Best Washington Gorge Hikes

Danielle Fletcher
• Wednesday, 06 January, 2021
• 9 min read

If the crowded parking lots at Dog Mountain and Cape Horn fill you with dread, head north from the Columbia River and check out the comparatively empty Three Corner Rock hike. Even with 2,800 feet of elevation gain over roughly 3 miles, Dog Mountain attracts hikers by the hundreds every spring, due largely to its stunning wildflower blossoms.

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Bright yellow balsam root covers much of the mountainside every May and June, with violet lupine adding to Mother Nature’s electric palette. Dog Mountain is a popular trail for its fields of wildflowers, but the hike offers impressive views all year long.

When you arrive at the summit, you’ll enjoy views of The Dallas, Rowena Crest, and the wider Gorge region. With a south-facing slope and predisposition for sunny days, Lyle Cherry Orchard remains accessible most of the winter, if not all year long.

And since this part of the state tends to show the first signs of spring, we thought we’d suggest a few hikes you can enjoy as early as April. While we continue to feature destinations that make our state wonderful, please take proper precautions or add them to your bucket list to see at a later date.

The 6-mile trek has high elevation gains, and parts of it are downright steep and narrow. Most of the Columbia River Gorge's waterfalls are located on the Oregon side, but not this beauty.

Unlike the previous two trails on this list, Hamilton Mountain is slightly more off-the-beaten path (although we recommend going on a week day in the summer, if you can). Speaking of Stevenson, that's where you'll want to head if you'd like to check out Beacon Rock State Park.

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(Source: www.onlyinyourstate.com)

The Beacon Rock Trail is only a mile in length, and despite a steep climb, most beginners can handle it easily. The Cape Horn Loop is a 7-mile trek offering sweeping views of the western edge of the gorge, and it's stunning in any season.

Jessica Wick is a writer and travel enthusiast who loves exploring new places, meeting new people and, of course, beautiful Big Sky Country and every part of Washington State. The Tom McCall Preserve trail made the cover of Craig Romano's Day Hiking the Columbia Gorge guidebook.

This area is no secret to hikers from Portland, but for most Washingtonians it's just far enough away to drop off the radar screen. Wildflowers, particularly on the south-facing Washington side, start blooming as early as March and include several species only found in this region.

The book covers one hundred hikes from the Ridgefield National Wildlife Refuge north of Vancouver to Hat Rock east of The Dallas. It goes beyond the national scenic area boundaries to incorporate urban hikes around Portland and Vancouver, as well as trails in the Silver Star and Trapper Creek Wildernesses.

At any given time, hikers will be able to spot a dozen species, including larkspur, Columbia desert parsley, prairie star, phlox, glacier lilies, paintbrush and lupine to name just a few. Sweeping views on the Cape Horn trail entertain hikers for most of the journey.

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Dog Mountain and the Tom McCall Preserve have fantastic views, but these two trails are just as impressive! It is the long-gone site of an old fire lookout that today is a well-deserved destination to a challenging vertical hike.

Enjoy the 50-foot cascades and then determine whether you want to continue along the trail for the views from Hamilton Mountain. Craig Romano has marked 45 of the trails in his guidebook as “kid-friendly,” so there are plenty to choose from.

Two that he flagged for WTA are Stagehand Lake, a pleasant wildlife refuge at the mouth of the Gorge, and Marcella Falls, a pretty and impressive waterfall near the Bonneville Dam. The first offers birdsong and wetlands along an enjoyable and flat loop trail.

Doing both over the course of a weekend exposes kids to the diversity of the Columbia River Gorge. Two rail-to-trail conversions stand out as great hiking destinations on the eastern side of the Columbia River Gorge.

The Kickiest Rail Trail is a 31-mile old road bed with two distinct and different hiking options: a 10.5-mile stretch along the officially designated Wild and Scenic Kickiest River, and a quiet 11.4 mile creek and canyon stroll along Scale Canyon. On the Oregon side of the Columbia, the Wild and Scenic Descartes River boasts a 16-mile stretch of converted railway.

mountain dog washington hike portland columbia gorge river near wildflowers oregon trail localadventurer hikes
(Source: localadventurer.com)

_______________________________________________________________Unexpected Delights Catherine Creek's Labyrinth trail transports hikers to some of the best views of the Columbia River Gorge. The Labyrinth area boasts open hillsides, amazing flowers, oak woodlands and even a waterfall.

