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Rainy Lake via Gorton Creek Trail Hike

From Oregon Hikers Field Guide

Indian Point, an exposed pinnacle near the Gorton Creek Trail. (RSDW)
Columbine (Aquilegia formosa) blooms along the Gorton Creek Trail in late July (cfm)
Burned hillside above Grays Creek, Gorton Creek Trail (bobcat)
Mt. Adams from the Gorton Creek Trail (bobcat)
Hall's isopyrum (Enemion hallii) and crab spider, Gorton Creek Trail (bobcat)
Vine maple, Gorton Creek Trail (bobcat)
Ridge Camp, on the Gorton Creek Trail (bobcat)
Rainy Lake and Mt. Defiance from Green Point Mountain (bobcat)
The route to Rainy Lake from the Herman Creek Trailhead (not a GPS track) (bobcat) Courtesy: USFS/Caltopo
  • Start point: Herman Creek TrailheadRoad.JPG
  • End point: Rainy Lake
  • Trail Log: Trail Log
  • Hike Type: Out and Back
  • Distance: 22.0 miles
  • Elevation gain: 5430 feet
  • High point: 4,736 feet
  • Difficulty: Difficult
  • Seasons: Summer into fall
  • Family Friendly: No
  • Backpackable: Yes
  • Crowded: No

Contents

Hike Description

The Gorton Creek Trail, named after a 19th century homesteader, takes you from Herman Camp to the top of the Columbia River Gorge on Waucoma Ridge. It passes close to Rainy Lake, an excellent overnight camp spot for backpackers although it can be busy on summer weekends with visitors who walk in the quarter mile from the Rainy Lake Trailhead. Features of note along the trail are the stunning viewpoint from Indian Point, the now obliterated Deadwood Camp, and a short diversion to the high point of the hike at Green Point Mountain. Much of the lower half of the hike wends through the 2017 Eagle Creek Burn, and damage is greater above Deadwood Camp, where the trail disappears in a couple of spots. Above 3,400 feet, you're only going to see small ground fire effects from the burn as you cross a series of talus slopes overgrown with lush vegetation at the headwaters of Gorton Creek. Above the junction with the Nick Eaton Trail, you'll make a short ascent to the broad sloping plateau on the western flank of Green Point Mountain and then leave the Gorton Creek Trail to drop to the bowl that holds Rainy Lake.

The trail drops from the Herman Creek Trailhead, but then switchbacks up twice before traversing. There are two more switchbacks in shady big-leaf maple, hemlock, Douglas-fir woods. The trail reaches the powerline corridor and crosses it, heading up to the right to reenter the woods. 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.

For the Gorton Creek Trail, go left and take the second trail on the right (The first trail leads a short distance to Herman Camp). Now you're entering the Mark O. Hatfield Wilderness although wilderness signs in this area are still posted higher up at the pre-2009 boundaries. The Gorton Creek Trail rises, steepens, and then makes a long traverse through a scorched understory. Pass a large Douglas-fir, and switchback twice into an area of crown fire. However, Oregon grape, fairy bells, violet, thimbleberry, and vine maple are all leafing out again from their roots. Two more switchbacks afford you views of the Columbia River through the burned trees. Make a long traverse up, and cross a lush gully of large Douglas-firs and an intact understory. Another couple of switchbacks take you into a second old-growth gully. Cross a creek, round the nose of a ridge, and switchback. Make a rising traverse and, at the next traverse, you can go off trail to the left to get a view down to the basalt pinnacle at Indian Point. Across the river is the microdioritic intrusion of Wind Mountain. After one more switchback, you'll come to the Gorton Creek-Indian Point-Ridge Cutoff Trail Junction, 3.9 miles from the Herman Creek Trailhead. The Ridge Cutoff Trail #437 heads right to intersect with the Nick Eaton Trail after 0.6 miles (See the Indian Point Loop Hike); 40 yards farther on, you'll see a steep user trail that descends on the left, the Indian Point Trail #408C.

You may want to drop your backpack at the junction as the Indian Point Trail descends steeply for almost 200 feet to the Indian Point outcropping. You can go along the steep-sided ridge to the pinnacle and ascend it if you're a confident scrambler. The Gorge town of Stevenson can be seen across the river as well as Wind Mountain and Dog Mountain. On a good day, the snowy peaks of the Washington Cascades are clearly visible. The vegetation on this ridge is an interesting mix: chinquapin, manzanita, ocean spray, Douglas-fir, western red-cedar, Pacific yew, and common juniper.

After admiring the views, continue along the Gorton Creek Trail in a descending traverse for another 0.8 miles to the Gorton Creek-Deadwood Trail Junction. Despite having been overrun by fire in 2017, the trail fringe is brushy with thimbleberry, vanilla leaf, inside-out flower, pathfinder, white spiraea, phacelia, and invasive smooth hawkweed. Signs at the junction were destroyed in the Eagle Creek Fire. Next, you'll cross Grays Creek, which can run swift with spring snow runoff or nearly dry in late summer, to pass above the site of Deadwood Camp, now obliterated by fallen trees and burned beyond recognition. If you're backpacking, Grays Creek is your best water source, at least until the end of July, but you're on your own in finding some level ground for a camp spot.

