star Mountain. A clifftop viewpoint gives you a look down to 150-foot Coopey Falls, which spills down to property owned by the Franciscan Sisters of the Eucharist. Hiking up, you'll see a short spur leading left to get a view up the creek of Upper Coopey Falls. The trail leads up, and another spur takes you to the base of the upper tier of Upper Coopey Falls. Continue up under alders and maples to cross Coopey Creek on a footbridge.

The trail turns at a reinforced switchback, and then traverses up a slope of maples to switchback again and head out to the Gorge face, where you'll encounter brushier terrain recovering from the 1991 and 2017 fires. Views are more open now, and you can see up to the cliffs of Angels Rest. Switchback twice, and get a view of Silver Star Mountain from a viewpoint at a section of split-rail fencing. Six more switchbacks take you higher in a scrubby landscape of 1991 fire snags seared black by the 2017 fire. An additional three short switchbacks convey you to a talus slope traverse, after which the trail enters a dense thicket and then switchbacks up to a junction at the crest of the Angels Rest promontory.

Go left here to head out to the point. You will scramble among layered pillars of platy andesite getting views down to the Columbia River as well as west to Sand Island and the tall buildings of downtown Portland. To the north, Larch Mountain and Silver Star Mountain in Washington are on the skyline, while an expanse of the Washington Gorge is on display. Scrubby alders and few stunted oaks survive up here, and the east wind can be extremely fierce on certain fall and winter days.

Return along the ridge crest, and proceed beyond the junction with the spur trail to continue on the Angels Rest Trail #415. After a couple of switchbacks, you'll come to the junction with Foxglove Way. From this area of crown fire, there's a good view down the spine of Angels Rest to the Columbia River. Continue east on the Angels Rest Trail, which drops above the Dalton Creek bowl through a fast recovering carpet of vegetation. Pass below a talus slope, and then rise to a lovely intact grove of old-growth Douglas-fir, hemlock, and western red-cedar at a creek crossing. The trail gradually ascends through more scorched conifers and then enters a soggy Sitka alder bowl with numerous seeps. Hike through a grove of large red alders, and soon pass the Angels Rest Trail-Lily's Lane Junction, signed for Devils Rest. Descending from here, you'll cross the Mist Creek Footbridge on a slightly blackened log. Next, you'll pass the junction with the steep Primrose Path, marked by a small wooden badge with a devil portrait. Then switchback down, getting views to the Wahkeena Bowl with most of its green canopy intact. Make five more descending switchbacks to traverse out of the crown fire zone. At a break in the trees, you can get a view across the river to Archer Mountain, the only place on the Washington side of the Columbia that was affected by the Eagle Creek Fire. As you cross a rocky outcrop, you'll hear a large spring gushing forth below the trail. Round a corner, and catch a glimpse down to Fairy Falls across tumbling Wahkeena Creek. Reach a lovely cedar bench, and pass above gushing Wahkeena Spring to reach the Wahkeena-Angels Rest Trail Junction.

Bear right on the Wahkeena Trail #420, and hike up a slope of good-sized Douglas-firs and hemlocks. You'll arrive at the first of two junctions 25 yards apart. Stay right at the junction with the Vista Point Trail #419 and then keep left at the Devils Rest Trail #420C to stay on the Wahkeena Trail. Cross rushing Shady Creek, and round the nose of a ridge in an area of crown fire with a brushy understory. The trail drops down a steep, scorched slope above Multnomah Creek to reach the junction with the Larch Mountain Trail.

Turn left to head down rushing Multnomah Creek. Soon, you'll pass the lip of plunging Ecola Falls. Then the trail switchbacks down four times on a constantly eroding slope to arrive at a view of Wiesendanger Falls in its photogenic amphitheater. Continuing on, you'll pass under an overhang known as Dutchman Tunnel, where a plaque honoring Albert Wiesendanger, a Forest Service ranger, can be found. The trail then passes above Lower, Middle and Upper Dutchman Falls, each 10 to 15 feet in height. Enter a defile, and cross a rock-faced culvert over Multnomah Creek to come to a short asphalt spur that leads to a viewing platform at the top of Multnomah Falls.

