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Fort Cascades Loop Hike

From Oregon Hikers Field Guide

Narrow gauge railroad exhibit at Fort Cascades (Steve Hart)
Replica petroglyph (Steve Hart)
Remnants of the Sutler's store (Steve Hart)
The loop at the site of Fort Cascades (bobcat) Courtesy: Google Maps
Poison-Oak

Contents

Hike Description

There's a lot of history crammed in the narrow area of the Columbia River Gorge just west of the Bonneville Dam. When the Table Mountain Slide (Bonneville Landslide) occurred in late prehistoric times, it created the Cascades of the Columbia River. Native American people used the Cascades as a fishing area and also became trading partners with later Euro-American travelers. Lewis and Clark mention an Indian village on this site.

In later years, when Europeans began to settle in the area, the Cascades became a natural transportation bottleneck. The first road was built by the US military in the 1850s. In 1855, the military established a blockhouse at Fort Cascades to protect the portage from Native American raids. Peace soon returned to the area, and the military abandoned the fort in 1861, when the soldiers were called back to fight in the Civil War. Settlers soon claimed the fort and outlying buildings, creating the town of Cascades. Cascades became the first county seat of Skamania County, with the old Quartermaster's Office functioning as the first court house. By 1893, Cascades had been eclipsed by Stevenson as the county seat and social center of the area. In 1894, a large flood swept through the area destroying the townsite. It was never rebuilt. Today, there are no visible remains of the town itself. Extensive archaeological work has found many relics and some of the larger items are displayed on the hike.

This hike starts at the Fort Cascades Trailhead, maintained by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. A paved trail leads to a covered kiosk with information about the history of the area. Be sure to print out or pick up a brochure detailing the self-guided hike. Then you'll pass picnic tables and get a view of the Bonneville Dam. After you pass the site of an old fishwheel, come to a fork and angle left. The leafy canopy here is composed of Douglas-fir, Oregon white oak, serviceberry, and hazel. Mossy boulders from the landslide are capped with licorice fern. When another trail crosses yours, take a quick trip left to a grassy viewpoint of the Bonneville Dam, Wauna Point and Wauna Viewpoint. The hydro cannons from a juvenile fish facility may be spraying out over the river (disgorging hatchlings into the river this way gives them a chance against predators). Return to the main trail, and pass a couple more stations (the Fort Cascades Compound and the Johnson Donation). Then you'll reach the Fort Cascades Petroglyph, a replica of a stone found in this location. (The original is at the county courthouse in Stevenson.)

At stops #7 and #8, you'll learn about McNatt’s Hotel and McNatt’s barn and stable. Then the path reaches a grassy area along the fence for the Juvenile Fish Bypass Monitoring Facility. The trail becomes gravel at an old road bed and heads east again. You'll reach a junction, with a trail going sharp left for Wildlife Viewing and City Park. (You can take this trail, which runs near Fort Cascades Drive, to connect with the Strawberry Island Loop Hike and get great views of Archer Mountain, Aldrich Butte, Birkenfeld Mountain, Table Mountain, and Greenleaf Peak, as well as across to the Oregon side of the Columbia River Gorge.)

Looping back toward the east on the interpretive trail, you will pass a few items found near the Sutler's store. Then you cross several transportation corridors. The Military Portage Road is the oldest. You'll also cross the Warren Portage Tramway, used as late as the 1930s. At stop #13, you'll read about the Cascade Portage Road (1863) and see some old track and wheels. The last point of interest, in a clearing surrounded by oak trees and wild rose, is Thomas McNatt's grave. The McNatts owned the store, stables, and hotel in Cascades. When you close the interpretive loop, go left and back towards the parking area.


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Guidebooks that cover this hike

  • Best Hikes With Kids: Western Washington by Susan Elderkin
  • Day Hiking: Columbia River Gorge by Craig Romano
  • Take a Walk: Portland by Brian Barker
  • Hiking Washington's History by Judy Bentley
  • Columbia Gorge Getaways by Laura O. Foster
  • Pokin' Round the Gorge by Scott Cook

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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.