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Larch Mountain via Oneonta Trail Hike

From Oregon Hikers Field Guide

TKO put tools to trail here.png
Old growth noble fir and hemlock forest at the upper end of the Oneonta Trail on Larch Mountain (bobcat)
Triple Falls in December (Steve Hart)
The third (and last) bridge over Oneonta Creek, Oneonta Trail (bobcat)
Campsite at the junction with the Horsetail Creek Trail, just below the Oneonta Trail (bobcat)
Talus slope on the switchbacks below Franklin Ridge, Oneonta Trail (bobcat)
Pinkish coral mushroom (Ramaria formosa), upper Oneonta Trail (bobcat)
The route of the Oneonta Trail to the top of Larch Mountain (not a GPS track) (bobcat) Courtesy: Caltopo/USFS
  • Start point: Oneonta TrailheadRoad.JPG
  • End point: Sherrard Point
  • Trail Log: Trail Log
  • Hike Type: Out and back
  • Distance: 17.2 miles round trip
  • Elevation gain: 4400 feet
  • High point: 4,055 feet
  • Difficulty: Difficult
  • Seasons: May - October
  • Family Friendly: No
  • Backpackable: Yes
  • Crowded: As far as Triple Falls
Falling
Poison-Oak

Contents

Hike Description

This hike is a grueling climb to the top of Larch Mountain, and it's not even the shortest route. It passes several interesting waterfalls and a beautiful section of Oneonta Creek. Later, it climbs in a series of switchbacks through coniferous forest and across open scree slopes. You'll visit low level old-growth Doulgas-fir and higher level old-growth hemlock and noble fir forests. At the top, you'll have a wonderful view of five snowclad mountains. The 2017 Eagle Creek Fire affected the lower sections of this hike, but lengthy stretches above Triple Falls did not experience canopy fire, and you'll hike out of the fire zone after you attain Franklin Ridge. This hike is an excellent opportunity for a car shuttle.

Starting from the Oneonta Trailhead, the Oneonta Trail rises, paralleling the old highway and then crossing a slide gully that seems to reinvent itself every winter. When you reach the Oneonta-Gorge Trail Junction, make a left and traverse to get good views across the Columbia River to Archer Mountain. You'll recross the slide gully and then drop below a basalt pinnacle, getting more views across the river. The trail turns up Oneonta Gorge, entering an area of scorched snags and views to the narrow cleft of the lower box canyon. After passing a trailside spring, you'll reach the junction where the Horsetail Falls Trail #438 heads downhill to the Middle Oneonta Falls and the first Oneonta Creek Bridge.

From the junction, the Oneonta Trail passes a wilderness permit box and a sign indicating entry to the Mark O. Hatfield Wilderness. A substantial seasonal waterfall appears across Oneonta Creek. You'll cross another slide gully, which may necessitate some care if it has been recently active. The trail climbs to a pair of switchbacks as it traverses high above the amphitheater of Upper Oneonta Falls, erroneously labeled Oneonta Falls on topographical maps. You can see the very top of these falls from the trail. (A short, sometimes sketchy scramble path used to angle down to the falls from the main trail just below the switchbacks, but this has disappeared since the Eagle Creek Fire.) Above the falls and across the creek, a steeply plunging stream disgorges into its own debris fan. You'll switchback up twice under a dripping rock face and traverse a steep slope high above Oneonta Creek. High above and across the creek, you can see the crest of Horsetail Ridge, totally scorched during the 2017 fire.

A short side trail breaks left and descends to a clifftop view of Triple Falls. Keep your kids and dogs in hand as you gaze across to the three plumes of the waterfall, with the hiker bridge crossing Oneonta Creek just above it.

You can angle left coming up from the viewpoint to rejoin the main trail. The Oneonta Trail will take you down almost to creek level and the new bridge, installed in 2021, across the creek. Follow the east bank of Oneonta Creek, which tumbles and braids around large, mossy boulders. There is much blowdown from the 2017 fire, both in the understory and in the creek itself. After you switchback up twice, you'll find yourself under a conifer canopy again in an area affected by ground fire. Two more switchbacks take you past a couple of seasonal waterfalls. Everything becomes lush, shady, and carpeted with bright green moss. The trail crosses a couple of small creeks, one with a waterfall upstream. A single log (but railed) footbridge takes you back over to the west bank of Oneonta Creek. A couple of short switchbacks lead you into a large boulder field to arrive at the junction with the Horsetail Creek Trail #425. Below, you can see a mossy campsite, and the Horsetail Creek Trail heads above this to a ford, deep and risky in the wet season, of Oneonta Creek.

