Jackie Chan, my faithful canine hiking pal, has been sick for some time, so a hike the other day was the first time he’d joined me on a real hike since his megaesophagus diagnosis. I opted for a casual hike to Sundial Beach near the mouth of the Sandy River which I’d found online. It’s directly across the river from the delta where I had walked multiple time before, but Sundial Beach has considerably fewer hikers. The trailhead is along Graham Road across from the Troutdale Airport. The paved path heads onto a long dike, apparently guarding the airport and nearby industrial concerns from flooding. It is also one section of the Portland area’s 40 mile loop trail, a clear dividing line between the urban world and the natural world, a line on which I enjoy walking.
Unsigned side trails drop off the dike and give access to the banks of the Sandy River. I followed a few in search of beauty, which I found, along with other walkers and swimmers. Plenty of dogs played in the water and on the sand. I continued on, seeking the Columbia River. The dike and parallel trails curve north and west, and high energy power lines dominate the scenery at points– both practical necessity and visual disappointment, like so many things in our world. For a while, the towers reminded me of the Tripods in the dystopian fantasy series The White Mountains (highly recommended for tweens).
It was pretty hot for much walking, but Jackie and I made the best of it. Finally we reached the real beach on the Columbia, which seemed mammoth due to low water levels. This would be a great spot for a picnic. A kayaker came down the Sandy, wondering if he’d reached confluence. I suppose it was a bit hard to tell with many sandbars and such in the low water. On the return leg, I saw a raptor guarding its nest atop a “tripod”. I think it was an osprey but could not be sure. The paved path started feeling like an oven, and Jackie started slowing down, so I was glad to get back to my car with its air conditioning. Besides, the tripods could not follow us there.
It had been a while since I’d had a real hike, so today I went out the Columbia River Gorge with Jackie Chan. We started on the crowded parking lot below Wahkeena Falls. This time we continued past the falls, and soon found a great viewpoint. Continuing uphill, the trail follows a rushing, noisy creek, and eventually passes Fairy Falls on a tributary. There were plenty of hikers on the trail for a Friday. Many paused at various cascades and whitewater splashes, and I kept passing them. I continued up into a pretty forest.
The trail flattened out near a junction where I could have headed west to Angel’s Rest. I headed the other way toward the Vista Point trail, where a group of people gathered at the junction. Just beyond the intersection was the uphill trail to Devil’s Rest. I debated the climb, but since I knew it was not an earth shattering summit, I opted to descend. The Vista Point Trail felt steeper, with fewer switchbacks than the Wahkeena Trail. A quick descent brought me back to Fairy Falls and the gorgeous creek on the Wahkeena Trail, where I started bumping into people regularly. Many of them commented on how cute my dog is. Many said nothing to me even though I tried to make eye contact. That rarely happens on wilderness trails. Near the spot where the trail becomes paved again, a side trail leads to Monument Point. I found it is more of a bushwhack with loose scree, limited tread, and various obstacles. Of course, that makes the hiking more fun, but I wouldn’t take my mom on it. The views we discovered at the point were worth the challenge. It was a great way to wrap up a good hike.
The Columbia Gorge is more diverse than some people realize. People who rarely stray from the Portland metro area are missing out on many worthy trips. The eastern end of the Gorge is drier, rockier, and more open, and trail signs there alert hikers about snakes, ticks, and poison oak. Unlike trails near waterfall central, there is a viewpoint every other switchback on trails east of Hood River and Bingen. I was reminded of this after the wife and pup and I drove up to The Dalles following our adventures along the Deschutes River .
While sitting at a park chomping on some unhealthy food (sorry, Ma), I looked across the mighty Columbia (rolling on, of course) and I saw a massive basalt escarpment I’d noticed before. I mistakenly thought this was the Coyote Wall I’d heard of as a hiking and biking destination. It seemed a good spot for a hike, but we ended up somewhere else entirely. Life is like that.
The Lyle Cherry Orchard trailhead is a broad pullout a mile or so east of Lyle, Washington. The trail itself begins right beneath a rocky tower. We knew we were in the right place because we saw dozens of cars. As it turns out, there is a group called Friends of the Gorge and they organize group hikes. We quickly met a couple dozen people descending the trail. Everyone was smiling—a good sign.
