In the spirit of such pages as Yosemite Valley Logistical Center, the Smith Rock pages, Mont Blanc Group and others, I bring you an overview of things to climb, hike and see on foot in the Columbia River Gorge.
The Columbia River Gorge is an 80 mile long canyon carved out of the Cascade Mountain Range by the Columbia River. It separates the states of Washington and Oregon and is filled with cliffs up to 4000 feet high, countless waterfalls, rock pillars and smaller canyons. Many of the climbing destinations are already listed on summitpost as separate pages and this page can link you to those pages. But there are many other hikes and climbs not listed as they don't really correspond to a noteworthy peak. Here is where you will find information on those as well.
The Gorge runs from the far eastern suburbs of Portland to The Dalles in Oregon and from Vancouver to almost where Highway 97 crosses the river in Washington. The Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area is headquartered in Hood River, OR (see link below). Interstate 84 runs along the Oregon shore and State Road 14 spans the same area along the Washington side. There are bridges across in the Portland area, at Cascade Locks, OR ($1 toll), Hood River, The Dalles and Biggs, OR. The bridge at Cascade Locks, the Bridge of the Gods, is named after the legend of the Columbia River being dammed up after a massive slide that created the cliffy sides of Hamilton Mountain, Table Mountain and Greenleaf Peak.
The Gorge began about 50 million years ago as a basaltic flow and since then, the Columbia River did its thing eroding it away to be the only sea level route through the Cascades. It was helped along by the flood of ancient Lake Missoula which carved out a valley. Landslides further carved it out and is the reason most of the waterfalls are on the Oregon side as these slides changed the steepness on the Washington side. It is a natural wind tunnel that attracts windsurfers, kite surfers, kayakers and the like. It's an amazing treasure in the Pacific Northwest and for us hikers and climbers, provides a year-round stomping ground due to the low elevation and temperate climate.
Information on Gorge Indian Civilizations
Columbia River Gorge Visitors Association
Experience the Gorge
At the western entrance to the Gorge just east of Portland is Rooster Rock. Click on the link for that page with info on getting there, etc. Rooster Rock is a technical climb.
Sort of an Oregon big wall, there are routes up this vertical rock. No one has posted any on summitpost so there is not much info to relay here. I do know there is a fairly moderate route that is supposed to go up the chimney on the right (east) end of the formation.
PILLARS OF HERCULES
Interesting 120 foot pillar seen from I-84 a couple miles east of Rooster Rock. See Radek's page here on it.
Pretty easy hike gaining about 1500 feet in 2.2 miles. Gets you to nice views on a rock promontory. You will pass over Cooper Falls on the way. Good beginner hike. To get there, take I-84 east to Exit 28 and follow the off ramp to the intersection with the Historic Columbia River Highway. Park in the dirt lot to the right. No fees or permits on this one.
There are connecting trails near the promontory to Devils Rest as well as the Gorge Trail that runs low along the Gorge on the Oregon side.
A peak of about 2450 feet in height in the Gorge, Devils Rest is a favorite of mine. There are a couple ways to get to this 2400 foot elevation gain one.
First is from Angels Rest (see above)- take the trail from Angels Rest to the split for the Foxglove Trail. Take the right split to Devils Rest. There are no views but a bit past the summit, there are clifftop views of the Gorge on Trail 420C (this trail heads down to the Wahkeena Trailhead.
The other route (my favorite) is from Wahkeena Falls. From Exit 28 on I-84, take the Historic Columbia River Highway left for 2.6 miles to the Wahkeena Falls Trailhead. Follw the trail up .4 miles to Wahkeena Falls. Continue on up about a mile to Fairy Falls. Just after Failry Falls is a trail on the left, forget about it for now. Keep going another quarter mile or so to a split in the trail. To the right goes over to Angels Rest, you want to head left for .3 miles to a four-way junction. It is signed and take the right trail that heads up to the cliffy views and eventually Devils Rest in another 1.6 miles. Total distance is 3.5 miles. On the way down, if you go straight at the 4-way stop instead of turning left to return the way you came, you will go down and exit back onto the trail at the little side trail I mentioned just above Fairy Falls. FYI-if you head east at the 4-way junction, this takes you over to the Multnomah Falls Trail. (see below)
One of the most popular attractions in Portland, this 542 foot tall falls is easily found on I-84 (can't miss all the signs for exit 31). There is a great trail that hikes up to a few great viewpoints but just past where all the tourists stop, there is an amazing trail that climbs up past numerous beautiful waterfalls on the way up to Larch Mountain. From the parking lot (no permits or fees here either), head up past the lodge .5 miles to the bridge at the base of the falls. Another .6 miles further and you reach a junction in the trail. The right split takes you to a viewpoint, the left goes on up .7 miles past a few large beautiful falls to another junction in the trail. The right one will take you over towards Devils Rest and Wahkeena Falls. The left one heads up to Larch Mountain in 5 more miles. It's a great trail and is described on that mountain's page her on Summitpost.
