Wildflowers? Check. Dramatic waterfall? Check. Epic views of the Columbia River Gorge? Check again.
Bursting with wildflowers in the spring, the Mosier Plateau Trail, just east of Hood River, may just become your go-to spot for an afternoon of nature therapy this season.
Or maybe it will be the Deschutes River State Recreation Area in Rufus, just 15 miles east of The Dalles, where you can spot early spring wildflowers and sit down to a waterfront picnic on a hot day — inner tubes and paddleboards optional.
Both of these trails are top choices for Gorge visitors this year, after the Eagle Creek Fire near Cascade Locks left 135 miles of trails closed, from Wyeth to Troutdale. Work crews, including countless volunteers, have been working for months to restore the damaged trails. As of late November 2018, six miles of the Historic Columbia River Highway and four more popular trails have reopened: Angels Rest, Wahkeena Falls, Horsetail Falls and Larch Mountain.
The others will take longer. “That’s the million-dollar question — when the trails will be open?” says Maegan Jossey, outreach manager for Friends of the Columbia Gorge, a nonprofit that’s part of the Gorge Trails Recovery Team, which launched after the fire.
There’s been a huge outpouring of support: Thousands of volunteers have taken on critical tasks such as removing invasive species like garlic mustard, blackberries, false broom and others that can easily spread in this highly sensitive area. They’ve worked to plant native species and set up information kiosks at popular spots to connect with visitors as “trailhead ambassadors.” They’ve provided information about trail conditions, alternate hikes and how to leave the trails in better shape than they found them — useful tips from the Ready, Set Gorge campaign. You can volunteer now to be a trailhead ambassador for the 2019 season.
Ready to hike? Learn about the latest openings at the Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area or OregonStateParks.org. Wherever you go, remember to practice Leave No Trace principles — take only photos and leave only footsteps.
Here are eight gorgeous Gorge trails to explore this season:
Sandy River Delta — Also called Thousand Acres Park, this popular area just outside of Troutdale allows off-leash dogs everywhere except along the 1.25-mile Confluence Trail and Bird Blind, the structure at the end of the trail designed by famed architect Maya Lin. It’s a fascinating piece of art, and history: Each slats of black locust wood carries the name of one of the 134 bird species Lewis and Clark recorded on their journey. There’s also the half-mile Meadow Trail and 1.25-mile Ranch Dike Trail to explore. Visitors need to have a day-use pass or an annual pass (Northwest Forest Pass or Federal Interagency Pass).
Latourell Falls — Known for the bright yellow lichen on the walls of columnar basalt, this waterfall plunges 224 feet onto two tiers before its final descent to the Columbia River. See the upper and lower falls in all their magnificence in a 2.4-mile round trip, via trailhead signs at Guy Talbot State Park. Be aware that it’s one of the few waterfall hikes in the area currently open, so visit early and on a weekday to avoid congestion.
Bridal Veil Falls State Park — Along with Latourell Falls, this lower trail opened to visitors in fall 2017, a few months after the fire. That means it also gets a lot of attention by waterfall-lovers, so it’s best to visit on a weekday when there are less crowds. The 1.4-mile round trip to Bridal Veil Falls is steep and full of switchbacks, but the falls are as heavenly as they sound, plunging under the old Columbia River Gorge Highway’s 1914 bridge in two tiers, as lacy as a bride’s veil. (Fun fact: Generations of brides have mailed their wedding invitations from Bridal Veils, just for the postmark.)
Rowena Plateau Loop — Sharing the same parking lot as the Rowena Crest Viewpoint, the trailhead to this 2.5-mile round-trip is a special place, where ecologists work to monitor rare plant populations (sorry, dogs aren’t allowed here). It’s also a photographer’s dream, with wildflowers in all palettes blanketing the rolling hills and valleys. Sign up for a volunteer-lead interpretive hike in the spring.
Tom McCall Point Hike, Tom McCall Nature Preserve (opens for the season May 1) — This dramatic 3.4-mile round trip starts at Rowena Overlook, between Hood River and The Dalles. The trail climbs steeply up to Tom McCall Point, where wildflowers are in bloom by March and peak by end of June. Dogs aren’t allowed here either.
Mosier Plateau — This 3.5-mile moderate out-and-back hike takes you past fields of spring wildflowers, along Mosier Creek and the two-tiered Mosier Creek Falls, a popular swimming hole in the summer. Then switchbacks and stairs continue toward the plateau, where you’ll find epic views of the Gorge. Don’t leave Mosier without checking out the car-free Mosier Twin Tunnels.
The Dalles Riverfront Trail — Families will enjoy this paved 10.6-mile round-trip to the Columbia Gorge Discovery Center, where visitors can explore the Rock Fort marking the spot Lewis and Clark camped. Starting at The Dalles City Cyclery, the scenic ride along the river includes two new bike fix-it stations and other amenities along the trail.
Deschutes River State Recreation Area — It’s typically drier out here, and the landscape resembles the high desert, with broad spaces, sagebrush and grassy expanses. Hikers can explore three scenic, pristine trails: The 2-mile Blackberry Trail runs along the river’s edge, parallelled by the 2-mile Riverview Trail, which runs along a terrace above the river. The two trails form a 4-mile loop. A third route, Ferry Springs Trail, forms a scenic loop toward the canyon rim with views of the surrounding hills and river.
What you need to know
Part of the Historic Columbia River Highway Scenic Byway (between Bridal Veil and Ainsworth) and several trails, parks and roads remain closed by the impact of the 2017 Eagle Creek Fire and will not open to the public until they are safe to visit. Hazards include unstable rocks, limbs and trees. Hikers, bikers or motorists who violate these closure points put themselves in danger and may be subject to fines.
As of April 2018, the following areas are open for public recreation:
- Bridal Veil Falls State Park
- Dabney State Recreation Area
- Deschutes River State Recreation Area
- Government Island State Recreation Area
- Guy Talbot State Park and trail to Latourell Falls
- Lewis & Clark State Recreation Site
- Sandy River Delta
- Memaloose State Park
- Mitchell Point / Wygant State Natural Area
- Mosier Creek Falls (waterfalls)
- Mosier Plateau
- Mosier Twin Tunnels
- Multnomah Falls Lodge and lower viewing platform (trails remain closed)
- Portland Women’s Forum State Scenic Viewpoint
- Rooster Rock State Park
- Tom McCall Natural Preserve at Rowena Plateau (seasonal closure through April 30)
- Starvation Creek State Park Rest Area and Historic Highway State Trail to Viento State Park only (trail west remains closed)
- The Dalles Waterfront Trail
Due to closures, the recreation areas that remain open will be more crowded than normal. Park only when there’s room and it’s safe to do so. Respect private property near public lands. Learn more about how to have a safe and responsible visit to the Gorge at ReadySetGorge.com.