Tag Archives: Columbia River Gorge

Ponytail Falls (Summer)

This hike was done less than a week before the Eagle Creek fire. We don’t know how bad this trail has been damaged. Hopefully the damage was minimal and we’ll be able to see all three of the waterfalls on this hike again soon!

Directions: Take I-84 East to the Ainsworth State Park (exit 35) and follow the Old Highway left towards Horsetail Falls.

We decided to do this hike in the opposite direction that we went the last time we visited, which was a couple years ago. To see that post click here.

Park in the Horsetail Falls parking lot and take the trail just to the left of the waterfall. You’ll be heading up long switchbacks that take you up above Horsetail Falls. The trail levels out a bit as you round a corner and start hearing Ponytail Falls. The waterfall itself pours out of a crack in the basalt shelf and dumps into a small pool below. The trail takes you behind the waterfall and continues on the other side.

      

      

Not far after the waterfall you’ll pass a slide area and come to a side trail that takes you to a great view of the Columbia River and nice views of the Gorge to the east. Back on the main trail it continues to stay pretty level for a bit and then you hit a few more switchbacks as you head down into the Oneonta Gorge area. You’ll cross a bridge and get a nice view of Middle Oneonta Falls and the Gorge itself. If you’re here on a warm day you’ll probably hear the crowds of people at Lower Oneonta falls below.

      

After crossing the bridge the trail heads uphill to a trail junction. Go right here and the trail switches from being level to heading uphill, but nothing too steep. There is another small slide area and you’ll pass another side trail that takes you to a viewpoint. Soon the trail starts heading downhill as you make your way down to the old highway.

      

Go right on the should of the highway (be cautious, there isn’t a lot of room here) and pass Oneonta Gorge and go through the Oneonta tunnel, about a quarter of a mile later you’ll be back at Horsetail Falls.

 

Distance: 3.5 miles (easy)

Elevation: 650 feet (moderate)

Pet Friendly: Yes

Good For: This depends on how comfortable you are with hiking. There are a decent amount of switchbacks on this trail and places you could fall (there was a death on this trail last year). You’ll also be walking along the old highway for a short distance. Be cautious and make sure you’re surefooted and you should be fine.

Bathrooms: None

Parking Fee: None

Seasons: All

Popular: Very

Warnings: Falling and walking along a narrow road.

Eagle Creek Wildfire

We’re sure by now that everyone is aware of the Eagle Creek Fire in the Columbia River Gorge. It was started by a firework, has grown to over 35,000 acres, and is 13% contained.

On September 4th we were in Washington across from the fire in North Bonneville. When we got there in the late afternoon we mostly saw smoke and some flames. There was also a few helicopters getting water from the Columbia to fight the fire. Within an hour the winds had picked up significantly and the fire spread before our eyes. It was scary to see, especially since we knew what was across from us, the Moffett Creek area and lots of amazing Gorge trails. I-84 closed and as we made our way back home on SR-14 we realized the fire had spread miles to the west.

This is a significant area burning- homes, businesses, historical buildings, and so much of the beloved Gorge is at risk. We can’t imagine the impact this is going to have on people and this great stretch of area.

At this point the best way to help is to make a donation to any one (or all!) of these amazing places:

*Friends Of The Columbia River Gorge – The only non-profit dedicated entirely to protecting the Gorge. That link takes you directly to where you can donate.

*Hood River County Search & Rescue– These are the men and women who helped rescue 153 hikers on the Eagle Creek Trail. The link takes you to their website, you can make a donation at any US Bank branch.

*Red Cross Cascade Region– These amazing people are running the evacuation centers for people displaced by the fire. The link takes you to the Cascade Region RC.

*Multnomah County Animal Services– They helped rescue animals that were displaced in the fire. The link takes you to a page describing how they helped, there is a link to donate there.

*Sound Equine Options– They worked in tandem with MCAS to help the larger animals get out of the path of the wildfire. This link takes you directly to a donation page.

Another great idea is to talk about trail safety and Leave No Trace principles with friends and family, especially the youngsters in your life. Sadly, a lot of wildfires are caused by humans- spreading knowledge can and will help that!