Has more than one way to get there. Click this link for that information.
ONEONTA GORGE/TRIPLE FALLS
Another favorite of mine, this one can be combined with the Rock of Ages Ridge for a great workout. This trail goes past many more great waterfalls and could be another route up to Larch Mountain. To get there, take I-84 to exit 35 for Ainsworth Park. Take the Historic Columbia River Highway back west 1.5 miles from the exit to the Horsetail Falls Trailhead. Park there at Horsetail Falls. The trail heads up left and at .2 miles, go right on the Gorge Trail. You will soon go under Ponytail Falls. In another .4 miles you come to a viewpoint, continue on up the trail which runs along the east side of the Oneonta Gorge, popular among canyoneering-types in itself. You will eventually cross the creek below Oneonta Falls. At the 1.3 mile mark, there is a split, the right one goes to Multnomah Falls, the left goes up another .9 miles to spectacular Triple Falls. Past Triple Falls you can go 6.4 miles to Larch Mountain or there is another junction a bit above Triple Falls that leads east to the Rock of Ages Ridge (see below). Total distance to Triple Falls from Horsetail Falls is 2.2 miles with only 600 feet of gain. You really need to combine this with Rock of Ages Ridge.
ROCK OF AGES RIDGE
Akin to Ruckel Ridge in difficulty, this is a great one. The route starts at the same place as Oneonta Gorge but just before you get to Ponytail Falls (meaning when you round the turn and first see the Falls) look left for a faint trail that has a sign saying it's unmaintained. Climb up the faint path that separates into many paths but all come together just before a rock ridge with an arch. Follow the rocky ridgecrest on the trail a total of 3 miles up. Views of Saint Peters Dome out to the left will come and go. The top part of the trail is mostly flat before you come to a junction for Horsetail Creek Trail. Turn right and go 3 and 1/2 miles before coming to the Oneonta Trail that goes back down past Triple Falls to the trailhead. Beware that early in the season or after rains, there is a creek crossing along the Horsetail Creek Trail that you may want to either have sandals or other shoes for. There is a large fir downed that can be scooted across that I did but it's slick and a fall off it would not be good as you'd be swept down the falls below. Best to plan to do this one when it's not a problem.
Another great one that will get you 3800 feet of elevation gain in 4.9 miles. A good mid-level conditioning hike a bit lower in difficulty than Mt. Defiance. To get there, take I-84 to exit 35, turn left toward Dodson and go about 200 feet. Turn right onto Frontage Road and go 2.1 miles to the Yeon Park trailhead. The hike goes up just under a mile to a junction, stay left and climb about 2.5 miles to the crest of the Gorge. Some neat cliffs and views along the way. At the top of the Gorge you will continue another 1.3 miles to a junction. Turn right and go about a quarter mile to Nesmith Point. (Note-at the last junction, if you turn left instead of right and go a short distance to another trail on the right, that is the Horsetail Creek Trail and will lead you back to Rock of Ages Ridge.)
ROCK OF AGES/ST. PETERS DOME
Standing separately to the east of Nesmith Point are these monster pillars.
Photo credit to Tim Olsen
Radek researched and provides the following information on it:
St. Peter's Dome was climbed for the first time in 1940 by a group of Oregon big names that include Joe Leuthold (F.A. Article in Mazama 1940) via it's south (that's opposite of the river/highway) face. According to the article, the F.A. party started near the SW corner but got to a narrow "sucker's" ledge above which terrain went overhung and extremely loose (crow bars were employed to try and do some route cleaning but peeling off choss revealed only more choss). Article is a very good read. Eventually the party made the summit via South face route (II 5.6 A2 N. Dodge guidebook).
