Oaks to Wetlands Trail─A slough of birds and delights along the Columbia River

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Old-growth garry oak.

Quick Facts:

Location: Ridgefield National Wildlife Refuge, Clark County

Land Agency: U.S. Fish and Wildlife

Roundtrip: 2.0 miles

Elevation Gain: 75 feet

Contact: Ridgefield National Wildlife Refuge

Notes: Dogs prohibited.

Access: From Exit 14 on I-5 head west 3.0 miles on SR 501 (Pioneer Street) to its end in downtown Ridgefield. Then turn right onto Main Ave proceeding 1.0 mile to the Carty Unit of Ridgefield National Wildlife Refuge and trailhead.

The 5,248-acre Ridgefield National Wildlife Refuge is not only a sanctuary for scores of wintering and resident birds in rapidly developing Clark County, but also a haven for local nature lovers. The Oaks to Wetlands Trail is a wonderful kid-friendly path that gently weaves through groves of old-growth Garry Oaks and along sloughs of wapato and wading birds. Plus, this trail travels by a replica of a longhouse allowing modern visitors a glimpse into the past when this area was the site of Cathlapotle, a large Chinook village.

Start by heading over a set of railroad tracks on an arched bridge. Soon afterwards, reach a junction in a field sloping towards 313the Columbia River. Bear right coming to the longhouse and another junction. You’ll be returning on the “Service Road Trail” left; so veer right ambling among stately oaks and Oregon ash. Merge with the “Service Road” trail and cross a small creek reaching a three-way junction.

Bear right heading through thick timber. At .7 mile reach a junction with a short-cut to the “Service Road Trail.” Head right once more coming to Boot Lake; its shallow waters choked with wapato; an arrow-leafed aquatic important to the area’s First Peoples. Continue along the lake reaching the refuge’s northern boundary to begin looping back to the trailhead.

Skirting pools and sloughs bursting with birdlife, pass a side trail (or explore it if you’d like) to a small peninsula. At about 1.5 miles, come to a familiar three-way junction. Head right on the “Service Road Trail’ returning to the longhouse; then follow the main trail back to the trailhead.

For more information on this hike and many others in the greater Portland-Vancouver area consult my Day Hiking Columbia River Gorge (Mountaineers Books) guidebook.Columbia River Gorge Cover

For more information on where to stay, play, eat, and enjoy the attractions of Portland check out Northwest Trip Finder.NWTFmasthead_layers15

Balch Creek–Dramatic Ravine a Forest Park highlight

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A pair of hikers pause to enjoy the mesmerizing beauty of Portland’s Balch Creek.

Location: Forest Park, Portland, Oregon

Land Agency: Portland Parks and Recreation

Roundtrip: 2.4 miles

High Point: 425 feet

Elevation gain: 300 feet

Difficulty: easy

Green Trails Map: Forest Park No 426S

Contact: Contact/permits: Portland Parks and Recreation ; Forest Park Conservancy;  Notes: dogs must be leashed
Access: From downtown Portland, follow NW Vaughn Street west turning left onto NW 26th Ave. After one block, turn right onto NW Upshur Street and continue .4 mile to road’s end at trailhead at Lower Macleay Park.

Good to know: kid-friendly, historic, year-round hiking, old-growth, trailhead accessible by public transportation

 

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A touch of wild in Portlandia.

Balch Creek slices through the Tualatin Mountains, Portland’s green backdrop, via a gorgeous ravine. While much of the 5,100-plus acre Forest Park consists of a fairly uniform landscape of rolling hills covered by second and third growth—the scene is dramatically different here. Perhaps the most scenic and diverse trail within the park; hikers of all ages and abilities will delight over Balch Creek’s waterfalls, old-growth groves, and the ruins of an eloquent old stone building that once offered rest to weary walkers.