From the spur, the now paved trail passes a crest to begin an 11-switchback descent. Post fire, the trail seems more precipitous and the drop-offs more lethal as much of the buffering understory was incinerated during the blaze. (Be careful about dislodging rocks on oblivious hikers below.) Columbia River views open up, and a lower switchback gives a good view to Multnomah Falls. Many large trees in this area were logged post-Eagle Creek Fire. If you're descending to the Multnomah Falls Lodge, keep left a the Larch Mountain-Gorge Trail Junction. Before the Benson Bridge, you'll get some relieving spray from the waterfall as you join the thickest crowds of the day. The trail passes below a rock net, and switchbacks down to a photographer's viewpoint, where you'll get a head on vista of both the lower and main tiers of Multnomah Falls and the picturesque span of the Benson Bridge. Steps lead down to the Multnomah Falls Lodge, a historic building constructed to serve early automobile travelers in 1925.

Loop option: A partial loop can be made following the Return Trail west from the Multnomah Falls Lodge to the Wahkeena Falls Trailhead. Then you'll take the Wahkeena Trail up to join the Angels Rest Trail.


2. Multnomah Falls to Ainsworth


Description: The Gorge Trail as it heads east from Multnomah Falls offers more waterfalls, scree slopes, an overhead view of a slot canyon, and stretches of quiet forest. Most of this route was completed early in the development of the Gorge Trail, the route between Multnomah Falls and Oneonta Gorge being known then (1978) as the Ak-Wanee Trail, and the section from Horsetail Falls to Ainsworth Campground seen as an extension of the Horsetail Falls Trail. Poison oak is common along this section.

From the Multnomah Falls Lodge, take the steps up to a photographer's viewpoint, where you'll get a head on vista of both the lower and main tiers of Multnomah Falls and the picturesque span of the Benson Bridge. From here, the trail makes one switchback. You'll pass below a rock net and can look up to see the seasonal Shady Creek Falls, which splash down a cliff just west of Multnomah Falls. After crossing the Benson Bridge, come to the Larch Mountain-Gorge Trail Junction at a switchback.

Bear left on the Gorge Trail, this section formerly known as the Ak-Wanee Trail. You’re suddenly away from the crowds as you hike through thimbleberry, cow parsnip, maidenhair fern, and the ubiquitous and invasive herb-Robert. There are some big Douglas-firs here, and you may notice an osprey nest perched atop a trailside snag. At a scree slope, known as the Elevator Shaft, views open up to the Cruzatt Rim and Archer Mountain across the Columbia River. You’ll see a rusting fence above which continues to the next band of steep scree, where you can look carefully for a tread that switchbacks up to the Multnomah Basin and, eventually, Nesika Lodge. Continuing on, you’ll cross a decades-old slide that needs constant trail repair and then gradually descend a rocky tread through encroaching thimbleberry bushes. Maples burned by the 2017 Eagle Creek Fire are coming back from their lignotubers and herb-Robert carpets the scree on an open sunny slope that offers views across the river.

You’ll descend to the Historic Columbia River Highway at a pullout and then walk 60 yards, crossing a tumbling creek, to where the trail resumes. Head steeply up, getting views across the river to Archer Mountain. Below basalt cliffs, you’ll cross a slide below Waespe Falls (best admired in winter) and then reach the Oneonta-Gorge Trail Junction, where you stay right to keep rising under seeping cliffs and pass over another slide. The trail continues above a bench (an overgrown loop trail leads around this area) and then below a scree slope. Soon, you’ll enter the Oneonta Creek drainage, where the 2017 fire scorched slopes and burned off the entire canopy. You’ll see Horsetail Ridge above you and pass over a gabion-reinforced slide. When you reach the Oneonta-Horsetail Falls Trail Junction, go left and head down towards Oneonta Creek.

