While the Columbia River Gorge is a great place for a hike any time of year, April, May, and June could very well be the optimum season for a little exploration. The weather is warming up, the trilliums and other wildflowers are blooming, the waterfalls are running hard, and the muted hues of winter are giving way to vibrant the colors of fresh growth and flowers.
The Gorge is popular, not only because it’s close to Portland, but because it’s downright spectacular. The Gorge has over 75 named waterfalls (and many unnamed), amazing vistas, spectacular cliffs, and beautiful canyons. With plenty of trails to explore it all, the Gorge is a hiker’s paradise. Regardless of crowds, I find myself returning again and again to a few trails that I have long considered my favorites:
Angels Rest offers sweeping views of the western edge of the Gorge from a boulder strewn and rocky perch. While most visitors head up the west side of the ridge, I generally begin at Wahkeena Falls, hike past Wahkeena Spring, and follow the trail that winds along the rim, sneaking up on Angels Rest. This route is a little quieter and incorporates the seemingly perpetually falling Wahkeena Creek into the mix.
The short trails in the Tom McCall Preserve, just east of Mosier offer great views of the Gorge and spectacular wildflowers if timed correctly. There are several options for hikes; the easy trails the meander on the flat plain north of the Columbia River Gorge Highway and the more difficult option which leads to the south to the top of McCall Point.
The Eagle Creek Trail, while being totally overcrowded, will always be a favorite. There aren’t too many trails that string so many quality waterfalls and beautiful scenery into such a short distance. I tend to avoid this trail because of the crowds, but find myself returning every year or two to reaqaint myself with why this is such an amazing hike.
Always one of my favorites, the Oneonta Loop hits three major waterfalls (plus a couple minor, and a couple of hidden falls if you know where to look). The loop begins at Horsetail Falls, climbs up to meet Ponytail Falls, (which you actually walk behind), and swings above Oneonta Gorge (a narrow slot canyon that Oneonta Creek falls into). Those looking for a longer hike can take a side trip to see, the always nice, Triple Falls. The loop swings back to meet the highway, where you can easily walk back to the trailhead along the road.
Latourell Falls is easily one of the most beautiful waterfalls in the gorge, but most people just pull into the parking lot, snap a photo, and continue on there way. The hike, which leads above Latourell Falls to the Upper Falls, is a great trip. What makes it even better is you can continue past the falls, walk along the creek, and loop back to the parking area. It’s a great little loop hike with some very beautiful rewards.