Since then, 1 more route (NE face, III 5.6 A3) and 1 variation (to South Face - Saddle Direct III 5.6 A3) have gone up. Ratings come courtesy of Nicholas Dodge guidebook (out of print) and are probably sandbagged as all hell (though my knowledge is very limited here). Rock is the loosest I have ever seen anywhere. Don't let the rating of the standard South Face route fool you. Hard to believe that something that only takes knifeblades and thin Bugaboos should be rated A2! The Dome has only seen on the order of 15 (that’s parties not climbers) successful summit ascents since the FA in 1940 (this includes one roped solo ascent - search cascadeclimbers.com for more info. on this) [ editor's note -- > including Radek's ascent in early 2008.]
These impressive stat's - I would bet - make it the most difficult summit to get in Oregon and possibly the PNW (by any route). I would also wager a bet and say that the Dome will not see a FFA in the foreseeable future (if ever.....though I'm sure one day some psychotic climber will give it a go and survive).
All of this is particularly amazing considering that the Dome is 35 miles or half hour driving time from downtown Portland; it is well within sight of I84 (though if you don't know what to look for it tends to blend in with the gorge wall behind it); and the approach is very short (1 to 1.5 hours).
An interesting 4th class scramble at the end makes this rocky topped destination very interesting. Excellent views. 1800 feet gain in 3 miles. To get there, take I-84 to exit 40 for the Bonneville Dam. Turn south and go right a couple hundred yards to the trailhead parking lot. Hike the Gorge Trail that crosses Tanner Creek and then climbs a few hundred feet before leveling off and goes west along the highway for 1.5 miles. This is a junky part of the hike but just before Moffett Creek, turn left at the sign and climb/scramble up another 1.5 miles to the summit. Part hike, part 3rd class scramble up to the grassy, bare rock ridges at the summit. There is a shallow 4th class groove that you scramble up onto the ridge before you see the summit. Follow the path but be careful on the narrow ridges as a fall would be really bad here. I would suggest only doing this when dry.
An arduous challenge with a great payoff at the summit. Click on this link to go to Don Nelsen's page for this peak. There are a couple options for routes. This page also contains information for hiking Eagle Creek which is a very popular trail with an incredible amount of waterfalls.
One of the Gorge classics. Some Class 3 fun along ridges, there are actually two trails here and combining them into a loop is a great way to spend half a day. This one will get you 3700 feet of elevation gain in 4.8 miles (either trail is the same distance). From I-84, take exit 41 for Eagle Creek, turn right and park by the restroom. (Note this exit is not accessible for people driving westbound on I-84 so you'd need to take Exit 40 and turn around to come back and get to exit 41)
From the parking lot you hike up the road toward the campground a couple hundred yards before catching the signed trail on the left. Take that path up around the campground to the intersection with the Gorge Trail. Take the right fork and go through the campground. You'll come to a sign that says Buck Point 3/4 mile. From that point, the trail heads up and past some power lines. From the viewpoint there, go south (right) and dip a bit then goes through a slide area. The trail climbs through this and then onto a ridge for about 2 and 1/2 miles with viewpoints along the way. Once you hit the top of the Gorge, the trail evens out and crosses Ruckel Creek (no bridge). Not long after the creek, you will come to a junction with Ruckel Creek Trail 405. Take this left and complete the loop back down.
Akin to Ruckel and Rock of Ages in steepness, you can either access this from the trailhead at the turnaround on the Oregon side of the Bridge of the Gods or where the power lines cross Dry Creek Road just outside Cascade Locks about a half mile from where the PCT crosses it (this will take off about a mile to a mile and a half of mostly flat hiking and get you to the good stuff sooner). You gain about 3700 feet in 4 miles from the Bridge trailhead and about 3300 feet in about 2.5 - 3 miles from the upper TH. If wanting to start from the upper trailhead on Dry Creek Road, take a right on Benson St. in Cascade Locks, then a left on Ruckel St. and then a right on Dry Creek Road, fork left at the fork a ways up and follow until the road ends at the power lines. You'll want a 4WD or high clearance vehicle on the dirt road though.
Hike up the now-closed road about a half mile to where the PCT crosses the road at a footbridge. Go right on the PCT and then, maybe 10 yards into the trail, watch for a VERY faint unmarked path heading left. Follow up into the woods eventually crossing a rock slide area. Soon after you cross back into the woods, the route heads up a steep gully before you come to a rock ridge that blocks your path. Climb the ridge once you exit the gully and take in the incredible views on the open slopes above before you eventually head back into the trees when you reach Benson Plateau. This trail (405D) meets Trail 405 (Ruckel Creek Trail) and would make a nice loop back down to the Bridge of the Gods Trailhead by taking Gorge Trail 400 back above the highway (if you go that loop way it's 10.4 miles with about 3900 feet of gain overall).