Switchback down twice to the footbridge at Middle Oneonta Falls. Although the bridge itself survived the Eagle Creek Fire, the falls have become a little cluttered with logs and debris. Looking downstream through the narrow gorge, you’ll see the lip of Oneonta Falls. From the bridge, six short switchbacks buttressed by rock walls wind up. At the fifth switchback, a few nails on a charred tree are all that’s left of the old sign proclaiming the view down the narrow slot canyon of the Oneonta Gorge. The trail passes along a dripping cliff face among skeletal big-leaf maples. Turn and look back up the narrow valley and, especially in winter, you'll get some good views of parts of all three lower falls on Oneonta Creek: Oneonta Falls, Middle Oneonta Falls, and the spout of Upper Oneonta Falls in the distance. You’ll reach a densely vegetated bench above Oneonta Bluff. At a junction, a short trail left leads to clifftop viewpoints over the Oneonta Bottomlands and across the river to Archer Mountain, Hamilton Mountain, and Beacon Rock.

The trail continues along the base of Horsetail Ridge, where you’ll switchback up at a horizontal maple and then make four switchbacks down on scree. Then you’ll turn in to get views of Ponytail Falls, passing behind this spectacular spouting waterfall under a basalt overhang. Looking back as you hike on from the falls, you’ll get views to the upper tier and then pass the rooty user trail leading up to the Rock of Ages Arch. The rock walled trail then makes two switchbacks down to a junction, where you’ll keep right.

Now you’re hiking away from the crowds again, traversing down and keeping an eye out for poison oak. Pass the large sign, which survived the fire, at the first junction with the Ainsworth Loop Trail. You’re under a full canopy now as you pass the burned sign at the east junction with the loop trail.

From here, the trail gradually rises in a green understory of sword fern, thimbleberry, trailing blackberry, and maidenhair fern. From the junction with the first trail from the Ainsworth Campground, start dropping and pass the old sign at the second campground trail junction. The trail traverses a slope in a canopy fire area, and you’ll find yourself wading through bracken on this little-hiked section of the Gorge Trail. Nettles and blackberry also conceal the tread as you reach a back road. Cross the road and switchback down twice to hop a ditch and reach the historic highway at the Ainsworth Interchange Trailhead.

Loop option: You can do a partial loop by going right at the Horsetail Falls-Gorge Trail Junction and descending to Horsetail Falls. Then you can walk along the highway to the Oneonta Tunnel and the mouth of the Oneonta Gorge. From the Oneonta Trailhead, hike up the slope to rejoin the Gorge Trail and head west.


3. Ainsworth to John Yeon


Description: This section would mainly be of interest to trail runners who may be doing more than one section of the Gorge Trail. There always was a road section here, but only one of about 0.8 miles that followed Frontage Road and then turned right to a small trailhead on McLoughlin Parkway in Dodson. The section from Dodson to the Nesmith Point Trail was covered by debris in the big storm of February 1996. This area has been unstable ever since and the slide has been colonized by a thick stand of alders. The route now follows Frontage Road all the way.


4. John Yeon to Tanner Creek


Description: The Gorge Trail #400 between the John B. Yeon State Scenic Corridor and Tanner Creek runs close to the freeway, and the highway noise is only drowned out when you are tucked up McCord Creek viewing Elowah Falls. However, those looking for a low elevation winter hike may want to take this one in their stride.

NOTICE: The trail to the bottom of Elowah Falls is closed until further notice due to a massive landslide that buried the trail and bridge across McCord Creek. For now, take the Historic Columbia River Highway State Trail to its first junction with the Gorge Trail.

The wide trail heads up from the parking area to switchback at a wooden water tank. Pass the junction with the Nesmith Point Trail, which has been closed since the 2017 fire. Once you enter the Douglas-fir forest, you’ll see that most of the conifers on this section survived the fire even though the flames blackened the lower reaches of their trunks. Through the trees, there are views to Pierce Island, Beacon Rock, and Hamilton Mountain. After rising steadily up a slope, you’ll come to the Gorge-Upper McCord Creek Falls Trail Junction.

Keep left at this junction unless you want to make the side trip to Upper McCord Creek Falls (see the Upper McCord Creek Falls Hike). The trail drops along a scree slope under the Douglas-fir canopy. Past a small basalt pinnacle, the trail turns to offer a glimpse of Elowah Falls. Switchback down twice, getting a view of the McCord Creek Bridge. Six more short switchbacks take you down past the old trail alignment, and you’ll cross a trickling brook. The trail traverses above McCord Creek, full of mossy basalt boulders that have peeled from the cliffs above over the years. The trail bench cuts into a layer of cobbles, part of the Eagle Creek Formation, a thick belt of breccia/conglomerate deposited before the Columbia River Basalts of 17 – 14 million years ago. A massive house-sized boulder sitting in the creek has only been there a few decades. Take a good look up at 213-foot Elowah Falls, one of the prettiest waterfalls in the Columbia River Gorge, as it spouts out of its narrow basalt defile. In 2021, a landslide took out the hiker bridge across the creek, but most of the year you should be able to scramble and rock hop your way across.