Lastly we’d like to acknowledge the great effort by all of the people fighting this fire. What an incredibly hard job, keep up the amazing work!

 

Here are some of the photos we took of what saw. We’re posting these as a reminder of the devastation that carelessness can cause.

      

 

      

Fairy Falls (Summer)

Directions: Take I-84 East to exit 28. Go left on the Historic Highway to the Wahkeena Falls Trailhead.

Whenever we do this hike we’re always reminded just how pretty it is and thoroughly enjoy ourselves.

From the trailhead cross the small bridge over the creek and head up a long paved switchback that takes you to Wahkeena Falls. Even during the summer months this waterfall puts off a decent amount of spray so you may get a bit wet as you cross in front of it. The trail stays paved as you pass a bench and head for the cardio kicker section of this hike- 12 switchbacks. The switchbacks are fairly short and are paved for the most part.

      

      

Once you make it to the end of the switchbacks you will come to a trail junction. It’s worth the short trip to Lemmon’s Viewpoint off to the right. Once you’ve seen enough at the viewpoint head back to the junction and go left where you will start seeing the creek and the trail levels out briefly. The pavement also ends here and switches to dirt and rock. You will be following the creek just about the rest of the hike as you cross the first of two footbridges and the trail again starts heading uphill. All through this area is very beautiful with all the moss covered trees and the creek being so close to the trail. It’s one of our favorite sections of Gorge trails. After crossing the second footbridge you have a few more switchbacks and then you are at Fairy Falls. The waterfall is right on the trail and there is a bench to rest or enjoy lunch.

      

When you’re ready, head back out the way you came in.

      

Distance: 2.5 miles (easy)

Elevation: 800 feet (moderate)

Pet Friendly: Yes

Good For: There’s a good amount of elevation for the short distance so this hike may not be best for younger kids and older folks.

Bathrooms: Yes but they are seasonal

Parking Fee: None

Seasons: All

Popular: Yes especially nice weekends

Warnings: None

Beacon Rock (Spring)

Directions: Take I-84 East to Cascade Locks and cross Bridge Of The Gods ($2 toll). Take a left onto Highway 14 and drive for about 5 miles until you come to the parking area on the left shoulder of the highway.

Beacon Rock is one of our favorite hikes, it’s short but packed full of great Gorge views.

From the parking area get on the trail that takes you into the wooded area at the base of the rock. Follow the dirt trail until you get to the first of many switchbacks that takes you to the entrance gate for Beacon Rock.

      

Immediately you get a view of the Columbia River below and since it’s spring we saw some wildflowers growing out the side of the rock. The trail is rock, cement, and boardwalk as you head up the west side. You will pass many viewpoints along the way, once you start to get around the south side of the rock you will start seeing the train tracks below.

      

      

We saw many red-tailed hawks, osprey, and vultures soaring around throughout the hike. We also saw some other small birds in the bushes and trees growing along the trails. Once on the east side of the rock the trail turns to dirt and thats a good sign you are close to the top.

      

There is a small set of steps that takes you to the very top. At the top there are a few big rocks that make for a nice place to rest or eat lunch. It’s a pretty small area and can get packed pretty quickly.

Head back out the way you came in.

Distance: 2 miles

Elevation: 700 feet

Difficulty: Moderate

Pet Friendly: Yes

Good For: With all the switchbacks and elevation this may not be the best hike for small kids and older folks.

Bathrooms: Yes at the parking area

Parking Fee: $10 Discovery Pass

Seasons: All

Popular: Yes especially on nice weekends

Overall: We really like this hike. It’s been great each time we’ve visited.

Government Cove Peninsula (Spring)

Directions: Take I-84 East to the exit just past Cascade Locks that’s marked for a weigh station. Get on Frontage Rd and continue on and cross the tracks. Park near the gate.

From the gate follow the trail off to the left as it climbs up to the top of the main rock area. At the top you get great views of the Gorge, this is also a nice place to eat lunch or hangout for a while.