We gained elevation rapidly, soon meeting the old roadbed of highway 8, a predecessor to the current highway. At a flat spot, there was a signpost with waivers to fill out, as the trail goes through private land. Fair enough. Above that, the trail switchbacks through scrub oaks and small crags, then comes out onto grassy benches rimmed with cliffs. There are stellar views of the gorge, both east and west. Even with a few clouds in the sky, it was a sublime place to relax for a few minutes.
The trail shifts its approach, and beyond a stile, climbs steeply across an open slope. A fall here would not be pretty, so we didn’t fall. Coincidentally, I bumped into a man I knew from Portland. It was no place to chat, so we moved on, climbing out of the steep stuff into an undulating oak forest. No cherry trees yet. Along the way, the trail passed two seasonal ponds, along with a skull and skeleton of a critter. The last mile of the trail is rather humdrum in comparison to the first mile, but it’s still enjoyable. After turning onto an old road, the trail opens up in the meadow of an old homestead site which offers a great picnic spot. We found no cherry orchard, but there were more amazing views. Taking in the breeze, sun, and views was enough for us.
Jackie Chan met a few ticks on the descent, which I quickly dispatched with ninja swiftness. Other than that, the hike was smooth, and we were happy to get back to the car and think about cold beverages. It was a very nice hike overall. People with less time could stop at the upper grassy bench and be very satisfied.
When the sun hits this time of year in Portland, you can’t wait for permission to get outside. Someone once said of western Oregonians that we don’t love the rain, but it’s easy to celebrate sun chooses to grace us. Wednesday was such a day.
I debated heading solo to the Gorge for a new hike, but the morning was chilly and the gorge would be shady, so I hedged. My wife finally said she’d go with me, but she needed to finish some paperwork. We got out of the house in the middle of the afternoon and headed northwest to Sauvie Island–NOT for the “clothing optional” beach, but just for a nice walk. I hadn’t been out there in years.
We had a false start on one trail that was shut down to protect wintering birds. Ultimately we drove all the way out Reeder Road, where there are many places to stop along the Columbia River. We walked for a while at beachy areas that seemed artificially enhanced by the look of the heavy equipment tracks. We were not alone. Lots of sun worshippers were out.
Where there was no sand, the shore was somewhat mossy in the way of Old Maid Flats on Mount Hood. There were some great raptor nests atop power poles in the area, but I saw no eagles.
The beaches did not feel satisfying , so we returned to the car and drove all the way to the end of the road. Right away I saw a trail closure for vegetation rehabilitation. This was going well. Sarcasm aside, we could still walk along the bank of the river, which wasn’t half bad.
At one point the bank had completely washed away, right next to a barbed wife fence. I was getting really frustrated, as though the hiking gods (I suspect Loki is involved) were saying, “Yo, a good hike ain’t gonna happen.” Okay, that was Loki filtered through Jesse Pinkman*.
After a few moments, we hopped the fence gingerly and continued. We spied couples canoodling and enjoying the sun, wearing shorts no less! Californians and Floridians might not appreciate how surprising that is, but it’s kind of a big deal. Our dog chased sticks repeatedly.
The river was right below us all the while, and great views ranged from Mt. St. Helens to Hood, and I even caught a sliver of Mt. Jefferson’s’ craggy summit. It was a gorgeous afternoon. On the return leg, I really appreciated the way the light hit the water so it almost seemed metallic. It was the kind of walk that accrued pleasure over time. There was no dramatic climb or wilderness feel, but it was perfect spot for a walk on a preview-of-spring day.
Early in January, a falling boulder seriously damaged the Benson Bridge at Multnomah Falls east of Portland. Naturally, when I headed to the gorge Sunday for a hike with my pup Jackie Chan, I forgot this. Why does it matter? It matters because you cannot take the traditional trail to the top of Multnomah Falls, and hikers have to be happy viewing the falls from below with the tourist hordes or hike to the top from a different direction.