Oregon's Nick Eaton Ridge is decidedly different, with old growth forest, steep terrain and views from rocky ledges. It starts from a popular trailhead that gives hikers five distinct options, including the Pacific Crest Trail.

_______________________________________________________________ Mount Defiance is the highest peak on the Oregon side of the Gorge, and it has the views to prove it. Because many of the hikes in the Gorge start near sea level, hikers can get some excellent conditioning in by tackling the peaks in the area.

Others may choose the significantly shorter and more moderate way to the summit via the Bear Lake Trail. _______________________________________________________________ Augsburg Mountain is a long hike, with big elevation again, few people and fabulous views.

Solitude is not the first thing many people think about when they talk about the Columbia River Gorge, but there are plenty of places that are off-the-beaten-path. But as Craig Romano noted to WTA, “You get all the views and the wildflowers that you get over at Dog Mountain, all by yourself.

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With towering granite peaks, forests, meadows, wildflowers, and of course the beautiful mountain lake surrounded by granite that reaches for the sky, this short hike is easily a classic and should be on your must-hike list. While the larches here turn a brilliant yellow in the fall, we recommend visiting this trail in the summer to avoid full parking lots and congestion.

Day hike it or backpack here in late summer or fall, when it really shows off the best of autumn foliage. Along with unobstructed panoramic views of Mount Baker, the Twin Sisters, and the rest of the North Cascades, the route to Park Butte offers campsites, wildflower-filled alpine meadows, rushing waterfalls, and a stunning variety of mushroom species.

The miners who originally constructed it had little time for switchback or nicely graded trails. If you plan on spending the night here, please note that Gothic Basin is an extremely fragile area.

Location: Snoqualmie Region -- Snoqualmie Pass Length: 12.0 miles, round trip Elevation Gain: 2600 feet The Highest Point: 5400 feet Best Season: Late July – September This narrow and rocky trail also includes old-growth forest, gorgeous wildflowers, and stunning views into the Alpine Lakes Wilderness from both sides of the pass below Kendall Peak, where the Catwalk begins.

Against a backdrop of blue autumn sky and the magnificent peaks of the Cascades, they are a dazzling sight and a Washington essential. The huge trees, the cascading moss, the birds and Roosevelt elk, the Olympic Mountains rising above and the broad river valley extending up and downstream, all make this a hike that must be done at least once in a lifetime.

(Source: jesswandering.com)

Location: Olympic Peninsula -- Pacific Coast Length: 4.0 miles, round trip Elevation Gain: minimal Best Season: Year-round With so many mountain hikes to choose from, many hikers forget about the glories of Washington's coast.

You can't go wrong finding wildflowers at Hurricane Ridge in Olympic National Park. While many folks head up the paved path to Hurricane Hill, solitude seekers climb up the Mount Angeles trail and branch off to attain Sunrise Ridge.

A classic Mount St. Helen's hike, leaving from the Johnston Ridge Observatory. The hillsides are alive with wildflowers at mid-summer, and the view from the end of Harry's Ridge has you looking straight into the mouth of the crate, not to mention views of Spirit Lake, Mount Adams and even Mount Hood on a clear day.

A ten-mile loop that shows off the lakes, meadows and vistas (not to mention huckleberries) of Indian Heaven Wilderness and Mount Adams with a southern section of the Pacific Crest Trail. The Goat Rocks Wilderness is a beauty, and this less-traveled access point is a great way to explore the area for yourself.

Whether you want to visit a historic lighthouse, hit the sandy beach, or stroll through coastal forests and overlooks, there is something for anyone. The full loop provides fantastic views of the Columbia River Gorge, an intimate look at the Cape Horn Falls and a challenging workout as it climbs and descends the rocky slopes of Cape Horn.

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Save a visit to this dramatic State Park for Spring or Fall (when things cool off). This hunk of rock in Banks Lake is a distinct example of massive Ice Age floods 15,000 years ago.

From massive sand dunes to river vistas and excellent shrub-steppe, this unique are is a delight for hikers' looking to switch up their usual forested treks. Mount Misery is a delightful hike to the Oregon Butte Lookout, situated on a hilltop in the remote Blue Mountains.

In the spring, this hike is a great one for wildflower meadows dotted with scarlet cilia, Dutchman's breeches, calypso orchid, sulfur lupine, giant-head clover, elk horn Clark, and more. The Kettle Crest is a high-country route stretching 44-miles along some of the most glorious areas of northeastern Washington.

While this trail makes for an excellent thru-hike, it can also be easily split into smaller chunks for a day hike or overnight.

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