In 1897 prominent Portland businessman and proud Scot Donald Macleay, gave the city of Portland a sizeable chunk of property in commemoration of Queen Victoria’s 60th year of reign—and in protest of high property taxes!  He’d rather his land become a park than to pay the high taxes on it. Macleay Park has since been absorbed into the greater Forest Park complex.

Follow the trail under a high old bridge coming to the creek disappearing into an old wooden catch. Downstream from here the creek is submerged beneath industrial flats to the Willamette River. Upstream, it’s a delightful bubbling waterway! Cross the creek entering the heavily wooded canyon. Continue upstream passing charming little falls and rapids. Cross the creek once more at a pretty little waterfall. Take time to notice the forest too. Some of Portland’s biggest and oldest trees adorn this canyon; including a massive Douglas-fir, an official city of Portland Heritage Tree.

At just shy of a mile reach the 30-mile long Wildwood Trail at the old stone house.  The intriguing and eloquent building may have you pondering its origin; Inn? Country cottage? Tea House? Nope, it was a pee house! Built by the Works Project Administration (WPA) in 1936, the old stone house served as a public restroom until 1962. Now continue straight on the Wildwood Trail upstream for another .3 mile to a bridge spanning Balch Creek. From here the trail climbs out of the canyon, making this a logical turning around spot.

For more information on this hike and many others in the greater Portland-Vancouver area consult my Day Hiking Columbia River Gorge guidebook.Columbia River Gorge Cover

For more information on where to stay, play, eat, and enjoy the attractions of Portland check out Northwest Trip Finder.NWTFmasthead_layers15

Tracy Hill — Wild turkeys and sublime views

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Tracy Hill provides sweeping views of the eastern Columbia River Gorge.

Quick Facts:

 Location: Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area

Land Agency: Columbia Gorge National Scenic Area

Roundtrip: 5.0 miles

Elevation gain: 1150 feet

Difficulty: Moderate

Contact: Columbia Gorge National Scenic Area

Notes: Dogs permitted on leash. Be aware of ticks and poison oak.

Green Trails Map: Columbia River Gorge East No. 432S

Good to Know: kid-friendly, dog-friendly, snow free winter hike; exceptional wild flowers

Access: From Portland, drive I-84 east to Exit 64 in Hood River taking the toll bridge ($1.00) into Washington. Turn onto SR 14 and drive 5.8 miles turning left onto Old Highway No. 8. Continue for 1.4 miles to trailhead.

 

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Enjoy beautiful stately ponderosa pines along the trail.

The pine-oak savannah of the Eastern Columbia River Gorge’s Catherine Creek area is one of the most beautiful and ecologically important ecosystems in the Pacific Northwest. An area flush in endemic species and incredible biodiversity, these pine-oak forests also see ample sunshine and little snow fall. Its grassy slopes burst with showy wildflowers in the spring. But those same slopes harbor a myriad of ticks and clusters of poison oak, too! But late fall and winter offer a window of tick  free hiking. This area is also supports a large wild turkey population. Look for them on this Thanksgiving Day weekend.

wild turkeys

wild turkeys

The hiking here can be a tad bit confusing. This area was once private ranch land and a system of old roads still traverse it. That and a system of bootleg trails built by mountain bikers may also lead you astray.  Since the late 1980s, the Forest Service has been acquiring lands here at ecologically rich Catherine Creek. Recently the Forest Service has identified several of the bootleg trails to be removed and have finally gotten around to closing them off. The Forest Service is also with the help of such groups as the Washington Trails Association and Friends of the Columbia Gorge getting around to developing a series of official and well built trails here. The hike to Tracy Hill may change in the future, but it is part of the official trail system. Check with the land agency for updates.

To reach Tracy Hill in the heart of the pine-oak country, begin by following an old ranch road to an impressive natural arch. From the trailhead gate, two old roads diverge across the open grassy countryside. Take the one right sauntering across a bedrock flat draped with swaying grasses. Home to nesting western meadowlarks, it is imperative that you keep your dog under control here. The way soon meets up with Catherine Creek in a small canyon. Here the old Atwood Road-trail heads left climbing toward the Coyote Wall.  It makes a worthy side trip.

