Lyle Cherry Orchard Preserve
Open from sunrise to sunset year-round; five-mile hiking trail gaining 1,500 feet of elevation.
Update, July 13, 2021: Due to the ongoing Lyle Hill fire Friends of the Columbia Gorge Land Trust has closed the Lyle Cherry Orchard preserve and trails. On Facebook, check the Columbia Gorge Wildland & Fire Information Page and KIickitat County 911 Dispatch / Emergency Management for the most up-to-date information.
Lyle Cherry Orchard is a 540-acre preserve located on the Washington side of the Gorge with a five-mile, round-trip trail near the community of Lyle. This property gains over 1,500 feet of elevation with cake-layered basalt walls carved by the Ice Age Floods.
Few spots on Lyle Cherry Orchard Preserve are without stunning views of the surrounding gorge. As the name implies, this preserve was once an orchard, though you are more likely to find unique native flowers as you wander through oak savanna and grassy meadow benches.
Conservation ValueLyle Cherry Orchard climbs from woodland foothills to basalt-cliffed meadows to rolling hills of oak savanna. The cliff edges are utilized for nesting by raptor species, including the vulnerable peregrine falcon.
Peak wildflower season is mid-to late April, when visitors can observe native species like Barrett’s penstemon, forktooth oocow, heartleaf buckwheat, pungent desert parsley, and broad-leaf lupine. Adjacent to the meadows are rocky scree slopes which offer unique habitat for reptile species including the rare California mountain kingsnake and the western rattlesnake.
The upper portion of the property is dominated by sloping oak woodlands with seasonal wetlands scattered throughout. The Oregon white oak is an incredibly important wildlife tree because of the production of acorns that feed many species during the winter. When the oak tree decays and limbs fall off, large cavities are left in the trunk and create ideal places for animals to nest. More than 200 species benefit from these oak trees, include Lewis’ woodpecker and the western grey squirrel.
Photo: Oak grove at Lyle Cherry Orchard (Friends' archive)
Lyle Cherry Orchard’s trailhead is located approximately one mile from the Gorge town of Lyle and is home to the “Lyle” sign that sits above the community. Since this preserve was opened to the public the Lyle Cherry Orchard has provided the community with an accessible natural space right in their back yard. The sunny and dry preserve is the perfect hiking spot to visit during the rainier fall days in the western gorge. Visitors from the Gorge and beyond recreate on Lyle Cherry Orchard and in turn support the local economy.
Photo (click on image to enlarge): New bilingual, physical-distancing map at Lyle Cherry Orchard trailhead, summer 2020. (Richard Kolbell)
The property where Lyle Cherry Orchard Preserve lies currently was once grazing land for cattle and as the name suggests the eastern part of the preserve held a cherry orchard. The orchard and its trees were well abandoned by the time Nancy Russell purchased the property piece by piece in the 1990’s and later donated it to Friends in 2009. Nancy purchased the property when it came up for sale because it was within key viewing areas on the Oregon side of the Gorge and would have most likely become subdivided for development.
The land is also home to remnants of Lyle Convict Road, a demonstration road built by Sam Hill to convince Washington legislators to fund a Columbia River Highway. When Washington showed no interest in Sam’s project, he invited the entire Oregon legislature to his Maryhill estate to see his "Good Roads" work and Oregon quickly agreed to build on their side of the river what is today the Historic Columbia River Highway.
The trail at Lyle Cherry Orchard was started in when Friends' founder Nancy Russell purchased the property and has been open to the public and maintained Friends and its land trust ever since. In 2019, Washington Trails Association started work to reroute some parts of the trail and add new trail to explore for the benefit of Gorge residents.
In 2013, the land trust and volunteers removed a dilapidated house and outbuildings on the southwestern end of the property. Countless hours were spent removing building materials, old vehicles, garbage, and debris. In 2015 volunteers removed over 1,700 feet of fencing material on the property to allow for the free movement of wildlife across the landscape. Without the help of Friends volunteers and Gorge community members, projects like this would not be possible.
Photos: Before and after cleanup at Lyle Cherry Orchard (Friends' archive)
As stewards of the Lyle Cherry Orchard preserve, the Friends Land Trust has worked continuously to restore the natural ecology of the landscape and achieve our stewardship goals. After the trail building and removal of structures on the property, the main stewardship goal has been the removal of invasive weeds.
In 2015, the land trust started its initiative to remove yellow star thistle, non-native grasses, and other invasive weeds from the land. Friends volunteers participate in stewardship work parties by hand-pulling weeds in the spring and return in the fall to seed the land with native plants like Idaho fescue, bottlebrush squirrel tail, yarrow, and narrow leaf milkweed, heart-leaf buckwheat, strict buckwheat, pungent desert parsley, Barrett’s penstemon, and more.
In 2019, the team planted island patches of native plants to create a seed sources for future populations. More restoration is planned for 2020 and 2021, as the land trust develops safer ways to hold stewardship volunteeer work parties.
Photo: Native flower planting at Lyle Cherry Orchard (Friends' archive)
In 2015 The Nature Conservancy completed an assessment designed to identify areas that were crucial to conservation in the face of climate change. This project looked across the Pacific Northwest to identify areas with a high level of “geodiversity”: landscapes with a complexity of soils, elevation, aspect, and bedrock that make them more likely to offer accommodating habitat to plants and animals that will be on the move in response to climate change.
According to that analysis, the steep cliffs and oak savannas east of Lyle have an “above average” rating for climate resilience. This includes areas along the Columbia Hills and Rowena Gap. Investing in permanent land conservation and stewardship in this area will have long-term benefits to plants and wildlife in the face of climate change.
View Other Friends of the Columbia Gorge Land Trust Preserve PagesMosier Plateau
More preserve pages are under construction.