BEND, Ore. — Hiking in the Columbia River Gorge is similar to hiking in Central Oregon: So many options exist, it is hard to know where to begin.
I find it’s best to rely on the locals.
On a recent visit to see my family in Vancouver, I spent a day hiking with my sister, Cindy Morical, and her boyfriend, Tony Barnes.
Barnes has spent lots of time on trails in the Gorge and Southwest Washington. His first recommendation was Silver Star Mountain in the Gifford Pinchot National Forest east of Vancouver. But we agreed that the 1.5-hour drive to get there was too long.
Other waterfall hikes in the Gorge we deemed too short to be worth a drive.
We settled on Angel’s Rest, a moderate 4.8-mile round-trip hike with nearly 2,000 feet of elevation gain. It is located on the Oregon side, but was just a 30-minute drive from Vancouver along Interstate 84.
Angel’s Rest is an exposed bluff on the west end of the Gorge, offering dramatic views of the Columbia all the way back toward the Portland-Vancouver area.
The trail started out in the shade of a lush green forest. The bases of some large Douglas firs showed scorch marks from the 2017 Eagle Creek Fire.
Due to its proximity to Portland, Angel’s Rest is a popular trail, and on this day, a federal holiday observing July 4, it was noticeably crowded.
As we yielded to descending hikers and let some others by, we passed two waterfalls: 150-foot Coopey Falls and smaller Upper Coopey Falls.
The trail continued along switchbacks up and up, and soon we were out of the forest canopy and feeling the heat of the sun.
At one point, when we knew we were close to the top, Cindy looked straight up to the top of the bluff.
“We’re going up there?!” she lamented.
I shared some of her dismay but kept it to myself. But the switchbacks made the climb doable and not terribly challenging.
We even saw several small children making the ascent with their parents.
As we neared the summit, we negotiated several rocky areas and the Columbia River appeared far below, winding its way toward the Pacific Ocean.
At the top, a long, rocky perch was surrounded by cliffs and offered an impressive panoramic view. Just across the river on the Washington side, we could see Beacon Rock, Larch Mountain and Silver Star Mountain. To the west, the river flowed to Sand Island and toward Portland.
We took in the views and snapped photos along with dozens of other hikers.
As we descended the trail, we were relieved to return to the shade of the forest on the hot afternoon. Predictably, the trip down was much faster than the trip up, and we completed the entire trek in about three hours. It was the perfect amount of hiking on a perfect summer day in the Columbia River Gorge.
Other hikes in the Columbia River Gorge:
- Multnomah Falls: The most popular hike in the Gorge begins at Multnomah Falls, Oregon’s tallest waterfall at 620 feet. The paved trail crosses a few scenic bridges then climbs to an overlook at the top of the falls. The loop, 5 miles with 1,600 feet of elevation gain, continues on Larch Mountain Trail and to Wahkeena Falls, a moss-covered 242-foot falls.
- Dog Mountain Trail: Located on the Washington side west of White Salmon, this hike is known for its wildflower displays in May and June, but the views across the Gorge make it popular all year long. The Dog Mountain Trail climbs 2,820 feet in only 3 miles, making it quite challenging. The trail returns back down 3.8 miles on Augspurger Mountain Trail. The total hike is 6.8 miles.
- Latourell Falls: This trail in Guy W. Talbot State Park offers picturesque bridges, deep forest and the 249-foot Latourell Falls, as well as a second double-tiered falls. The main falls can be seen from the parking area. A short hike leads to the base of the falls and continues on a 2.4-mile loop to Upper Latourell Falls and then back down.
- Cape Horn: Just east of Vancouver on the Washington side of the Gorge, this trek includes a high bluff that has stunning views and a forest of big-leaf maples. The hike is 7 miles round-trip and climbs 1,630 feet, making it difficult. The trail begins off Salmon Falls Road and leads to a forested summit area, before descending to an underpass below state Highway 14. The lower section of the trail features 2 miles of waterfalls and views of the Columbia River.