      

Head back down but not all the way, go off to the right and climb up another section of the rock where you will find a lot of wildflowers in the spring. We saw lupine, wild iris, wild rose, and much more. The grass is a bit overgrown around here but the trail is still visible and passable.

      

Next head back down and explore around the base. There are a lot of trails that take you all around the island. You can see the south part where the cove is and usually a few cormorants and nutria. You can also get out where the island comes to a point and see the Columbia River really well.

      

After you’ve finished exploring you can take the lower trail back to the gate where your car is parked.

We definitely enjoyed ourselves a bit more this time around. All of the flowers were a surprise which was a nice treat. This is a great area for kids to get out and do some exploring 🙂

Distance: 2.25 miles

Elevation: 100 feet

Difficulty: Easy

Pet Friendly: Yes

Good For: All ages

Bathrooms: No

Parking Fee: None

Seasons: All

Popular: This is a popular area for fishing and duck hunting but the trails aren’t busy.

Overall: Spring is a great time of year for this hike.

 

Lower Ruckel Creek Falls (Spring)

Directions: Take I-84 East to exit 41 (Eagle Creek). Go left at the stop sign and park across from the fish hatchery.

This hike starts on the paved path that’s in between I-84 and the fish hatchery. It runs along I-84 for a bit and is quite noisy. Soon it turns off to the right and enters a wooded area. You’ll pass a trailhead on your right and soon come to an open grassy area on your left with a faint worn path.

      

Follow this path through the tall grass and daisies (in the spring), as in reenters into a wooded area. Continue following the trail downhill until it ends at Ruckel Creek with the waterfall just to your right.

      

There is a fallen tree that makes a nice “bridge” over the creek to get a better view of the waterfall.

Head back out the way you came in.

Distance: 1 mile

Elevation: Minimal

Difficulty: Easy

Good For: All ages

Bathrooms: Yes at the Eagle Creek Trailhead

Parking Fee: Yes a $5 NW Forest Pass is required

Seasons: All

Popular: No

Overall: We’re excited to see what this waterfall looks like in other seasons.

Steigerwald National Wildlife Refuge (Spring)

Directions: Take I-205 North to exit 27. Merge onto Highway 14 east and follow it for about 12 miles. Take a right at the sign for Steigerwald National Wildlife Refuge.

From the parking area get on the trail as it follows along a large open field with branches of Steigerwald Lake running through it. There were many different birds out in the grass and shrubs and some water birds in the stream. You will soon enter an area with more trees and a stream off to your right. When you get to the split, go left through the seasonal door (open May through September) and follow the trail as it goes along the field and enters a wooded area. There are lots of birds in this area as well.

      

      

You will round a corner and leave the refuge and get on the Columbia River Dike Trail. There are a lot of Purple Martin houses here and they are all flying around which is great. Go right on the trail and follow it a short distance where you will take a side trail and get back into the refuge. You’ll pass a tall interpretive sign and cross a bridge over Redtail Lake, here we saw a Cinnamon Teal, Mallards, and Canada Geese in the water. In the trees and grass lining the water we saw Red-Wing Blackbirds, Song Sparrows, and a Common Yellowthroat. After crossing the bridge you’ll enter and wooded area, we saw many birds here including an Osprey and Wilson’s Warblers.

      

      

      

There is another bridge that you cross and you’re back at the seasonal door. Go left and follow the trail back out the way you came in.

We were previously here in mid summer and it was nice but very hot. Spring is a great time, birds are nesting and very active, and the weather is great.

Distance: 3 miles

Elevation: None

Difficulty: Easy

Pet Friendly: No, dogs are not allowed in the refuge.

Good For: All ages

Bathrooms: Yes at the parking area

Parking Fee: None

Seasons: All

Popular: Can be on nice weekends

Overall: Spring is a great time to visit this wildlife refuge

Dog Creek Falls (Spring)

Directions: Take I-84 east and cross the Bridge Of The Gods ($2 toll). Go right on SR-14 to about mile post 55. There is a wooden sign on the left that says Dog Creek and a gravel pullout just past it.

This is a very short walk that takes you to a nice little waterfall.