Instead of linking Multnomah with Wahkeena Falls, where I been relatively recently, I drove further east, almost to Oneonta Gorge. An obvious pullout lets you access Gorge Trail #400, which traverses the base of the gorge hills for miles. I walked west on that trail until it connected to the Multnomah Falls trail in a mile or so after some pleasant wandering through the woods. All of it is mostly a mellow grade after the climb away from the road.
From the trail junction, the trail went through about a mile of switchbacks to the top of the ridge, a bit further than I remembered, although it is not very far in the greater scheme of things, and it is never difficult. There are a couple nice views of the falls along the way. Eventually a short offshoot takes one to the lookout spot, nicely fenced in for Jackie, so I didn’t have to worry about him.
The switchbacks are relatively easy since they are mostly paved. They are also numbered, which I found amusing. Eleven. Then you pop over the top of the ridge and into a lovely creek drainage. I saw no other hikers on the ascent, which I am sure would not be the case when the Benson Bridge is open.
I admired the view for a few minutes and gave Jackie a snack. I decided the mini falls fifty feet above the big boy plunge were quite lovely. I passed two guys on the return leg and made it back to my car in plenty of time to get home before the Super Bowl. I would recommend this hike to someone who wants a moderate hike with some elevation gain. It will probably see very little traffic until the bridge is fixed.
(I know the hues in my photos are too far toward the blue end of the spectrum. I’m not too clever with the camera sometimes.)
Delta Park East has plenty of ballfields, as I found out recently when a new friend played in a softball tournament. It also has access to the bike path along Marine Drive. I headed west with Jackie one fine day on said path. It’s an interesting borderland for some urban hiking.
Traffic and the freeway seem everpresent for a while. The heat and concrete were not very motivating, and I was not very excited about our prospects. After a while, however, the roadside debris and odd architecture became interesting in a odd way.
Soon enough, however, we reach the glory of the Columbia River, one of the greatest American rivers. Even beyond the famous gorge, it’s a powerful, amazing body of water. The juxtaposition of roadside junk and ospreys soaring was quite something.
The bike and pedestrian path travels along the skinny part of the Columbia here, with Hayden Island across from us, and it’s still pretty. I found it interesting to see how the development on Hayden Island stops west of the railroad bridge. The western part of Hayden Island could hold some untold wild treasures!
It was a hot day, and Jackie, as my regular readers know, is a bit of a wimp in the heat. Not that he’ll complain, but he loses energy, and I worry about him getting seriously dehydrated. We walk as far as the railroad overpass by Portland Avenue, probably a mile or so from the start. The next cool spot will be another mile or so at least, and it doesn’t seem worth it.
After gawking a bit at the river and blackberry bushes, we headed back, checking out birds more on the return leg. This is not an earth shattering walk, but given that you could keep walking on one path to Smith and Bybee Lakes or Kelly Point Park, it’s definitely worth investigating west of I-5. It is probably even better on a bike, so you could bypass the industrial areas quickly.
Dog Mountain is a near legendary hike in the Columbia River Gorge. If it is one tier down from Mount Defiance and Table Mountain on a list of training hikes for mountaineers, it may have more bang for the buck than any other peak in the gorge for its spectacular upper slopes, its tremendous views of the Cascades and the gorge that splits them, as well as the challenge of its trails.
The Dog Mountain hike isn’t an endurance fest, clocking in at less than seven miles round trip, but the uphill offers plenty of challenge. I got a very late start after dealing with some business, so I was surprised to see only a few other vehicles in the lot. According to high level research, no rain was in the forecast in Portland, but a lot of clouds were moving in uninvited. Quickly, Jackie Chan and I got on the move. The trail climbs immediately into a series of switchbacks, with a few nice views in a pleasant oak forest.
In a bit over half a mile, the trail splits. Challenging myself, I took the route marked “most difficult”. Silly monkey. There were no views now as the forest tightened up under heavy leaf and needle. The path is attractive, but sections where it climbs relentlessly make you forget about the lovely flora beside and above you.
A few raindrops found their way through the forest canopy to my arms. When the pitter patter on leaves got heavy (a lovely sound when you are sheltered) I huddled beneath a giant maple, staying dry. That gave us time to recharge metaphorical batteries with food and drink. Jackie was finicky: you can lead him to water, but….
