Best Hikes in Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area

Overview

The Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area is a spectacular river canyon, 80 miles long and up to 4,000 feet deep, that meanders past cliffs, spires, and ridges set against nearby peaks of the Pacific Northwest’s Cascade Mountain Range. Shaped by ancient volcanoes and floods, the Gorge forms a boundary between Washington north and Oregon. Nearby national forests include Gifford-Pinchot National Forest and Mount Hood National Forest.

In addition to the wonderful hiking opportunities described below (split between the Oregon and Washington trailheads), the Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area also provides great fishing, biking and watersport possibilities. There are also many drivable sightseeing opportunities along the historic Columbia River Highway. FYI – Many trails between Multnomah Falls and Cascade Locks are still closed due to hazard trees and rockslides caused by the 2017 Eagle Creek fire. Be sure to check the list of Columbia Gorge trail closures before attempting any of the hikes below. Official Website.

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StateOregon; Washington
Nearest Metro AreaPortland, OR
Area Size295,000 acres
EstablishedNovember 17, 1986
Hiking Trails220 miles

Trailhead Traveler’s Recommended Hikes in Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area

Oregon

  • Eagle Creek Trail #440 (closed) – 12.4 miles out and back
    • The trail is still closed from the 2017 wildfire as crews attempt to restore it for visitor safety before reopening. This spectacular cliffside hike passes through a forested basalt cliff overlooking Eagle Creek. It affords spectacular views of the creek’s slot canyon, where a cool, ethereal fog offers a reprieve on a hot summer day. Small waterfalls trickle along the sides of the cliff, and the trail passes many larger waterfalls, including the iconic Punch Bowl Falls, which is accessed from a side trail about 2 miles up the trail. About 3 miles up, hikers will encounter the aptly named High Bridge, which traverses a narrow gorge 150 feet above the creek. Many hikers choose to backpack as far as Tunnel Falls, about seven miles up the trail, where they can pass behind falling waters.  
  • Mount Defiance Trail #413 – 7.2 miles one-way
    • At 4,960 feet, Mount Defiance is the highest point in the Columbia Gorge. There are views of the Cascade Range and the Columbia River Gorge. Visitors can also combine Mitchell Point Trail #417 and Starvation Ridge Trail #414 for a demanding 8.7 mile day hike. Otherwise, you can utilize a 2nd vehicle to do the trail one-way or return after summiting Mount Defiance for a 10.8 mile roundtrip trek.
  • Multnomah Falls Trail – 2.4 miles out and back
    • Multnomah Falls is the most visited natural recreation site in the Pacific Northwest with more than 2 million stopping by each year to take in the views! Fed by underground springs from Larch Mountain, the flow over the falls varies, but is usually highest during winter and spring. 
  • Munra Point Trail – 6.3 miles out and back
    • Extremely steep but manageable trail up to Munra Point that offers some of the best views in the entire area. This trail is unmaintained by the Forest Service. Starting from the Yeon Trailhead, hikers will pass by the beautiful 289′ Elowah Falls. Just over 2 miles in, the trail climbs almost 1700′ in under a mile to the top of the ridge!
  • Oneonta Trail #424 + Horsetail Falls Trail #438  – 3.4 mile loop
    • The journey starts with a steep ascent up Oneonta Trail to the popular Triple Falls, 1.7 miles from the trailhead. Head back down to the junction with Horsetail Falls Trail where you will descend to an area that passes behind the based of Upper Horsetail Falls (also called Ponytail Falls) and through a basalt half-tunnel. This route ends at Horsetail Falls on the Historic Columbia River Highway, within a short jaunt of Oneonta Trailhead. Named for its characteristic form, Horsetail Falls plunges 176 feet within view of the Historic Columbia River Highway’s “Waterfall Corridor”.
  • Pacific Crest Trail to Dry Creek Falls – 4.2 miles out and back
    • Popular out and back trail that starts at the Bridge of Gods trailhead. Hike almost 2 miles southbound to the bridge that crosses Dry Creek, then divert uphill on the dirt road 1/4 mile to the falls. You can return to the trailhead from here or continue another 1.6 miles to the impressive hump-shaped outcroppings known as Herman Creek Pinnacles.
  • Wahclella Falls Trail #436 – 2.4 miles out and back
    • Wahclella Falls Trail offers a relatively easy, 2.4 mile out-and-back day hike through a slot canyon to one of the more spectacular waterfalls in the Gorge. This makes for a great family-friendly hike for those with kids that want to stretch their legs but aren’t looking for something extreme.
  • Wahkeena Falls Trail #420 + Devils Rest + Angels Rest Loop*** – 8.5 mile loop
    • There are many options in the area but this route combines 3 great trails for an incredible loop. Wahkeena Trail offers a 2.8 mile hike filled with lush scenery, Columbia River views, glimpses of waterfalls, and charming historic stonework. Continuing on to Devils Rest Trail, there is quite a climb with some more beautiful views. Then onto Angels Rest Trail, a classic hike that is best known for being a good workout that rewards with a spectacular view of Portland. Hikers can finally return to the trailhead near Wahkeena Falls.

Washington

  • Beacon Rock Trail – 1.8 miles out and back
    • The Beacon Rock Trail ascends to the top of Beacon Rock (850’ elevation), one of the world’s largest monoliths. The trail was built directly onto the side of the rock with 52 switchbacks. Views include the Columbia River Gorge, Bonneville Dam, and Pierce Wildlife Refuge. Interpretive panels along the trail explain history and geology.
  • Cape Horn Loop #4418 – 6.5 mile loop
    • This strenuous trail is noted for its many scenic overlooks with classic views looking east up the Columbia River Gorge. Enjoy the six mile loop seasonally from July 16 to January 31 (closed beginning February for peregrine falcon nesting season) or take the trail 2 miles to access the Nancy Russell Cape Horn Overlook. Look for waterfalls, wildflowers and many species of birds.
  • Dog Mountain Trail #147 – 6.2 mile loop
    • This trail is best known for the dramatic yellow balsamroot and other native wildflowers that blanket Dog Mountain’s high meadow from April to June, but its spectacular panoramas of the Gorge reward hikers throughout summer and fall. This is a difficult hike with steep grades of 10-25%.
  • Hamilton Mountain Trail – 7.8 mile loop
    • This hike can be found within Beacon Rock State Park and offers expansive views of the Columbia River Gorge. Visitors will also be able to see Mt. Hood and Mt. Saint Helens on a clear day. You can turn around about a mile from the trailhead at Rodney Falls, Hardy Falls, and Pools of the Wind. Or continue up to the 2,438′ summit of Hamilton Mountain.

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