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Tracy Hill Loop Hike

From Oregon Hikers Field Guide

View to Memaloose Island from west Tracy Hill (bobcat)
Stream, Tracy Hill (bobcat)
Poet's shooting star (Dodecatheon poeticum), Tracy Hill (bobcat)
Pinnacles and oaks, Catherine Creek Canyon (bobcat)
Common camas (Camassia quamash), Tracy Hill (bobcat)
The route on unofficial trails, Tracy Hill (not a GPS track) (bobcat) Courtesy: Google Maps
  • Start point: Tracy Hill TrailheadRoad.JPG
  • End point: Bathtub Spring
  • Trail Log:
  • Hike Type: Loop
  • Distance: 6.1 miles round trip
  • High point: 1,840 feet
  • Elevation gain: 1715 feet
  • Difficulty: Moderate
  • Seasons: Year round; spring is best
  • Family Friendly: Yes
  • Backpackable: No
  • Crowded: No


Hike Description

Catherine Creek is another one of those immensely popular east Gorge destinations that was slowly discovered by the hiking masses after it became public land. Originally the Lauterbach Ranch, the property, which extends from Tracy Hill west to the Labyrinth, was purchased by the Trust for Public Land in 1985. In 1986, the Scenic Area was established and the next year, the Forest Service purchased the land from TPL in keeping with its goal to expand public holdings within the CRGNSA. At first, only a few botanizers explored these slopes: the area has greater floral diversity than places like Dog Mountain because of the unusual scabland nature of the slopes below 1,200 feet, which were scoured repeatedly by the Bretz (Missoula) Floods (15,300 – 12,700 years ago). Higher level grasslands were heavily grazed in the past and are still recovering their botanical richness. This hike begins at the easternmost trailhead in the area: Forest Service plans call for a realignment of some of the tread, but any new trail will lead up the slope of Tracy Hill in a similar direction. An optional extension (described below) takes you close to the summit of Tracy Hill. For the return, some easy route finding is necessary, so keep yourself well-oriented.

Hike past the gate on an old jeep track, FR 1230-030, on a grassy slope with scattered ponderosa pines. Tracy Creek runs to your left. Spring into summer, there will be many blooms down here, with bitterroot on rocky benches, shooting stars and bog saxifrage in wet areas, and grass widow, prairie star, yellow bells, and blue-eyed Mary in the meadows. Look also for several species of desert parsley. Pass under a powerline and hike along a fence line. The track briefly becomes a footpath and then swings left under a second powerline. Then, turn uphill and walk along a fenceline for a brief stretch. Where the track forks, keep right to stay above Tracy Creek. Dip into a small gully near the rim of the Major Creek valley, and then wind up an open slope. You’ll get a magnificent view of Mount Hood and also across the river to McCall Point, Rowena Dell, and Sevenmile Hill. Pass a small copse of oaks. The spine of the Columbia Hills is in full view now, as is the promontory of Crates Point on the Oregon side of the river. Continue rising next to a woodland of Oregon white oak and Douglas-fir, and pass the junction with another trail. Drop into an oak forest with a poison oak understory. Hike up a slope, disturbing a warren of California ground squirrels as you exit the woods. Traverse the slope, with Mount Hood full ahead and grass widows blooming at your feet in early spring. A plank crosses Tracy Creek where it spills out of an old cattle pond, the latter fed by Bathtub Spring, which is hidden behind a clump of vegetation.

For a two-mile (in and out) extension to your day, you can divert cross-country up the open grassy slope to reach a path that heads up towards oak woods. A vehicle track, FR 3110-324 heads into the woods from here. You may see a gang of turkeys in the oaks as you rise through a forest that is being actively thinned to reach the junction with FR 3110-322. Just beyond here is the national forest boundary line, with private property beyond the fence. Heading right on the 322 spur and then cross-country along the fence line will take you close to the Tracy Hill summit, which is actually on private property.

Return straight down the vehicle track to the east-west trail coming from the cattle pond at Bathtub Spring. Continue hiking west, passing above two ponderosa pines surrounded by their offspring. Drop down the west slope of Tracy Hill on benches with copses of grand old oak trees. Pass a rocky viewpoint and suitable lunch spot before picking up an obvious tread leading southeast past little basalt outcroppings on the grassy slope above Catherine Creek. Continue to pass clusters of oak trees as you head down; across the creek is a dark, east-facing Douglas-fir woodland. Now enter an oak forest with a thick understory of poison oak. Exit the forest and look up to your left at a rim of basalt faces and pinnacles. Veer left and reach a power line pylon. The trail then turns right under the power lines and comes to the Catherine Creek Arch-Catherine Creek Pinnacles Trail Junction. Go right on this more obvious track in a ponderosa pine/oak parkland: Lewis' woodpeckers are very active in this area. Under powerlines, reach a signpost at the Catherine Creek Arch-Eastside Trail Junction, and bear right.

This often boggy section of the loop trail rises to the western slope of Tracy Hill to a junction with the Catherine Creek Loop Trail. Make a right to pass through seeps and patches of April-blooming camas. The path steers down along the basalt rim of Catherine Creek's small canyon, passing a section that is peeling off, but offers a great viewpoint. You’ll pass the Catherine Creek Arch on the east side of a pole and rail fence, so will not be able to make out much of the structure. From the end of the fence, however, you can step over to the rim and get a view down to the old corral and Catherine Creek itself. Look south for a great view of Mount Hood, and search along the rocky rim for the beautiful bitterroot, which blooms here around the the beginning of May. Continue hiking down the open scabland slope, stepping in and out of a narrow gully that funnels a rushing brook.

At a junction, you'll see the new Catherine Creek Loop Trail heading off to the east. To the west, a brand new footbridge spans Catherine Creek. Leave the trail at the junction to keep descending and arrive above Old Highway 8. Walk parallel to an old fence line and then go over to the road for the last 200 yards back to your car.


  • Maps: Hike Finder
  • Green Trails Maps: Columbia River Gorge - East #432S (partial)

Regulations or restrictions, etc

  • Dogs on leash in Catherine Creek Arch area
  • $2 toll at Hood River Bridge

Trip Reports

Related Discussions / Q&A

Guidebooks that cover this hike

  • PDX Hiking 365 by Matt Reeder
  • Curious Gorge by Scott Cook
  • Afoot & Afield: Portland/Vancouver by Douglas Lorain
  • 70 Virtual Hikes of the Columbia River Gorge by Northwest Hiker

More Links


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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