Thumbnail picture: Blooming larkspur cover the forest floor in mid-May (photographer: Joan Amero) | Above Header: Autumn sunset on Cape Horn trail (photographer: Jeremiah Leipold)
Trail Description Driving Directions
Trail Alert, Feb. 1, 2017: From Feb. 1-July 15, the lower section of the Cape Horn trail has a seasonal closure for nesting peregrine falcons. The closed section is located between a point about a half-mile southwest of the west pedestrian underpass/tunnel at SR-14 and the bottom of Cape Horn Rd. Failure to respect the closure can result in as much as a $5,000 fine, and future use of the trail is dependent on hikers respecting this closure.
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. Take the fork to the right at the start of the trail. The first mile ascends under a canopy of big leaf 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 a small ledge above a steep cliff makes you nervous, follow the “Horses” arrow and continue on another mile along the trail to the most impressive viewpoint with the safest viewing area.) Soon after Pioneer Point viewpoint (1-1/4 miles into the hike and the first logical turn-around point), the trail levels out and heads away from the river. Continue to bear left at junctions along an old wagon road, which dead ends into a paved road after 3/4 mile. Cross the road and follow a footpath to the left, then turn right onto a gravel driveway that leads back toward the river. Once you pass the meadow, the trail leaves the roadway and turns to the left. The area opens up onto a vegetation restoration area where a large home was removed to make way for public access. 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
The top of Cape Horn was originally planned as a subdivision in the 1980s. As the Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area was not in place, there was no legal way to stop the development. So in 1983, Friends' Founder Nancy Russell and her husband Bruce Russell took out a loan from a bank and made a no-interest loan to the Trust for Public Land (TPL), enabling TPL to buy 12 of the 16 lots, effectively stopping the subdivision. The U.S. Forest Service then bought the land from TPL. The Columbia Land Trust purchased two properties in 2001, and with a 2004 U.S. Forest Service purchase, a loop was created by trail enthusiasts, making the area accessible to the public.
In 2006, Friends of the Columbia Gorge Land Trust purchased the subdivision's one developed lot, the Cleveland property, and two years later deconstructed the 5,500 square-foot home and 6,000 square-foot barn. Friends of the Columbia Gorge Land Trust also secured an option to purchase the other privately held rim-view property. Friends' Campaign for Cape Horn raised over $4 million to secure the properties and provide a public overlook in 2011 that honors Nancy Russell.
Because of Nancy's vision, all of us can enjoy this beautiful trail with its stunning viewpoints. Stand atop the Nancy Russell Overlook for one of the most breathtaking views in all the Gorge.
For additional trail information, map, and images visit Cape Horn Conservancy's website.
Hike by Bus! The Skamania County WET Bus stops at this trailhead. Plan your next trip using this service with our suggested hike itinerary. Learn more. + Read More
- Type: Loop
- Distance: 8.3 miles round trip
- Elevation Gain: 1500 feet
- Difficulty: Strenuous
- Family Friendly: No
- Restrooms: Yes
- Trailhead Pass: No
Gorge Trailhead Passes Guide
Preserve the Wonder Hike Challenge
This spring’s hike challenge highlights the many wonders of the Gorge.