Location: Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area
Land Agency: Friends of the Columbia Gorge
Roundtrip: 5.0 miles
Elevation gain: 1,100 feet
Contact: Friends of the Columbia Gorge
Notes: Be aware or ticks and poison oak
Green Trails Map: Columbia River Gorge East No. 432S
Access: From Portland drive I-84 east to Exit 64 in Hood River taking the toll bridge into Washington. Turn right onto SR 14 and drive 12.1 miles passing through Lyle to trailhead (after the tunnels) located on left at a wide pullover.
This is a delightful hike to a century old cherry orchard high above the Columbia River in the Rowena Gap. Wind through a basalt gap to a sprawling grassy bench before traversing wide open slopes rife with views en route to the old orchard.
The trail starts in a narrow draw hemmed in by basalt walls. On good tread, head upward through a stunted oak forest soon reaching the remnants of the old Columbia River State Highway. Here, come to a sign and register. Take a minute to sign in and go over the trail’s rules. Owned by the Friends of the Columbia Gorge, this beautiful property was purchased by the Russell Family to protect it from being developed. Nancy Russell (who died in 2008 from Lou Gehrig’s disease) founded the Friends of the Columbia and was one of the driving forces behind the establishment of the Columbia River National Scenic Act in 1986.
Continue upward on slightly rugged tread crossing scree reaching a fantastic overlook of the Columbia. If the river views doesn’t move you—the blossoms will. In early spring, death camas, prairie star, grass widows and others begin working their magic on the landscape.
At 1.0 mile, reach a broad open bench and a junction. The Friends are working on building a trail from this point to connect with Lyle—part of their exciting Gorge Towns to Trails campaign.
The orchard lies right—so continue climbing, now more steeply and steadily across grassy slopes. Views grow with each step—the Rowena Plateau is fully revealed and snowy sentinel Mount Hood eventually makes a cameo. Reenter forest and at about 1.5 miles pass an old pasture pool and an old stile. The way then loses about 50 feet of elevation—regains it and at 2.3 miles comes to an old road. Turn right slightly descending reaching an old homestead site and the cherry orchard (el. 1,050 feet) in .2 mile. Not much remains of the orchard—but look around. There are still a couple of big old cherry trees holding on to life. The views however, especially east towards The Dalles, like the rest of this hike are the pick of the crop!
For more information on this hike and 99 others in the Columbia River Gorge, check out Day Hiking Columbia River Gorge.