Hiking the Columbia River Gorge Year-Round
Hiking the Columbia River Gorge Year-Round
The trails of the Columbia River Gorge are available to hikers every month of the year. Changing seasons make for new experiences on the same trails. Wildflower blooms shift month to month in the spring and summer, and falling leaves open up more expansive vistas of the Gorge's natural wonders.
Come winter, most hiking-minded folks around here are usually up skiing or snowshoeing at elevation up in the Cascades. But for those willing to face a bracing Gorge breeze, the paths winding along the Columbia River still promise the stillness of the mossy forest and cliff-top views broad vistas and snowy mountain peaks any time of year.
I got the New Year off on the right foot by getting out for two hikes in the Columbia River Gorge the first week of 2014. I was treated to waterfalls, basalt cliffs, northwest rainforest, and stunning views, and well-maintained trails, all less than an hour's drive from Portland.
Those who play around in the snow on Mt. Hood long enough learn that the only predictable thing about Cascade Mountain weather is its unpredictability. The snow will come when the snow comes. Meanwhile, the Northwest has plenty of other outdoor recreation options for those itching to get out. Like hiking.
The Cape Horn Trail is one of the newer trails in the Gorge. Friends of the Columbia Gorge and volunteers had been creating the trail for years, but it got it's official debut in 2011. Cape Horn is the massive wall of basalt on the Washington side of the Gorge. This was the first time I'd hiked the trail, and it was pretty spectacular.
Our hike began in a deciduous maple forest, so the leaves were on the ground and the sun shone between the tree trunks and branches. The viewpoints atop the cliffs kept getting better, with views across to Bridal Veil, Angel's Rest and Multnomah Falls on the Oregon side of the Columbia. Beacon Rock was visible to the east. Tunnels were built underneath Highway 14 so hikers don't have to scurry across traffic. Below the highway, two waterfalls and more cliff-top views of the river are reached.
The lower trail is only open through January, so get out there soon if you want to do the whole loop. Otherwise, you've got to wait until July for the Peregrine Falcon chicks to get established and they reopen that part of the trail. The upper part of the trail has the best viewpoints, and is still a great hike later in winter.
The Hamilton Mountain Trail is like an old friend. Fitting that it should be the trail that Andrew and I tackled together for the first time this year.
Starting off in the quiet woods above Beacon Rock State Park (don't forget to purchase a Washington Discover Pass for parking!), we visited the Pool of the Winds and Rodney Falls. Past a powerline clearing, the trail switchbacked up a ridge to spectacular views of the Columbia River Gorge, looking across to Moffett and McCord Creek valleys on the Oregon side.
Mt. Hood's snowy summit began to peek out from above Tanner Butte as we climbed atop the big cliffs. We sat in the sun and braced against the gorge winds while toasting the new year. Then on up more switchbacks until we reached the summit of Hamilton Mountain.
Mt. Adams joined Mt. Hood in the panoramic view atop the brushy summit. Clouds moved in and we got to practice layering and delayering to maintain comfort on the trail as we looped back down into the trees and along Hardy Creek.
Snow has started falling at higher elevations on Mt. Hood, and more is forecast to fall over the next few days.
But don't neglect those awesome trails in the Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area!
Next Adventure Outdoor School is ready to help get you to the mountain when the snow gets deep enough.
We've got regularly scheduled snowshoe and xc-ski trips running through March.
Find out more at nextadventure.net/outdoor-school
Next Adventure group trips are an excellent introduction to the pleasures of cross-country skiing, snowshoeing, hiking and backpacking. No-hassle transport, gear rental, instruction from an experienced guide ensure you have a safe trip your first time out and/or the tips and tricks you need to improve your skills.
Next Adventure is a fully-insured licensed Outfitter and Guide with the State of Oregon. Next Adventure is an equal opportunity Recreation Provider operating under special use permit on the Mt. Hood National Forest and Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area, USDA Forest Service.
Next Adventure Guide-Instructors are locally trail-experienced, and carry current Wilderness First Response certification.