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Maryhill Loops Hike

From Oregon Hikers Field Guide

The loops, Maryhill Loops Road (bobcat)
Smooth desert parsley (Lomatium laevigatum), Maryhill Loops Road (bobcat)
Cottonwood rest stop, Maryhill Loops Road (bobcat)
Cows and turbines, Maryhill Loops Road (bobcat)
The Maryhill Loops Road (bobcat) Courtesy: Caltopo
  • Start point: Maryhill Loops TrailheadRoad.JPG
  • End point: Davies Pass
  • Trail Log:
  • Hike Type: In and out
  • Distance: 5.9 miles round trip
  • High point: 1,560 feet
  • Elevation gain: 820 feet
  • Difficulty: Moderate
  • Seasons: Year round
  • Family Friendly: Yes
  • Backpackable: No
  • Crowded: No


Hike Description

A walk on a paved highway is not everyone's idea of a hike, but this historic route is now closed to vehicle traffic, and hikers can enjoy the vistas and the solitude although the busy U.S. 97 is not far away. This section of the Maryhill Loops Road ascends almost 1,000 feet into the Columbia Hills on 12 hairpin bends. The road was built by Sam Hill, the entrepreneur and railroad man who built the Maryhill Museum of Art and Maryhill Stonehenge, both of which can be visited on the same day you do the hike. Hill called upon engineer Samuel C. Lancaster to design the Loops Road, and the project became a prototype for Lancaster's much more ambitious venture a few years later, the Columbia River Highway. The Maryhill Loops Road was first paved from 1909 to 1913, the first asphalt highway in the state of Washington. Sam Hill intended that wheat farmers would transport their produce down to his railroad. Washington State built U.S. 97 on the other side of the drainage in 1948. The Loops Road was closed in the 1960s, having been declared unfit by the Washington Department of Transportation. It was refurbished in 1998 by the DOT and can now be used for special events, such as long boarding, street luge races, and classic car parades. The area that encompasses the loops, about 6,000 acres, is owned by the Maryhill Museum of Art, and the lands on either side of the loops are leased for crop growing and cattle range.

At the trailhead, an interpretive sign tells about the Maryhill Museum's stewardship of these 6,000 acres. From the stile and gate, hike along the road above a creek shaded by evergreen blackberry, white alder, and a few locust trees. Walk around a bend in an avenue of white-barked deciduous trees, and then pass under an arbor of white poplars. Reach a corral before heading into the first sharp loop - there may be cattle near the road here. Above the corral, the real ascent begins at a 25-degree gradient, a heavy task for the automobiles of the early 20th century. You're now in open country dotted with pink filaree in the springtime. Heading ever upward, pass through a gate on the road. Balsamroot and gray-leaf desert-parsley splash the hillsides. Now you're above the alder-lined creek and can see ahead to the remains of a dam, constructed in 1909 by Sam Hill to provide water to a proposed settlement below. The dam never filled because of the porous substrate, and large chunks of the former wall lie in the gully. Highway 97, usually quite active with traffic, can be seen across the valley. Loop around more bends, and yellow smooth desert-parsley takes over as the main bloom in spring. Look also for death-camas, milk-vetch, fiddleneck, whitlow-grass, and lupine blooming on these slopes.

Near a borrow pit, come to a lone cottonwood with a memorial drinking fountain, made around 1912 out of a glacial erratic, and a horse trough at a small boggy spring. You can read a faded information sign about Sam Hill. Here the newly paved section (1998) ends, and you continue uphill on more broken pavement, with some sections eroded away. Rabbitbrush lines the road up here, and you pass through another gate. The road crosses and recrosses the creek, negotiates a blackberry thicket, and keeps up past abandoned, rusting equipment to reach a locked gate that blocks the road. Above, you'll see farm buildings that nestle below Davies Pass. Old farm equipment and rolls of barbed wire rust by the road side. On the ridge above, towering 400-foot (from the base to the 12 o'clock point of a rotor) wind turbines churn slowly. Return the way you came, enjoying views of the Oregon side of the east Gorge, from Fulton Canyon to the mouth of the John Day River.


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Guidebooks that cover this hike

  • Curious Gorge by Scott Cook

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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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