Continue hiking on the Gorge Trail and soon reach the Gorge-Elowah Falls Viewpoint Trail Junction. This trail angles up to the right buttressed by walls originally constructed by the Civilian Conservation Corps. (The trail was restored by Trailkeepers of Oregon in 2019.) Switchback up twice and then descend above the top of large boulder that once held a railed viewpoint. The trail ends at a view down to Elowah Falls’ plunge pool.

After you return to the Gorge Trail, keep right to get more views down to the McCord Creek Bridge and Beacon Rock. This area was scorched by the 2017 fire and has become a tangle of maple shoots, fireweed, trailing blackberry, and snowberry. You may notice up to the right a somewhat incongruously placed picnic table. The Gorge Trail passes below a scree slope with a lone, snapped off Douglas-fir. You can see up to basalt pinnacles on the Wauneka Point ridge. Soon, the trail joins the Historic Columbia River Highway State Trail near the freeway. Bear right to hike along this paved trail, passing a couple of columnar basalt seating circles and then white railings as the route rises. When you reach the next junction with the Gorge 400 Trail, bear right.

The 400 trail takes you up to offer open views across the river again. Thimbleberry, trailing blackberry, and blackcap raspberry form a dense understory. A nicely flagstoned piece of trail leads to a crossing of an open scree slope as you keep rising away from the freeway. Sheer cliffs rise above. You’ll soon enter another area of scorched maple trees sprouting again from their lignotubers. Strawberry Island can be seen across the river, and there are good views to the west. When you reach the Historic Columbia River Highway State Trail again, bear right and make a sharp to turn off the paved surface and back onto the Gorge Trail.

Traffic roars across the freeway bridges over Moffett Creek as you descend under the gray conglomerates of the Eagle Creek Formation to a slippery footbridge. Pass under a massive toppled Douglas-fir and soon note the Gorge-Munra Point Trail Junction, where an ‘Area Closed’ sign forbids access to Munra Point. The trail passes along a slope of forested scree where the hardy weed herb-Robert proliferates. After a while, the trail merges with a grassy road bed, and you’ll undulate along over small creek and pass a mossy old cistern on the right. An old turnpike takes you over a boggy patch before the trail rises to give you a view of the Bonneville Dam. Then you’ll switchback down a very steep slope above Tanner Creek, noting the Wahclella Falls Trailhead below. At the junction with the Historic Columbia River Highway, you can go right to cross the old Tanner Creek Bridge to reach the Wahclella Falls Trailhead.

Loop option: From the Tanner Creek Bridge, turn left on the paved Historic Columbia River Highway State Trail and follow it back to the John B Yeon Trailhead. This part of the loop is best done with a bike left at the Tanner Creek Bridge.


5. Tanner Creek to Cascade Locks


Description: The Gorge Trail between Tanner Creek and Eagle Creek was completed in the 1980s, connecting existing roads and trails for Tanner Creek, Tanner Butte, and Wauna Viewpoint. The trail makes use of a bench below Wauna Point for the major part of its traverse, an alignment also used by BPA powerlines. The area was heavily impacted by the 2017 Eagle Creek Fire and wasn’t reopened to the public until 2020. Between Eagle Creek and Cascade Locks, the Gorge Trail has two characters, the beginning of the route actually following, for the most part, the paved surface of the Historic Columbia River Highway State Trail (HCHRT), with the final section paralleling the freeway and offering one high viewpoint. Sights to note on this segment of the Gorge Trail are the historic structures at the Eagle Creek Day Use Area, once the Forest Service’s first campground, and Lower Ruckel Creek Falls. (An alternative trailhead here is the Tooth Rock Trailhead (no Northwest Forest Pass needed). Walk back down the entry road to find the Gorge Trail.)