Continuing along the Gorton Creek Trail from Deadwood Camp, expect a steep climb. You're still in the burn zone at first, and only the lower part of this section has been maintained post-fire. Make five switchbacks up, negotiating some fire debris and downed trees on the way. After the fifth switchback, the trail seems to disappear into a tangle of burned brush and fallen trees. Head straight up to the ridge crest from here, and pick up the trail again on the crest. Soon the path slips over to the west side of the crest, and you may lose it again. Keep going straight, and find the switchback that takes you back to the crest and a section of unburned forest where vine maples crowd the understory. Switchback over to the east side of the ridge, and enter more of the burn. You can see east to the burned west slopes of the ridges above Gorton and Harphan Creeks. Exit the burn now in a huckleberry understory, and reach a talus slope with a resident population of pikas. A view opens up to Dog Mountain and Cook Hill across the river. Push your way through a lush vine maple/ salmonberry/ thimbleberry thicket at one of the headwaters of Gorton Creek. Silver and noble firs dominate the slope forest now. Pass through a slide alder thicket, and get a splendid view towards Mount Adams from the next talus slope. You need to drop a little off the tread to avoid the alders which have invaded the original pathway. Pass through a thicket of mock orange, thimbleberry, and snowberry to reenter a low intensity tongue of the 2017 burn. Make four switchbacks, passing the old wilderness boundary in the process and getting glimpses of a big talus field. Continue to ascend through bear-grass and huckleberries in unburned woods. Drop over the ridge crest, and come to the Gorton Creek-Nick Eaton Trail Junction at 3,930 feet and 7.3 miles from the trailhead (See the Nick Eaton Ridge Loop Hike for a description of the steep descent via the Nick Eaton Trail.).

Ridge Camp is another 0.2 miles farther up the Gorton Creek Trail. The path runs slightly below the saddle crest and, where the trail begins to rise, you can find Ridge Camp about 20 yards to your right. There is no easy access to water here, however, so don't plan for this spot as an overnight camp or a refill station. You'll pass through one tiny outlying patch of the Eagle Creek Fire where sparks alit upon a few conifers, and then you'll make three switchbacks up at a talus slope. Rise along the nose of the ridge, and make one more switchback in very dense, scrappy woods. Reach the Gorton Creek-Plateau Cutoff Trail Junction, and stay right (The Plateau Cutoff Trail #412 is a half-mile connector to the Green Point Ridge Trail #418. It is not maintained and a little overgrown on its western end.).

The trail rises very gradually, with some flat stretches, on the broad Green Point Plateau which, 100 years ago, was virtually treeless. Vanilla leaf carpets a lush glade, but then bear-grass takes over in a montane wood of silver fir, noble fir, and Douglas-fir. After 1.8 miles of same-age forest, come to the four-way Gorton Creek-Green Point Ridge-North Lake Trail Junction. It's worth dropping your pack here again for the 0.3 mile diversion to the top of Green Point Mountain. You'll hike up through huckleberries, pass over a prominence with a first view down to Rainy Lake and across to Mount Defiance, and then come to the open cliff edge at the summit. Here, subalpine fir and white bark pine predominate, and mats of common juniper rim the precipice. Rainy Lake sparkles below, and Mount Defiance and its communication array can be seen across a wide forested saddle. Views are best to the north, where Mount Adams is prominent, and the peaks of the Indian Heaven spine, including Lemei Rock, stand out.

Return to the four-way junction, and go right to descend the North Lake Trail #423. An open traverse across a rocky slope cloaked with pinemat manzanita permits another view of Mount Defiance. A second opening gives you your best view south to the Hood River Valley and Mount Hood. Pass through a dense thicket of Sitka alder, bitter cherry, vine maple, cascara, boxwood, and snowberry, and then hike down more talus. Reenter shady forest where the trail passes through a boulder field, and arrive at the North Lake-Rainy Lake Trail Junction, where you'll make a right. Note, however, that North Lake, one mile away to the north, may be a more peaceful place to camp on a summer weekend night than the well visited Rainy Lake.

The Rainy Lake Trail rises through huckleberries and bear-grass and then levels. You'll find yourself walking along a corridor of Sitka alder on the earth dam at Rainy Lake. The dam was constructed in the first decade of the 20th century to create a log pond. A flume ran down the slope from here to a mill at Kingsley. Get a view to the steep east slope of Green Point Mountain across the lake. Cross a collapsed footbridge at the lake outlet, and reach a couple of campsites at Rainy Lake's south shore. You could also camp at the Rainy Lake Campground, only a quarter mile down the slope, but for that privilege you'll have to pay.

On the return, purists may want to do the remainder of the Gorton Creek Trail by making a small loop which adds 1.6 miles to your distance. From Rainy Lake, drop down to the Rainy Lake Campground. Go right to hike up the old Wahtum Lake Road 1.1 miles to the Gorton Creek-Herman Creek Cutoff-Rainy Wahtum Trail Junction, where there's a World War II signal hut. Make a sharp right to take the Gorton Creek Trail to the summit of Green Point Mountain, and then keep descending to return to the Herman Creek Trailhead the way you came or via the steeper Nick Eaton Trail.


Maps

Fees, Facilities, etc.

  • Northwest Forest Pass required
  • Restrooms, picnic table at trailhead; campground, restrooms at Rainy Lake Campground

Trip Reports

Related Discussions / Q&A

Guidebooks that cover this hike

  • Hiking the Columbia River Gorge by Russ Schneider; revised by Jim Yuskavitch
  • 35 Hiking Trails: Columbia River Gorge 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.

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