Location: Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area
Land Agency: Columbia Gorge National Scenic Area
Roundtrip: 5.0 miles
Elevation gain: 1150 feet
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.
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.
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.
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.
For places to stay at and other things to do in and around the Columbia River Gorge, check out Northwest TripFinder.