Hiker on the Nick Eaton Ridge Loop trail (Debbie Asakawa)
Trail Description Driving DirectionsInvite some folks along on a hike in the Columbia River Gorge, and they might think you'll be taking them to Multnomah Falls or Eagle Creek. Mention Herman Creek, and you might get a puzzled look or two. "Herman Creek?" you might hear, "where's that?"
The short answer is: just east of Cascade Locks. But in fact, the somewhat obscure Herman Creek Trailhead is easily one of the best starting points to be found anywhere in the Gorge for hikers, simply because it's out of the way of the tourist traffic, and because so many hiking opportunities exist from a single, inauspicious point. A cutoff to the Pacific Crest Trail (#2000) is an option, while the standard route climbs up an old logging road to Herman Camp (1000 feet), where four trails are there for the taking: the Gorge Trail (#400), the Gorton Creek Trail (#408), the Herman Creek Trail (#406), and Nick Eaton Way (#447).
On the ridge itself, three cutoff trails and an upper intersection create a few loop opportunities, along with a few landmarks, among them Deadwood Camp and Indian Point.
The latter hike is an extension of the Indian Point Loop Hike, and it includes enough options to make it a day-long adventure along Herman Creek and Nick Eaton Ridge. Expect steep switchbacks, breathtaking views, a hair-raising approach to an impressive rock pinnacle, and several miles of hiking under shaded timber. The entire trip follows typical Columbia Gorge trails, well graded and well maintained. However, if you try to tack on much more than what's presented here, you may want to consider an overnight backpack.
Start out from the trailhead on the Herman Creek Trail (#406), the only trail going out of the trailhead, at 240 feet. Some maps don't show this trailhead, instead suggesting that the trail starts near the frontage road at the freeway, although the Green Trails topo is accurate. Be aware that the gate to the campground is closed during the winter, and you will have to park outside the gate to begin your journey up the paved road to the campground area.
The trail starts out a bit steeply, and there is a lot of freeway noise. At mile 0.3 (500 feet) is a junction with the Herman Bridge Trail, which is a mile-long cutoff to the PCT. Remain along the Herman Creek Trail, which soon turns into a shaded, mostly smooth logging road. Enjoy the uphill walk in the shade while listening to Herman Creek far below (and don't stray onto any side trails or overgrown logging roads).
At mile 1.2 (1000 feet), the Herman Creek Trail reaches Herman Camp, and options quickly become plentiful. By going left and then hard left (north), hikers will find Gorge Trail #400. Simply turning left (east) provides access the Gorton Creek Trail. If you stay straight (southeast), you will continue along the Herman Creek Trail, which intersects with the foot of Nick Eaton Way 0.1 mile farther along. Have a good look at Herman Camp while you're here. No matter what option you take, your day-hike will return to this point on the way back to your car.
For those who prefer gentler climbing, the Gorton Creek Trail is the logical first leg of the loop, with a relatively gradual incline, a few switchbacks and three seasonal-stream crossings. There is a fair bit of freeway noise, however, and only a hint of views of the Columbia River through the trees.
At mile 3.8 (2.6 miles from Herman Camp), two trails intersect with the main route. The lower option is the Indian Point Trail (#408C), a short, steep spur to Indian Point. If you or your companions have been complaining about the lack of views so far, head down and get an up-close look at one of the most stunning rock formations in the Columbia River Gorge (and please exercise due caution when you arrive at the scree-strewn ridge).
The upper trail at the intersection is the Ridge Cutoff Trail (#437). Take this option to make the shortest loop (the Indian Point Loop Hike), climbing to the crest of the ridge and an intersection with Nick Eaton Way at 2,900 feet.
Or, if you'd prefer to add a bit more distance, continue along the Gorton Creek Trail for another 0.8 mile to mile 4.5, where the next cutoff, the Deadwood Trail (#422), also climbs to meet Nick Eaton Way at nearly 3,000 feet.
Any way you go, you might as well at least cross Grays Creek (which can run swift with spring snow runoff or nearly dry in late summer) to find Deadwood Camp, a perfect spot for lunch (and also an ideally sheltered winter campsite). Double-back across the creek again if the Deadwood Trail is your cutoff option.
If you continue along the Gorton Creek Trail from Deadwood Camp, expect a steep climb to mile 7.2 (4,000 feet). This trail is on a northeast slope where the snow is the last to melt off in the late spring. There are steep slopes you have to traverse which are difficult when icy, and toward the end, it's difficult to find where the trail goes. At mile 7.2, you will find the Nick Eaton Trail junction and nice views. You've skipped two cutoff trails to Nick Eaton Way and found the high end of it now. Ridge Camp is another 0.2 miles further, on the north end of a plateau that features North Lake, Rainy Lake, and a good look at Green Point Mountain.
If you have plans to stay overnight, you should have a good idea where you are already. Otherwise, take a right on Nick Eaton Way to start your return, and watch for a good viewpoint west of the Gorge within a half-mile or so.
Nick Eaton Way can be taken all the way back to Herman Camp, but there's one more cutoff trail to consider. The Casey Creek Trail (#476) switchbacks down from 4,000 feet to 1,500 feet to join the Herman Creek Trail along the drainage, where you eventually will walk across the base of Nick Eaton Falls.
Simply continuing along the crest of Nick Eaton Ridge, you will reach a hanging meadow with stunning views of Bonneville Dam, Beacon Rock, and even the summit of Mount Hood (one of the best, least-crowded viewpoints in the Gorge). From this point, Nick Eaton Way starts losing elevation in a hurry. Get ready for a rapid, occasionally jarring descent. Once you get back to Herman Camp, your car won't seem that far off, although you still have more than a mile and 800 vertical feet to go.
There are plenty of options here. Want just one more? Do this entire hike in the opposite direction from Herman Camp. Your toes and knees will be happier to walk down the Gorton Creek Trail, although you should be warned that the initial 1,300 vertical feet of Nick Eaton Way offers some of the steepest, most relentless switch-backing to be found anywhere in the Gorge.
Please note: Depending on how far you hike from this trailhead, you may be entering the Mark O. Hatfield Wilderness. Wilderness restrictions apply. + Read More