Photo (c) Victor von Salza
Cape Horn Loop
Western Gorge, Washington
NOTE: The lower portion of the Cape Horn trail is closed annually from February 1-July 15 to protect sensitive Peregrine Falcon habitat. Please note that July 15 is a recent change to the former opening date of July 1. The closure is 1/4 mile south of WA Highway 14 to Cape Horn Rd. Failure to respect the closure can result in a $100 fine, and future use of the trail is dependent on hikers respecting this closure. During the closure, hike the Cape Horn, Upper trail. Thanks!
If this isn't on your top-ten list, it should be: less than 45-minutes from Portland, a moderate trail through a pleasant forest of coniferous and deciduous trees, sweeping views of the Columbia Gorge, stunning wildflowers in the spring, and fantastic autumn foliage in the fall. This a great hike under partly cloudy (even stormy) skies, although the trail can become muddy and slick--I recommend hiking poles to help maintain balance if it has rained recently. You will want to keep a watchful eye on young children and your dog leashed (as always) at the cliff-top viewpoints. Kudos to the enthusiastic and dedicated folks who worked several years to make this trail a reality. Sections of the trail are being rerouted so pay attention to the signage.
Begin the hike by crossing Salmon Falls Road to the trailhead. The first mile ascends under an umbrella of bigleaf maples along a north-east facing slope that can be rather muddy during wet months. Veer to the left at any side trails to enjoy the increasingly impressive views of foothills and meadows tumbling into the Columbia. If standing on such a small ledge above such a steep cliff makes you nervous, continue on to the most impressive viewpoint (with the safest viewing area) in another mile along the trail. Soon after Pioneer Point viewpoint (1.3 miles into the hike), the trail will level out and head away from the river, duck into a thick forest for .2 mile and then make its way to a wagon road (turn left) and views of the area's bucolic farming community. Continue to veer left at junctions along the abandoned road, which dead ends into paved Strunk Road after .6 mile. Turn left on Strunk Road, walk to its end and make (the only!) right turn onto a gravel driveway that leads back toward the river. Once you pass the meadow and bank of blackberries on your left, the area will open up to property where a house once stood. Follow the trail to the Nancy Russell overlook (dedicated August 2011), enjoying expansive views. This makes for a great lunch spot.
From this viewpoint, join the trail and continue downhill along switchbacks under sprawling bigleaf maples and white oaks. The understory is lush, green, and full of wildflowers in spring. In May and early June, the delphinium are so high that you'll feel like you are bobbing in a lake rather than hiking down a trail. Follow this trail for 1.25 miles to SR 14.
Cross under the highway using the new pedestrian underpass and then follow the trail across a creek to a four-way intersection. Continue straight ahead; the trail will lead you toward the Columbia River and behind a waterfall to the Cape Horn Landing Road. Walk along this road uphill to the second new underpass taking you back to the trailhead.
—Written by Debbie Asakawa
CAUTION: Due to heavy traffic and blind curves, hikers are highly discouraged from walking along Hwy 14.
For more trail information, a map, and pictures visit Cape Horn Conservancy's website: www.capehorntrail.org.
Watch an 18-minute video of the dedication of the Nancy Russell Overlook from August 2011.
Download a trail map.Updated November 2012.
Trailhead: From Portland take I-5 or I-205 north to WA SR-14 east to milepost 26, turn left on Salmon Falls and right into the Park and Ride. The trail begins across the road.
(Parking at the Overlook area is not yet complete.)