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A group of hikers with the Friends of the Columbia Gorge on spring outing.

Continue right crossing Catherine Creek soon coming to an old corral and ranch ruins. Look up to your right at an impressive basalt arch. Common in the American Southwest, natural arches are rare here in the Pacific Northwest. Please stay behind the fence to not disturb this ecologically and culturally sensitive landmark.

Then continue hiking through open forest coming to a junction at 1.2 miles just after passing a power line. Head left up a small gully housing oaks and an intermittent creek before emerging onto a grassy flat. Then continue upward across rolling meadows sporting big majestic ponderosa pines. After passing through a small oak grove, reenter meadows near an old cattle pond. The views of the Gorge from this spot are excellent. Stay awhile and enjoy them. The Forest Service plans to eventually continue this trail as a loop. Until that happens, retrace the way you came savoring the splendid scenery you saw on the way up.

 

For  detailed information including maps on 100 other hikes in the Columbia River Gorge in both Washington and Oregon; check out my Day Hiking Columbia River Gorge.Columbia River Gorge Cover

For places to stay at and other things to do in and around the Columbia River Gorge, check out Northwest TripFinder.NWTFmasthead_layers15

Mount Defiance─the Undisputed Granddaddy of the Gorge

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Mount Adams in the distance.

Quick Facts:

Location: Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area, Oregon

Land Agency: National Forest Service

Roundtrip: 12.9 miles

Elevation Gain: 4,890 feet

Green Trails Map: Columbia River Gorge-West Map 428S

Access: From Portland follow I-84 east to Exit 55 to the Starvation Creek Trailhead.

Contact: Columbia Gorge National Scenic Area

Good to know: Dog-friendly, wildflowers, wilderness rules apply

Mount Defiance, the Granddaddy Guardian of the Columbia River Gorge, rises nearly one vertical mile above the Columbia River. Highest peak within the National Scenic Area, many a hiker defies Defiance each year accepting the challenge to tackle 4,800 vertical feet. Will you be among them? Do you have what it takes to summit this peak granting sweeping 360 degree views of two states, five volcanoes and countless ridges and peaks.

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Mount Hood in the distance.

While there is a much easier and shorter approach to the summit from the north, bragging rights go only to those who ascend this mountain from the river. A loop can be made by utilizing the Starvation Ridge Trail adding some extra distance, but it makes this hike more interesting.

Start on a paved path coming to the Starvation Cut-off in 0.2 mile. Take it climbing steeply on rocky terrain reaching the Starvation Ridge trail in 0.5 mile. Then turn left traversing a grassy bluff beneath a powerline, eventually cresting a narrow bluff. From here the way heads southward into forest entering the Hatfield Wilderness.

Now following a narrow ridge dividing the Cabin and Starvation Creek drainages, sharply climb—insanely steep at times. After crossing a couple of talus slopes, reach the edge of an old cut and a more pleasurable hike now along a broad ridge. Ignore a side trail left just before reaching pretty Warren Lake set in a bowl surrounded by shiny slabs of scree and lined with vine maples.

Then clamber over rock toward Defiance’s broad rounded summit. Views north to snowy Washington volcanoes and endless verdant ridges are excellent. Swaying bear grass lines the way as you enter scrappy lodgepole pine forest. At 5.9 miles reach the Mount Defiance Trail. Turn left and stay left at a close by unmarked junction—you’ll be returning on the trail right. Continue through cool forest crossing the summit service road twice arriving at the tower topped 4,960-foot summit at 6.6 miles. Rejoice! You made it! Congratulate yourself, then leave the summit following trail north across shiny scree to a junction for the best views. Here, Mount Hood stares at you right in the face!

