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Viento State Park Hike

From Oregon Hikers Field Guide

Looking up Viento Creek in Viento State Park (bobcat)
Rock net on the Historic Columbia River Highway near Starvation Creek (bobcat)
Ball-head cluster lily (Dichelostemma congestum), Historic Columbia River Highway (bobcat)
The water tank, Water Tank Trail, Viento State Park (bobcat)
Picnic area, Viento State Park (bobcat)
Cook Hill across the Columbia River from Viento State Park (bobcat)
Looking up at Starvation Creek Falls from the picnic area (bobcat)
The route from Starvation Creek to Viento State Park with the side trails shown (not a GPS track) (bobcat) Courtesy: Google Maps
  • Start point: Starvation Creek TrailheadRoad.JPG
  • End point:Viento West Bluff and Viento Lake
  • Trail Log:
  • Hike Type: Out and back with spurs
  • Distance: 5.8 miles
  • Elevation gain: 490 feet
  • High point: 325 feet
  • Difficulty: Moderate
  • Seasons: All year
  • Family Friendly: Yes
  • Backpackable: No
  • Crowded: Yes
Nettles
Poison-Oak

Contents

Hike Description

This relatively flat hike allows you explore three Columbia River Gorge state parks using a segment of the Historic Columbia River Highway State Trail connecting Starvation Creek State Park and Viento State Park. The latter has two campgrounds as well as a day use area on the river itself. A few short trails in Viento allow you to explore different features of the state park, which gets its name from a curious combination of three surnames: Henry Villard of the Northern Pacific Railroad, William Endicott, a financier, and Tolman, a railroad contractor. This was once a stop on the first northern transcontinental line, completed in 1883. An alternative place to park, especially if you want to restrict yourself to Viento State Park, is the Viento Trailhead for the Historic Columbia River Highway State Trail.

Note that the trails up Viento Creek and to the top of the Viento West Bluff are essentially user paths these days and involve close encounters with poison oak. Of the trails, the Historic Columbia River Highway State Trail and the short spur up to Starvation Creek Falls are universal access.

In the parking area at the Starvation Creek Trailhead, you’ll see a plaque commemorating the beginning of construction on the Columbia River Highway in 1912. As noted on a smaller plaque, this information was once posted about two miles west at Shellrock Mountain, but was moved here because of new highway construction. The Historic Columbia River Highway State Trail heads east above the restrooms. Below the restrooms is a shady picnic area circled by a paved loop trail that uses a footbridge over Starvation Creek. At a junction for the Waterfall Picnic Area, you’ll see an interpretive sign telling about a train that got stranded in a snow bank here in December 1884. Passengers were stranded for three weeks, but Gorge residents helped out by skiing in with supplies. Although nobody died, this incident gave the creek and waterfall their current names. Hike up to the small picnic area and a view of 190-foot, two-tiered Starvation Creek Falls. The lower tier is partially obscured by a huge boulder that peeled off from the cliffs above. A user trail crosses the creek and heads up for a closer look, but you won’t really get a better sighting than the picnic area offers.

Return to the Historic Columbia River Highway, and resume walking east, first crossing Starvation Creek itself. The trail narrows at a section protected by a rock net, the net’s “catch” ably illustrating the geological dynamics of the Gorge. A spur leads left up to the top of a grassy bluff of oak, poison oak, Scots broom, and cluster lilies. You’ll get an excellent view of the Columbia River here, with Cook Hill and Dog Mountain across the channel and the twin microdioritic intrusions of Shellrock Mountain and Wind Mountain framing Table Mountain and Greenleaf Peak farther to the west. Keep hiking along the paved track under a shady Douglas-fir/big-leaf maple canopy. Your constant companions will be the roar of freeway and railway traffic just below. Notice a trail leading left: You can follow this up the slope to an overhanging basalt face strung with climbing ropes and punctured with numerous quickdraws.

After this, the road begins a gradual descent. Pass the wide grassy freeway exit area for Viento State Park. You may notice an old Milepost 58 marker off to the right next to a Douglas-fir. Reach the Viento Trailhead at the state park’s South Campground area. Hike through the day use parking, and see a gate above Viento Creek. This is the Water Tank Trail, which leads about 1/3 mile up above Viento Creek before switchbacking in shady forest. Black PVC pipes leading from the water tank can be seen to the right. You’ll emerge in the powerline corridor, blooming with Scots broom in spring and summer, and get a view east to Viento Bluff and also to the wood-encased water tank. The path crosses the corridor and becomes a user trail through a carpet of poison oak. There’s a short but steep ascent to the top of the Viento West Bluff to get a view under oak trees to Dog Mountain and Cook Hill on the Washington side of the river.

Return to the Viento Trailhead, and make a right to cross Viento Creek. Turn right into the campground and, from Campsite 1, find the trail leading down past a river rock retaining wall to the creek. At one time, the Viento Creek Trail #415 led all the way up the creek to its headwaters and the top of Viento Ridge, but this lower ¼ mile vestige is all that remains. Pass through a bouldery defile, and notice a rusting tank. A spur drops to the verge of the pristine creek. The trail up the creek has been obliterated by fallen trees, and you’ll be wading through a carpet of poison oak if you want to continue farther. If you do, it’s another ¼ mile to where the valley narrows and you can find the foundation and collapsed wooden structure of a waterworks shed. Any other adventures here will be truly off-trail, but you can head east up the saddle behind Viento’s middle bluff to ascend that rocky prominence. Going farther to the high bluff will necessitate poison oak immunity and more bushwhacking.

Return to the South Campground, and then head under the freeway to keep straight for the North Campground and Day Use Area. Bear right to reach the fee station and a large picnic area. An interpretive sign here explains the history and naming of Viento. You can walk down through the picnic area and descend some steps to cross the railroad tracks and reach a day use area near the river. A wide trail leads under rustling cottonwoods to a cobbled beach. Straight across is the defile of Dog Creek between Cook Hill and Dog Mountain. There’s not much room for exploration here: Poison oak is dense in the understory, and your best bet is the littoral at low water.

There’s one last little trail of 1/3 mile to do before you return to the Starvation Creek Trailhead. Recross the railroad tracks, and head up the gravel road to turn left into the campground loop. At Campsite A17, find a mowed trail that leads down to the railroad fence. Head east along the fence before taking up the old railroad grade through a tunnel of Douglas-firs. A spur leads left up to Campsite A31: You can use this on the return. Pass through a basalt defile blooming with stonecrop, and see Viento Lake, really a pond created by the railroad where it cuts off a portion of Bonneville Lake. The track ends at a mossy rock face where it is obscured by fill from the freeway above. Across the lake a grassy basalt outcropping supports a small oak wood. Canada geese hang out in the lake all year, and you’ll get a good view across to the Washington side of the river.


Maps

Regulations, facilities, etc

  • Restrooms and picnic areas at Starvation Creek Trailhead and Viento State Park
  • Campgrounds at Viento State Park
  • Viento day use areas open 7:00 a.m. – 9:00 p.m. ($5 fee)
  • Interpretive signs
  • Dogs on leash

Trip Reports

Related Discussions / Q&A

Guidebooks that cover this hike

  • Oregon: The Creaky Knees Guide by Seabury Blair, Jr.
  • Columbia Gorge Getaways by Laura O. Foster
  • Hiking Oregon’s History by William L. Sullivan
  • Pokin’ Round the Gorge by Scott Cook
  • Oregon Hiking by Sean Patrick Hill
  • Pacific Northwest Hiking by Scott Leonard & Sean Patrick Hill
  • Oregon State Parks: A Complete Recreation Guide by Jan Bannan

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.