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Memaloose Hills Hike

From Oregon Hikers Field Guide

Revision as of 14:58, 14 May 2019 by Justpeachy (Talk | contribs)

View west from Chatfield Hill, Memaloose Hills (bobcat)
The Memaloose Pinnacles west of the Memaloose Rest Area (bobcat)
Color patch, Memaloose Hills (bobcat)
Poet's shooting star (Dodecatheon poeticum), Memaloose Overlook (bobcat)
On the trail, Memaloose Hills (bobcat)
Balsamroot on Marsh Hill (bobcat)
Trails shown in red; public/private boundaries shown in purple (not a GPS track) (bobcat) Courtesy: Caltopo


Hike Description

PLEASE NOTE: The Memaloose Hills are a very popular and crowded destination in April and May. While this hike is on public land (Mt. Hood National Forest), the trail is unofficial. In addition, the rest area and the overlook are not official trailheads and were not designed to acomodate dozens of vehicles. Too many cars parked at these spots cause safety issues. Consider doing this hike on a weekday, and always park legally without blocking traffic. If you cannot find legal parking, consider visiting other nearby trails instead: Mosier Twin Tunnels, Mosier Plateau, McCall Point, or Rowena Plateau.

The Memaloose Hills have long been a popular destination for wildflower enthusiasts, and the user trails here are easy to access and follow although they are unsigned. Public and private property interlace rather closely in this area, so pay strict attention to all No Trespassing signs. The two hilltops accessible to the public are Chatfield Hill and Marsh Hill and both they and the intervening oak woodlands, savanna, and wetlands provide a brilliant wildflower show in the spring. In addition, the views from the tops of the hills are expansive and the rattlesnake population between here and Rowena Dell is rather dense, so there's always the delightful chance of one of those reptilian encounters. You can also extend your walk cross-country on public lands if you have a good topo map.

Walk west across the rest area to hook up with the maintenance road off the entry ramp (Chatfield Road). Pass around a closed gate and enter Douglas-fir/big-leaf maple woods with a dense understory of poison oak. The shady trail heads up past a wooden water tank and shed. There are a couple of large valves lying near the road bed here. To the left, there’s some kind of water regulation structure – long abandoned. The vista becomes more open, with the basalt Memaloose Pinnacles to your right and the Memaloose Bluff above, as you emerge on a rocky slope with an oak and ponderosa pine grassland. Balsamroot and Columbia desert parsley bloom here in early spring. At a viewpoint where the road bed curves, you can see across to the Catherine Creek and Major Creek drainages. After the bend, take a use trail left across a grassy meadow, shaded by a few oaks and ponderosas, where shooting stars, saxifrage, prairie stars, and paintbrush put on a display in mid-spring. The trail branches left to reach the Memaloose Overlook.

At the Memaloose Overlook, go out to get a stunning view of the Rowena Gap and Memaloose Island. Memaloose is Chinook jargon for 'death' or 'corpse' and the island was an Indian mausoleum for centuries. Corpses were brought out here and placed in wooden structures to protect them from the vultures. A sign tells about the grave of Victor Trevitt, a settler and friend of the local tribes whose last resting place is marked by an obelisk on the island. The Native American remains that accumulated here were removed with the building of the Bonneville Dam.

Cross the Old Gorge Highway and take a trail across lush grassland through oaks and ponderosas. You’ll pass from state park into national forest territory. The trail rises slightly. The remains of an old biker’s boardwalk lies off to the right. Keeping to the main trail, though, descend to a swampy stream, cross it, and arrive at the four-way Memaloose Hills-Chatfield Hill Trail Junction. The path straight ahead leads to the top of Marsh Hill, but for now, turn right and hike by the willow-fringed pond at Wetland Spring; cattails line the shore. Pass a spiraea swamp with two large elderberry bushes and keep heading towards a fenced cattle pasture. Pass a USFS sign and the corner of the fenceline, and hike between the fence and the oak and ponderosa forested slope of Chatfield Hill (sometimes called Castilleja Hill) on your right. As you near some abandoned vehicles on private property, the trail curves to the right and heads up the slope of Castilleja Hill. The path passes close to the boundary with private property, winding up through a meadow of balsamroot, lupine, and paintbrush (Note how the cattle pasture beyond the fence is bereft of wildflowers.). There’s a woodland of contorted Oregon white oak to your right, best seen with its carpet of balsamroot in April. Make the last steep ascent to the top of Chatfield Hill, which is just inside public land. Mount Hood and Mount Adams can be seen on a clear day, and there are views east and west along the Columbia River.

Descend the way you came up to the Memaloose Hills-Chatfield Hill Trail Junction just before the stream, and go right to ascend the slope of Marsh Hill, which blooms with balsamroot, vetch, paintbrush, and lupine in spring. Pass a few ponderosas, and then hike across the open grassland to the high point of Marsh Hill. There are views west to Chatfield and McClure Hills as well as Mount Defiance. To the south, orchards and snowy Mount Hood form the vista. To the east, McCall Point and Sevenmile Hill dominate the horizon, with the Columbia Hills across the river in Washington. A small cairn of stones marks the summit.

Off-trail options:

A patchwork of public lands extends from the state park at the Memaloose Rest Area all the way to The Dalles. Picking your way carefully with an accurate, up-to-date topographical map, it is possible to negotiate the entire distance with out straying onto private land. This is not advisable, however, unless you know the area quite well, have excellent map reading skills, "rattlesnake awareness," and a foolproof way to protect yourself from the bountiful poison oak.

To make a loop of it, you can head across Marsh Cutoff Road to cross a big meadow and then a tongue of oak woodland to reach the Lone Pine Hills. From here, you can head down to cross Highway 30 to the McClure Farm and then find a user trail that descends past a waterfall to take you through poison oak woods to the Memaloose Rest Area. Alternatively, you can continue hiking west past an old airstrip to cross a road and then Rowena Creek to ascend the west slope of McCall Point.

See some of the trip reports below for ideas about hiking off-trail in this area. Again, you must have a detailed map that shows current private/public boundaries and the skills to navigate the territory.


Regulations or restrictions, etc

  • Respect all private property signs.
  • Watch out for poison oak, ticks, and rattlesnakes

Trip Reports

Related Discussions / Q&A

Guidebooks that cover this hike

  • Curious Gorge by Scott Cook
  • Best Hikes With Kids: Oregon by Bonnie Henderson & Zach Urness

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.

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.