Walk back up the road from the Wahclella Falls Trailhead, and bear right at the junction, looking for a small sign denoting the Gorge 400 Trail. The trail switchbacks up from the road in a Douglas-fir/big-leaf maple forest, passing a covered flume that once serviced the Bonneville Fish Hatchery. You’ll get a view down to the Wahclella Falls Trailhead before switchbacking and traversing through a forest that was scorched by the 2017 conflagration but still supports a canopy. An unsigned trail leads down to the left, a shortcut to the Tanner Creek Road near a large concrete water tank. The trail switchbacks gain, making a long traverse on a steep slope. You’ll get a glimpse of Beacon Rock at the next switchback. Now well within the fire zone, you’ll find the tread overgrown with trailing blackberry. At a signpost, the trail joins an old road bed on an alder/maple bench and crosses an area of springs to pass across a powerline corridor. Hamilton Mountain, Aldrich Butte, Cedar Mountain, and Table Mountain are all visible from here. You’ll join the powerline track, and after about 60 yards, branch left on a grassy road to keep to the route of the Gorge Trail. Above the burned maple snags, you can see Wauna Point rearing above to your right. The track soon joins the Tanner Creek Road, where you should turn left to head down to a tight bend.

At the bend, find the Gorge Trail leading up past a rootball into a desolate forest of standing snags. Soon, you’ll be on a wide trail bench hiking through a brushy groundcover of fireweed, blackcap raspberry, trailing blackberry, thimbleberry, and Oregon grape. Large fire-killed Douglas-firs tower overhead, and views open up to the Bonneville Dam, Table Mountain, and Greenleaf Peak. When you reach the rock wall-buttressed junction with the Wauna Viewpoint Trail, keep left, taking a moment to admire the old concrete trail sign embedded into the retaining wall.

As you descend gradually, you’ll get views east to the Bridge of the Gods and steep Ruckel Ridge. A switchback offers a view down to Eagle Creek and the Cascade Fish Hatchery. Three more switchbacks, the last at an old cable railed viewpoint, offer views to the mouth of Eagle Creek and prominences on the Washington side of the Columbia River Gorge. A traverse down a soggy slope brings into view the Eagle Creek Bridge (the fourth incarnation of that structure), and you enter a bottomland of scorched old-growth Douglas-fir to pass the Gorge-Shady Glen Trail Junction. Then the trail passes through a sawed-out section of a fallen 350-year-old Douglas-fir to descend to the Eagle Creek Bridge.

Wide Eagle Creek flows under this new bridge, which offers a great vantage point to fall-running coho salmon. Turn left on Eagle Creek Lane, and walk down below the historical day use area, once part of the Forest Service’s very first campground, to the Eagle Creek Day Use Trailhead. Are, you should take the time to inspect the historic restroom building at the day use area, affectionately known as Big John. It was constructed in 1916, and was proudly touted by the Forest Service as having the first flush toilets at one of its campgrounds. Then walk up the campground road to the left (east) of the parking area until you see a sign for the Gorge Trail on the left. Hike up and then swing left above a gully under tall, shady Douglas-firs. You can see the rearing ponds of the Cascade Fish Hatchery down to the left. The trail now heads along a fence at the top of a bluff, with the campground to the right. Keep left at a junction before descending the bluff. At the junction with the paved Historic Columbia River Highway State Trail, make a right.

The paved trail passes by a meadow flat sprouting young cottonwood trees. If you want to get a good view of Lower Ruckel Creek Falls, head directly across the meadow, which blooms with large patches of wild strawberry, until you see a short trail heading down under leafy maples to cobbled Ruckel Creek. Then return to the HCRHT the same way. The old road bed passes under dripping and unstable faces of the Eagle Creek Formation before reaching the Ruckel Creek Bridge, constructed in 1915, right above the waterfall. A interpretive sign gives details about the old highway, and the Ruckel Creek Trail rises up the east side of the creek gully all the way to the Benson Plateau.

Past the creek, the HCRHT passes under another face of the Eagle Creek Formation where a large slide buried the trail in January 2021. Close to the freeway, a sign explicates the almost-forgotten Sheridan State Park. Then you’ll walk along a line of Douglas-firs and circle above a hollow to reach a junction with the Gorge Trail before the HCRHT passes through a tunnel under the freeway.