Luckily the rain ceased and we started up another steep slope. I used the My Tracks app on my phone to keep track of my distance and elevation, which I rarely do, but I was curious especially about the elevation gain. It totaled about 2800 feet, which is very solid for a three and half mile hike, almost on a Mount Defiance pace.
I was very happy when the trails reconnected. Shortly thereafter, after another unofficial rain delay, we broke into the open, gradually traversing a massive open slope. Dog Mountain is famous for wildflowers, but it was a touch late in the season for the grand displays that must be here in May and June.
The trail splits again below the summit at a slight promontory. This time I made the right choice and stayed left. The views are so tremendous that I stop thinking about fatigue.
One hiker passed me at the end, where I was busy snapping pics (and yes, huffing and puffing). We saw no other people up high. The views were simply stunning, the world at our feet. Simple tremendous views lie in almost all directions.
The upper slopes offer tremendous views of the Columbia Gorge, looking both east and west, along with a tremendous frontal view of the Mount Defiance escarpment. To the north, there is a nice view of Mount Saint Helens. beyond some foothills.
I sat on a grassy hummock for some time, absorbing the splendor. It’s always bittersweet to leave such a perch. But the sun was moving down. Time to go.
Curiously, on the descent, I encountered multiple groups of hikers descending. I guess they didn’t want to get all the way to the top. The rest of the descent (I took the alternate route) was smooth. This is one of the more outstanding hikes to be had in the Pacific Northwest for an afternoon’s work. Highly recommended.
Note: remember money for the tolls at the Bridge of the Gods or the Hood River bridge.
Kelley Point Park lies at the confluence of the mighty Willamette and Columbia Rivers, and while nobody will confuse it with a hiker’s paradise, it’s a nice place to get away from the rat race in North Portland. As I was reminded by the helpful Portland Hiker’s Field Guide, it’s a great place to walk on the beach, so I went back out there a couple days ago with some neighbors.
First walking down the Willamette, then up the Columbia, there is probably at least a half mile of beach walking, which is unusual this side of the Oregon coast.
We occasionally passed fishermen and gawked at powerful tugboats and freighters in the river.
One recommendation: don’t make the mistake of parking at the first little pullout once you’re on the park road. Park at the second obvious lot, where a paved path begins. Create your own loop between paved path, beach, a dirt road near the northern parking lot, and a great meadow. It makes for a pleasant half hour or forty minutes of walking if you have no particular place to go.
If that isn’t enough of a hike, Kelly Point is about five minutes from the Smith and Bybee Lakes trailhead. You can walk further there, or get out the kayak.
On a sunny weekend, these two spots make a great combination of destinations. Just remember that no dogs are allowed on the trail at Smith and Bybee Lakes.
The Sandy River trail connects two popular recreational spots on the west side of Mount Hood: Riley Horse Camp and the Ramona Falls trailhead. The trail cuts through a forest that has unique soil due to a volcanic eruption on Hood just prior to Lewis and Clark’s passage nearby on the Columbia River. People scavenge for mushroom, camp, ride horses, and hike as much as they like in this section of the Mount Hood National Forest. Solitude is a rare quality here. Yet I find that it is possible with a little off trail travel in the relatively flat environment below the Ramona Falls trailhead.
After dealing with a pseudo retirement party Friday night, we spent Saturday doing paperwork and visiting a friend who is fighting cancer with a powerful will. I have no doubt she will win. Afterward, a serene trip to the woods was in order. The Sandy River Trail cuts across the main access road at one point, and we parked nearby. The walking is casual, the ash and mudflow soil apparent at various points where it is very soft and gets rutted easily in heavy rains.
Our destination was a stretch of open riverbed not far from the trail. Multiple channels cut through rocks and sand, the water too high for us to channel hop. There were glimmers of sun as we enjoyed the noisy company of the Sandy River and a view of the lower stretches of Mount Hood. We threw sticks for Jackie, soaked in the natural environment, and came away feeling rejuvenated.
Bigger trips are soon to come with summer weather. This was a nice stopgap stroll. For now, back to the city, work, and life.