Increased visitation puts increased pressure on the Gorge’s limited resources. If you’re planning a trip to our region, please help keep our communities safe by following CDC and local health guidelines and respecting the requests of individual businesses. Many parks and trails remain closed. Please plan before you go and always have a Plan B in case your destination is too crowded or closed. Crowds lead to closures. When recreating on trails, maintain at least 6 feet of distance from other hikers and bikers.
For the safety of visitors, as well as yourself, please observe the following rules at Lyle Cherry Orchard.
- Maintain physical distance. Maintain recommended physical distancing of six feet from other people. Dogs must be kept on a leash at all times.
- Do not gather in groups. Trail is closed to groups of more than 5 people. Do not congregate at overlooks or rest spots.
- Share the trail. Warn other trail users of your presence as you pass to allow proper distance. Stay single file when passing others.
- Be courteous. Wearing a mask or face covering is recommended, especially when passing others. Do not use this trail of you feel sick or are displaying COVID-19 symptoms.
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On the Trail
This 6.3-mile trail hike gains 1,100 feet in elevation (it's an eighth of a mile longer with the addition of the Cherry Orchard loop, constructed in 2019). With its southern exposure and rocky terrain, the hike offers a succession of wildflower blooms from February through May. The bloom generally peaks in mid to late April. The trail is midway along the Rowena Gap, where the Columbia cut through folded layers of basalts. The result is a spectacular scene of multiple basalt flows shorn into 1,000-foot-high cliffs.
Nesting falcon advisory: A sign at the intersection near the viewpoint on the Cherry Loop alerts visitors to nearby falcon nests. Nesting birds are easily disturbed by your presence. Disturbance can cause them to fly off the nest, which can result in stress or even death of young falcons. Please be quiet and stay on the trail.
Permits & Pets
Lyle Cherry Orchard is a preserve owned by Friends of the Columbia Gorge Land Trust. No permits are required. We recommend always keeping your dog leashed to protect the sensitive landscape and respect other hikers. The trail also cuts across steep hillsides that drop to cliffs below. The seasonal presence of rattlesnakes and the yearlong presence of ticks also offer good reasons to use a leash. Motorized vehicles, horses, and bicycles are prohibited on the trail, as well as smoking, hunting, and fires.
- From the parking area, the trail begins next to a tall rock pillar, and immediately begins climbing through scrub oaks. Poison oak frequently borders the trail here and elsewhere on the hike.
- In about 0.1 mile, the trail intersects the Lyle Convict Road, a would-be north bank highway started in 1910 (and abandoned in 1911), built by imprisoned men whose work camp was just west of here. The road was the idea of Sam Hill, whose vast properties in nearby Maryhill warrant a day’s worth of investigations. Hill’s futile efforts to persuade the Washington legislature to fund a river road running east from Vancouver resulted in his attention turning towards Oregon. There, his vision found more fertile ground. The result is the Historic Columbia River Highway.
- At a wooden trailhead sign for the Cherry Orchard, detour left a bit to investigate the Convict Road as it winds westward a short way before being cut off by rock slides. Houses on the waterfront across the river, are on Rowena River Road, sandwiched between two areas of Mayer State Park. Rowena Crest is west of the park.
- From the Convict Road, come back to the trailhead sign. Clean your boots on the boot brush, to avoid bringing invasive weed seeds onto the property. Since 2015, volunteers and land trust staff have been working to eradicate invasive yellow starthistle here.
- On the main trail, keep climbing. Notice the round river pebbles on the trail. They were deposited by the Missoula Floods. As water repeatedly breached glacial ice dams in western Montana 12,000 to 17,000 years ago, glacial outburst floods resulted. These walls of water roared westward along the route of the Columbia River, scouring hillsides into cliffs. At this point in the river, the Rowena Gap, the narrower channel created a hydraulic dam at which floodwaters backed up, reaching 1,000 feet deep.
- In about 0.8 mile, a wide, level bench extends west of the trail. For interesting views of Lyle, its football field, neighborhoods, and riverfront, follow a side trail across this bench to its west end.
- Back on the main trail, the already great views get even better. The trail’s summit is about 1.3 miles from the start. From there, continue on a gentler grade through oak woodlands. Continue up a steep climb involving switchbacks and pass a seasonal pond. You’ll reach a dirt road at about the 2.4-mile mark. Turn right, but before you do, clean your boots again on the boot brush to prevent yellow starthistle from hitch-hiking a ride into the Lyle Cherry Orchard, which is just ahead. The surviving, gnarled cherry trees are at the far end of the wide, grassy area. On the new lollipop loop, check out the viewpoint providing beautiful river views.
- Please always stay on the trail and clean your boots before and after you hike. Hikers and their dogs are common vectors for spreading invasive seeds.
Friends' founder Nancy Russell (1932-2008) was drawn to the extreme beauty of this site. Before Gorge land use protections were put in place, she purchased several parcels of land that today comprise most of the 540-acre Lyle Cherry Orchard preserve. She named the site for the orchard remnant at the hike’s easternmost point. Had she not bought the parcels, they would likely have been developed into view home sites. In a 2005 video, Nancy Russell talks about why she purchased the land. Her comments about the orchard are at the 8:53 minute mark.
In 2009, the Estate of Nancy Russell bequeathed the Cherry Orchard property to Friends of the Columbia Gorge Land Trust. The trust leads work parties of volunteers to remove invasive species, enhance trails, and remove old structures. In 2013, a dilapidated house and outbuildings were removed from the grassy area near the old orchard. In 2015 and in 2018, volunteers removed more than 1,700 feet of fencing.
From 2018-2019, the Washington Trails Association (WTA) constructed the new Cherry Loop on the existing trail, creating an additional .8 miles of new trail and rerouting problematic sections. In 2020, WTA began construction on the new Lyle Loop, which will add an additional 2 miles to the Lyle Cherry Orchard trail system.
Learn more about the Lyle Convict Road and the camp where the convicts lived at the Twin Bridges Museum in Lyle. It is opened June to September on Saturdays, noon to 5 p.m., or by appointment. See Sam Hill’s experimental Maryhill Loops Road, where he tried various paving techniques. The road begins about 25 miles east of the trailhead, off SR 14.
Note: The Google map for this trail (below) does not yet show the 2020 addition of the Cherry Orchard trail. Click here to view a current trail map.