From the junction, the Oneonta Trail switchbacks and then makes a long traverse across a slope of lightly burned forest with an open understory supporting Oregon grape and sword fern. Another switchback leads to the next traverse before you ascend in four shorter switchbacks. You'll also begin to get views of the mostly unburned canopy across Oneonta Creek and the deep incision of Bell Creek up the valley. The parapets of a rock formation loom above, and bear-grass appears alongside the trail. You'll cross and recross scree slopes in two more switchbacks reentering a zone of crown fire and crossing over the crest of Franklin Ridge to reach the Oneonta-Franklin Ridge Trail Junction.

Keep left here, and angle down through old-growth forest with impressive Douglas-firs, noble firs, and western hemlocks. Then the trail rises through a tongue of the 2017 burn, and you’ll pass through a tangle of old blowdown. Exit the fire zone finally, and reach the Oneonta-Multnomah Spur Trail Junction at a massive Douglas-fir. Stay left again on the Oneonta Trail #424, and hike up a trail lined with deer fern, salal, and Oregon grape and shaded by large conifers. You’ll gradually descend a slope and cross Oneonta Creek at a couple of downed trees. A long turnpike takes you through a swampy area before you rise to the junction with the Bell Creek Trail.

Stay on the Oneonta Trail, and begin ascending the east rim of the Larch Mountain Crater. You’ll traverse above the headwaters of Oneonta Creek. A small spring issues over the tread, and soon you’ll begin seeing big old stumps with springboard notches, reminding you that the area was logged over 100 years ago. In some sections, the trail is turnpike, but then it switchbacks at the boundary of the Bull Run Watershed (entry expressly prohibited). Cross an old logging road marked with No Trespassing signs, and keep rising in an open understory scattered with clumps of bear-grass. Noble and silver fir begin to appear in the conifer mix. After reaching the bed of an old logging railroad, you’ll pass the junction with the Multnomah Creek Way Trail where it comes out of an old cutting.

The trail soon departs from the railroad grade and levels on the crest of the rim. A massive, 10-foot wide cedar stump sprouts a number of nursing young ‘uns. Then a spur to the right leads you to a rock with a view to Mount Saint Helens and Mount Adams over the trees. The trail joins an old road bed and rises gradually to pass a kiosk and reach Larch Mountain Road. Turn right to walk 0.3 miles up the verge of the road to the Larch Mountain Trailhead.

The trail to Sherrard Point departs from the northeast corner of the Larch Mountain parking lot. You want the paved trail on the far right, closest to the pay station. The paved trail wanders slightly downhill through a montane forest of noble fir, silver fir, mountain hemlock, and western hemlock to a saddle, where you'll pass the Larch Mountain Trail coming in from the left. Then you come to several flights of stairs - about 125 steps in all. Near the top, you'll see a plaque commemorating Thomas H. Sherrard, an early Mt. Hood National Forest Supervisor. Blooming on the steep rock faces in summer are Howell’s daisies, alumroot, rock penstemon, matted saxifrage, and Cardwell’s penstemon.

At the top, you'll find a flat cement viewpoint, fenced for safety. Below the point, you'll see a tarn and the crater meadow. The view extends to the coast range on the west and to Mount Defiance on the east. On the Washington side of the Gorge, you'll see Silver Star Mountain, Hamilton Mountain, Birkenfeld Mountain, and Table Mountain, while behind them rise the snowy peaks of Mount Saint Helens, Mount Rainier, and Mount Adams. To the south, Mount Hood and the top of Mount Jefferson are visible.

On the return, you can make a loop by descending the Larch Mountain Trail and then taking Multnomah Creek Way and the Multnomah Spur Trail to rejoin the Oneonta Trail half a mile above the Franklin Ridge Trail junction. This would be roughly the same length as returning via the Oneonta Trail.


Maps

  • Maps: Hike Finder
  • Green Trails Maps: Bridal Veil, OR #428
  • 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, Facilties, etc.

  • Between May 24 and Sept. 5, 2022, a Timed Use Permit ($2 fee) will be required for each personal vehicle accessing federal lands adjacent to the Waterfall Corridor between 9 a.m. and 6 p.m. just east of the Bridal Veil off-ramp (Exit 28) to Ainsworth State Park (Exit 35).
  • Self-issued wilderness permit; wilderness rules apply

Trip Reports

Related Discussions / Q&A

Guidebooks that cover this hike

  • Hiking the Columbia River Gorge by Russ Schneider; revised by Jim Yuskavitch
  • Columbia River Gorge: 42 Scenic Hikes by Don & Roberta Lowe
  • 35 Hiking Trails: Columbia River Gorge by Don & Roberta Lowe
  • 70 Hiking Trails: Northern Oregon Cascades by Don & Roberta Lowe
  • Fire, Faults, and Floods: A Road & Trail Guide Exploring the Origins of the Columbia River Basin by Marge & Ted Mueller

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.