Take the trail up the slope, with the freeway roaring just below. A couple of switchbacks take you up to a mossy prominence, which offers a vista across the forested hummocks of the Bonneville Landslide to the sheer south faces of Table Mountain and Greenleaf Peak. Through the trees upriver, you can see the Bridge of the Gods. The 2017 Eagle Creek Fire burned in this area, and you’ll now be hiking on an undulating course through a landscape of hummocks and hollows created by landslides from the face of the Oregon Gorge. Poison oak is common here, and has proliferated since the fire. Hiking up a slope, you’ll see the scorched outline of the Benson Plateau above. The last section of trail runs along a fence near the freeway to reach the junction with the Pacific Crest Trail at Harvey Road.

Loop option: Best done by bike. Turn left on Harvey Road and keep left to pick up the Pacific Crest Trail under the I-84 freeway bridge. Hike down to the Bridge of the Gods Trailhead, and then continue down through Toll House Park to cross Wa Na Pa Street to the Bridge of the Gods. From the Cascade Locks Trailhead here, ride your bike on the Historic Columbia River Highway State Trail back to the Wahclella Falls Trailhead.


6. Cascade Locks to Herman Creek


Directions: Here, the Gorge Trail (Pacific Crest Trail #2000, Herman Bridge Trail #406E, Herman Creek Trail #406) follows along the mossy, forested talus skirt below the Benson Plateau. Highlights include Dry Creek Falls, the Herman Creek Pinnacles, Pacific Crest Falls, and the Herman Creek Bridge.

Cross the road leading to the toll booth at the Bridge of the Gods, and take the Pacific Crest Trail up an embankment. The trail drops to pass under I-84 and reach Moody Avenue. Go right and walk 50 yards up to a junction. Keep right here on Harvey Road and walk another 50 yards to where the Pacific Crest Trail crosses Harvey Road at the PCT Harvey Road Trailhead.

The PCT heads up in a mixed woodland of Douglas-fir, western hemlock, red alder, and big-leaf maple. The tread here can be very muddy due to a series of springs that issue from the slope above the trail. Then the path makes a wide right swing and rises to meet a bench of larger Douglas-firs. Traverse westward a little more before swinging left to a make a long, rising traverse. Reach the powerline corridor and go right up the maintenance track. Past a pylon, head left into the forest on the PCT.

Pass more large Douglas-firs and make a traverse in coniferous forest to round a very steep knoll. The trail now descends a little and then levels to pass the unmarked Pacific Crest-Rudolph Spur Trail Junction ten yards before reaching Dry Creek Road and the Dry Creek Bridge. It’s about a quarter of a mile up Dry Creek Road, with Dry Creek rushing to your left, to reach multi-tiered Dry Creek Falls pouring into its amphitheater of columnar basalt. The lower tier of 75 feet is a pretty horsetail, but there are four upper tiers hidden in the narrow defiles above. Here, you’ll also see the remains of the waterworks that once provided water to the City of Cascade Locks.

Return to the Dry Creek Bridge and take the Pacific Crest Trail heading east. Make a rising traverse above a deep gully and pass through the remains of serial blowdown from a November 2015 windstorm. Swing around the head of the gully and cross a mossy talus slope to get a view across the Columbia River of Stevenson, Greenleaf Peak, and Table Mountain. The trail rises more appreciatively and then drops, offering glimpses of the high basalt ramparts at the northern edge of the Benson Plateau. Cross a heavily eroded gully (take care here!) and then pass one of the largest Douglas-firs on this section of trail. About a mile and a half from Dry Creek Road, a mossy talus field appears on the left and then the short spur trail to the Herman Creek Pinnacles, all chunks of basalt that fell from the heights above in an ancient landslide. There are three main pinnacles and a few smaller ones scattered about.

Continue along the trail passing more mossy chunks in the woods and cross the creek that funnels Pacific Crest Falls, a two-tiered, 100-foot spate that pours through a narrow slot in the rock face above. The trail rises to cross a talus slope with views to the Washington side of the Gorge. Cross a second talus slope and reach the Pacific Crest-Herman Bridge Trail Junction.