Continue right (the trail left is the easy shorter way to the summit) rounding beneath the summit, gasping at the unfurling sprawling views east and south. At 7.5 miles, return to the Mount Defiance Trail. Turn left and begin the long descent bearing left in 0.2 mile. The grade isn’t too bad at first, but gets much steeper the farther you go along. Pass a couple of excellent viewpoints along the way; then a series of steep switchbacks test your knees for the final descent.

Upon reaching a power line swath, the trail turns east passing beneath lovely Lancaster Falls. Reach the Starvation Ridge Trail .1 mile beyond. Then continue straight dropping into a cool ravine crossing Warren Creek on a bridge below Hole-in-the-Wall Falls (created in 1938 by highway workers to divert water away from the old highway) reaching the trailhead at 12.9 miles. Congratulate yourself for completing such a challenging hike!

For more detailed information on this hike and 99 others in the Columbia River Gorge, consult my Day Hiking Columbia River Gorge book.Columbia River Gorge Cover

Order your copy from Amazon, or get a signed copy from the Waucoma Bookstore in beautiful downtown Hood River.Waucoma%20Web%20Logo%20Drupal%207%20Site_0

Looking for places to play and stay in the Gorge, consult Northwest TripFinderNWTFmasthead_layers15

Bear Lake—A bear of a lake but not of a hike!

Bear Lake sits beneath the talus slopes of Mount Defiance.

Bear Lake sits beneath the talus
slopes of Mount Defiance.

 

Quick Facts:

Location: Mark O Hatfield Wilderness, Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area, Oregon

Land Agency: National Forest Service

Roundtrip: 2.4 miles

Elevation Gain: 475 feet

Green Trails Map: Columbia River Gorge -West No 428S

Contact: Mount Hood National Forest, Hood River Ranger Station, =

Notes: Northwest Forest Pass or Interagency Pass required.

Access: From Portland follow I-84 east to Hood River Exit 62 turning right onto US 30 (Cascade Avenue). Follow for 1.3 miles turning right onto 13th Street (County Road 281) signed for airport. Continue south on CR 281 which becomes Tucker Road. At 5.1 miles bear right onto Dee Highway, which is still CR 281. Continue for 6.2 miles bearing right (near MP 11) to bridge crossing Hood River (signed for Dee-Lost Lake) then bear right onto Punchbowl Road. After 1.4 miles, continue straight on gravel FR 2820 towards Rainy Lake. Follow for 10 miles to trailhead.

Good to know: kid-friendly, dog-friendly, wilderness rules apply

This little lake is set in a remote basin beneath the talus sloped summit of Mount Defiance, highest peak within the Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area. One of the prettiest alpine lakes in the Hatfield Wilderness, Bear is an easy hike ideal for children and solitude seekers short on time or energy.

Locate the trail across from the parking area and immediately come to a junction by a kiosk with a nice map. Left leads one 346easy mile to North Lake. For Bear Lake, bear right! On a gentle grade through a nice forest of mountain hemlock with an understory of bear-loving huckleberries bushes, reach a junction after a half mile. Bear left here entering the Mark O. Hatfield Wilderness, named after a long serving Oregon politician and champion of the environment.

After gently climbing a couple of hundred feet and crossing a small scree slope begin descending. At 1.2 miles reach Bear Lake denned down beneath the rocky upper slopes of Mount Defiance. Cradled in a quiet bowl and surrounded by old forest and shiny talus slopes, it’s a pretty spot to idle away the afternoon.

But if at some point you feel the urge to burn more calories, nearby Mount Defiance’s 4,960-foot summit can be climbed by retracing your steps to the previous junction. Then head left and hike just under one mile and 900 vertical feet to some of the best views of Mount Hood.

Columbia River Gorge Cover

Get your copy today!

Order your book online or pick up a signed copy at Waucoma Books in beautiful downtown Hood River!

For information on hiking Bear Lake and 99 other hikes in and around the Columbia River Gorge, check out my  Day Hiking Columbia River Gorge book.

For information on places to stay and other things to do in the Gorge, check out Northwest TripFinderNWTFmasthead_layers15