This is a nice little hike, good for exercise, with an interesting rock formation at the end with amazing views of the Gorge. Will get you 2600 feet in 4 miles and there are two options for trails. To get there, take I-84 to exit 44 and drive through the town of Cascade Locks for two miles. Before you get to the ramp to get back on the highway, take the paved road marked "To Oxbow Fish Hatchery" for another 2 miles. Go right at Herman Campground, drive through the campground to the trailhead parking area. Follw the trail up .6 miles and take the left fork. Go another .7 miles to Herman Camp. Take the Gorton Creek trail to the left for 2.6 miles to another junction. The leftmost trail gets you to Indian Point. If you scramble out onto the rock, be careful, the exposure is serious and a fall would most likely be fatal.
The other option would be to take the right fork at Herman Camp, then shortly afterwards take a left and climb up Nick Eaton Ridge. Two miles up, take a left and that will get you to the junction before Indian Point in .6 miles. This makes a nice loop.
FYI, if you took a right at the junction to head up Nick Eaton Ridge, that trail could eventually get you up (in a far distance) to Wahtum Lake where you could access Chinidere Mountain and Tomlike Mountain.
The highest point in the Gorge is Mount Defiance. It's also arguably, the grandaddy of all Gorge hikes. 4900 feet in 5.5 miles. This one will get your legs ready for that Hood climb. There are two options to access Defiance from the north (and one from the south). Click on the link to go to that page for information.
Getting towards the eastern end of the Gorge, this hike is 4.3 miles long with 2000 feet of elevation gain towards your summitlog. Starting near Mitchell Point, a landmark along the Gorge, you hike back along the highway before climbing up.
To get there, take I-84 to exit 58 for the Lausman State Park rest area. From the parking area you walk back towards the freeway and take the old gated road that runs along the freeway. At a corner on the road where it turns left, follow signs to a path that crosses Mitchell Creek. This will become the old scenic highway for a bit. About a mile into the hike you will cross the Chetwoot Trail, keep straight here. You'll go another 1.6 miles past a viewpoint to a junction with the same Chetwoot Trail (you can use this for a loop hike if you want). Turn right and continue 1.2 miles to the summit of Wygant Peak. Keep in mind, the trail is old and not maintained and there are no views (although about a half mile up from the junction, there is a nice viewpoint that could be a good stopping point).
TOM MCCALL POINT
Near the eastern terminus of the Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area just west of The Dalles is a trail that will get you 1100 feet of gain in 1.7 miles. The Cascade fir forests thin here to grassy areas with oak trees before you enter the dry side of Oregon. To get there, take I-84 to exit 69 for Mosier. Follow Scenic Lop signs for 6.6 miles to the Rowena Crest Viewpoint. Follow the trail sign to a hike up a ridgecrest for 1.7 miles for some great views. (open May-October)
With an easy sidewalk trail to the top and technical rock climbs up to 5.12C (including the classic multi-pitch 5.7 Southeast Face route), Beacon Rock is probably the most recognized point in the Gorge. Click on this link to go to that particular page.
Starting out from Beacon Rock State Park, the trail climbs past two waterfalls to clifftop viewpoints. Click on this link to be transported to that page.
Another cliffy Gorge peak, formed when a slide took half of the mountain into the valley below, you can get about 3500 feet of elevation gain, most of it in the last 1.5 miles of a nearly 15 mile round tripper. Click on the link.
The third mountain that lost its side to the Columbia River, Greenleaf has an old shed up top. Often overshadowed by Table and Hamilton Mountains, click on the link to go to this page for info on how to hike this one.
Standing all alone beneath Defiance on the other side of the river, Wind Mountain is a nice quick hike with great views and ancient Indian pits on top. Click on the link for info on this one and please respect the site by not removing or touching anything.
One of the most popular of Gorge hikes, Dog is easily accessible from State Route 14. There are three ways to reach the summit so you can avoid some of the crowds. Make sure to go in May when the wildflowers are incredible on the south slopes. Click on the link to go to the Dog Mountain page for all info.