The fastest approach to Angel's Rest in the western Columbia River Gorge leaves from a nice modern parking area, and gains the "summit" in about 2.4 miles, and with about 1500 feet of elevation gain.
This is best done as a hike. There are some exposed cliffs at the top that I'm sure somebody has climbed, but it's all loose (note all the landslides all over the place), mossy, slick crap that I can't imagine providing a really enjoyable experience.
This is a fantastic wildflower hike in spring, from mid-April through mid-June.
Interstate 84 eastbound (from Portland): Take exit #28 for Bridal Veil. Ignore the righthand turn to the post office. Continue uphill about 0.3 mile to the intersection with the Historic Highway. Hang a hard right right, heading west on the highway (signed for "Crown Point"), and then almost immediately take another right into the nice big parking area signed for Angel's Rest.
Interstate 84 westbound (from Hood River): Take exit #35, keep going straight off the freeway, and take the Historic Highway just under 7.5 miles to the trailhead parking described above.
Columbia River Highway approach: The trailhead is accessed from the historic highways. From Wahkeena Falls, head west apprximately 2.5 miles. Parking is on the right hand side of the highway. From Bridal Veil State Park, head about 0.5 mile east, with parking on the left.
Note: There is an overflow parking area about 50 yards west of the main parking area mentioned above. Access this alternate from the Historic Highway.
Trail just before crossing the creek
Cross the highway and join the obvious, signed trail. If you are coming from the main parking area, take a left after about 15 yards. If you go right, you'll just wind up at the overflow parking. If you are coming from overflow parking, cross the highway and just go straight on the trail.
The trail starts off in a somewhat open mixed forest of bigleaf maple, red alder, and Douglas-fir, with a lush fern understory. The trail climbs steadily, passing many big mossy rocks. After about one third of a mile, the trail crosses a bigg mossy rockslide, and after about a half mile comes within earshot of Coopey Creek. Several short side trails lead to viewpoints that look out over the creek's canyon. Looking up-canyon, there is a decent veiw of Coopey Falls. This isn't an awe-inspiring waterfall, but if you've never seen it, it's worth the very short walk to an overlook. Shortly thereafter, the trail crosses Coopey Creek on a small bridge.
Now the trail begins to switchback up through more mixed forest, with some medium sized Douglas-fir and bigleaf maple, and a lot of scraggly younger red alder and vine maple. After 3 long switchbacks and some contouring around the ridge (mostly in the Coopey Creek drainage), the trail breaks out onto the Columbia River side of the ridge, and enters an area that was clearly affected by the 1991 fire. There are snags, more openings, and lots of red alder, a sure sign of disturbance. Though this is not the prettiest part of the trail, it does sport some really interesting, uncommon flower species, such as Stenanthium
. Fires in these forests open up some interesting plant habitat.
Stenanthium along trail in mid-May
This stretch also gives a hiker the first good views of Angel's Rest on the trail.
After about 11 or 12 switchbacks on the Columbia River side of the ridge, the trail comes to a rockfall area immediately below Angel's Rest. The trail switches back hard to the right, climbs a bit more, and then begins to curve back around to the left, crossing a ridge, and entering the upper portion of Coopey Creek's canyon. At this time, the wind usually picks up (I've noticed this in basically every month of the year). The trail crosses a really scenic landslide composed of big flat rocks with some moss and interesting lichens. Another switchback through some scrubby ridgetop, wind-battered vegetation, and the hiker is on the spine of rock that leads out to Angel's Rest. Bear left at the ridgetop junction (heading right will lead to Devil's Rest). There is some fun "climbing" over outcroppings on the ridge, and then Angel's Rest opens up. Views include much of the western Columbia Gorge, the Columbia River (duh), dramatic cliffs in the Washington Gorge, and a snippet of Portland.
It's usually windy at the top. Bring a windbreaker and tough it out, because it's a glorious place to hang out!
Shoes. I mean, unless you really have tough feet. Something to cut wind at the top is also recommended.