From the gravel parking area follow the trail a short distance where it ends at dog creek with the waterfall tucked back in a bit but easily visible. The waterfall is only about 30 feet tall so it’s not the most spectacular, but it’s definitely worth the stop if you are in the area. This waterfall becomes a popular swimming area during the summer months.

We did notice a lot of trash here, we hope everyone who visits this waterfall follows the pack it in, pack it out rule. The Gorge is a special place, we gotta treat her right 🙂

Distance: Less than a quarter mile total

Elevation: None

Difficulty: Easy

Pet Friendly: Yes

Good For: All ages

Bathrooms: No

Parking Fee: None

Seasons: All

Popular: Yes on hot days

Overall: Quick stop to see a pretty little waterfall.

Starvation Creek State Park Waterfall Hike (Spring)

Directions: This hike is located right off I-84 at the Starvation Creek State Park exit (#55)

We did this quick hike on a busy weekend and it was nice to see all of the improvements they have made to the area.

From the parking area go left past the bathrooms and round the corner to see Starvation Creek Falls. Once you are done here head back to the parking area and get on the trail that follows along I-84. They have done a lot of improvements in this area and it’s all paved now.

      

The first waterfall you’ll see on this section of the trail is Cabin Creek Falls. It’s hidden back behind giant basalt boulders, you can walk back in to get a good look at it. Continue on and they have put in a new elevated walkway/bridge type thing as you start to pull away from the freeway a bit. You’ll come to a split, go left and you’ll reach Hole In The Wall Falls. Its name is very literal, as it comes straight out of a manmade hole way up at the top of the cliffside.

      

We stopped here for the day but you can continue on steeply uphill and reach a junction, stay right and you’ll soon come to Lancaster Falls. We posted about Lancaster Falls here.

      

Head back out the way you came in.

 

Distance: 1.5 miles (to Hole In The Wall Falls, 2.5 miles (to Lancaster Falls)

Elevation: 300 feet

Difficulty: Easy to moderate

Pet Friendly: Yes

Good For: All ages

Bathrooms: Yes

Parking Fee: None

Seasons: All

Popular: On nice weekends

Overall: Easy trail where you get to see a lot of waterfalls but the noise from I-84 is very loud.

Memaloose Hills (Spring)

Directions: Take I-84 to exit 69. Follow Highway 30 east and in 3 miles you will see the Memaloose Overlook sign with a gravel parking lot on the left.

This is a great hike in the spring during the Gorge wildflower season.

      

From the parking area cross the road and take the unmarked trail. The trail starts out fairly flat, there are oak trees all around and a couple houses out in the distance. If you are doing this hike in peak wildflower season you will be surrounded by many different types of flowers. Lower on the trail we saw balsamroot, blue-eyed mary, shooting stars, and harsh paintbrush.

      

      

The trail heads uphill gradually and levels out again. Here we saw blooming miners lettuce, western buttercup, upland larkspur, naked broomrape, and chocolate lily. There were also lots of birds, bees, and butterflies. Soon, the trail heads downhill to a small seasonal stream that you will cross and stay straight on the trail. The trail opens up where you will see a farm and start winding uphill. The balsamroot is profuse here all over the side of the hill and the lupine was just starting to bloom.

      

      

Once at the top of the hill you will have views of the Gorge and Highway 30 down below. There is also ballhead waterleaf and big-head clover blooming at the top. This is the end of the hike, head back out the way you came in.

      

      

This quickly turned into our new favorite wildflower hike, there are just so many different flowers blooming here. Other wildflower hikes nearby are Rowena Plateau and Tom McCall Nature Preserve, they are just another 3 miles up the highway.

We do want to warn everyone that poison oak grows all along this trail and we are heading into tick season. For more on ticks click here.

Distance: 3 miles

Elevation: 400 feet

Difficulty: Easy to moderate

Pet Friendly: Yes

Good For: All ages

Bathrooms: None

Parking Fee: No

Seasons: All but spring is best

Popular: Yes on nice weekends

Overall: We highly recommend this hike for anyone wanting to experience the wildflowers in the Gorge.