Make a left here and make a gradual descent, crossing two talus fields before snaking down a moss-carpeted slope. Fetch up at the Herman Creek Bridge, and admire wide flowing Herman Creek with its border of alders. This is a good turnaround point, but if you want to continue to the Herman Creek Trailhead, head up from the bridge, and switchback to hike along a forested rim before bending right to follow an old road bed. The trail rises up a slope where you can get a view back to Nick Eaton Ridge from a talus opening before reaching the Herman Creek-Herman Bridge Trail Junction.

Turn left on the Herman Creek Trail and pass through a boulder field to reach an open powerline corridor. Cross the corridor and switchback twice in leafy woods to traverse down. Two more short switchbacks take you to the Herman Creek Trailhead.

Loop option: None by trail. You could bike back through Cascade Locks on roads.


7. Herman Creek to Wyeth


Directions: This final section of the Gorge Trail is the last addition to that project, completed in the early 1990s, and essentially follows the boundary of the expanded Mark O. Hatfield Wilderness. As with other sections of the Gorge Trail, the sounds of the Gorge as a transportation corridor are never far away. A couple of viewpoints allow you to see across the river to the Washington shore. This area was affected by the 2017 Eagle Creek Fire, but along most of these lower slopes, the canopy is still intact.

The path drops from the trailhead, but then switchbacks up twice before traversing. There are two more switchbacks in shady woods. Reach the powerline corridor and cross it, heading up to the right to reenter the forest. Here, you'll begin to see the effects of the 2017 Eagle Creek Fire, with the understory burned away but slowly recovering and the conifer canopy mostly intact. The path winds through an area of large, moss-covered boulders, and then passes an old forest track leading off the left. (This track drops down to Herman Creek Road.) Pass around the nose of a ridge, switchback twice, and traverse up to the junction with the Herman Bridge Trail #406E, 0.6 miles from the trailhead. Keep up on the main trail to switchback and then reach a bend in an old forest road. Stay right and head up the road, which levels in Douglas-fir, hemlock, and maple forest. You'll arrive at a five-way junction after 1.3 miles where the Herman Creek Trail reaches Herman Camp. The actual campsite is up the first trail to the right if you turn left here.

Take the Gorge Trail #400, the first trail on the left, and head into Douglas-fir/Oregon grape woods. The route essentially forms the northern boundary of the Mark O. Hatfield Wilderness as per the new boundaries drawn up in 2009. Drop under Douglas-fir, hemlock, big-leaf maple canopy. Oregon grape and sword fern are the main carpet plants. Watch for the pileated woodpeckers that frequent this part of the forest. The trail rises slightly in a cedar grove and crosses a creek to then pass above a huge boulder that tumbled from above centuries ago. Enter open secondary forest and see the powerline corridor below. At a mossy talus slope, the Washington side of the Gorge is visible: Wind Mountain, Home Valley, the Columbia River, and Dog Mountain. A couple of ancient Douglas-firs survive on the jumble of boulders. The trail drops, and you cross rushing Grays Creek and then a second, smaller tributary. Pass across another open talus slope with a rocky rampart above. At the third talus slope, there’s a great view of Wind and Dog Mountains as well as Home Valley. Traverse three narrower talus slopes with more views. After you cross Gorton Creek, reach the Wyeth Trail and turn left to descend an old road bed to the Wyeth Campground. The new Wyeth Trailhead is across the bridge on the west side of Gorton Creek.

Loop option: None by trail. You could bike back along Wyeth Road/Herman Creek Road to Frontage Road.


Maps

  • Maps: Hike Finder
  • Green Trails Maps: Bridal Veil #428 and 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
  • National Geographic Trails Illustrated Map: Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area

Fees, Regulations, etc.

Trip Reports

Related Discussions / Q&A

Guidebooks that cover this hike

(not all sections of the Gorge Trail are covered in these guidebooks)

  • Day Hike! Columbia Gorge by Seabury Blair, Jr.
  • Oregon: The Creaky Knees Guide by Seabury Blair, Jr.
  • Hiking the Columbia River Gorge by Russ Schneider; revised by Jim Yuskavitch
  • 50 Hiking Trails: Portland & Northwest Oregon by Don & Roberta Lowe

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.