Tom McCall Nature Preserve
Eastern Gorge, Oregon
Sunrise over Tom McCall Nature Preserve with lupine and balsamroot blooming (photographer: Michael Horodyski)
Hike Details
Type:
Out and back
Distance:
3.25 miles round trip
Elevation Gain:
1070 feet
Difficulty:
Moderate
Trail Features
Family Friendly:
No
Restrooms:
No
Trailhead Pass:
No
Trail Details
WildflowersBeautiful Views
Start at the Rowena Crest Trailhead. The trail crosses a flat area for 0.10 mile, then picks up an old road. Follow for about 0.20 mile to an intersection with another old road. The second old road is full of the remains of construction work, but provides amazing views to the east. These include the Historic Columbia River Highway and a continuation of the wagon road, meandering down the opposite side of the valley. After about 1/2 mile, you'll come to a sign for the McCall Point Trail. The trail leaves the wagon road here, and, after a short climb, reaches the slopes overlooking the Rowena Plateau. Here, you'll view the arched highway bridge and Mount Defiance to the west. Looking north, Mount Adams appears beyond the town of Lyle. From here, the trail gets steeper as it switchbacks, alternating through forests of scrub oak and open, grassy areas.
 
Please Note:
  • This trail is open from May 1 - October 31 only.
  • No dogs are allowed since this is a nature preserve.
  • There are no restrooms here. The closest option is at Mayer State Park.
 
The Tom McCall Nature Preserve is managed by the Nature Conservancy who has worked to preserve the fauna and flora here. Ecologists work to monitor rare plant populations. Starting in spring, volunteers lead interpretive hikes.
 
The Rowena Plateau is a shorter, flatter hike option from this trailhead/nature preserve.
 
History
This nature preserve between Mosier and The Dalles is named for Oregon Governor Thomas Lawson McCall, whose commitment to conservation in Oregon remains an inspiration. The Rowena Overlook, McCall Point, and Rowena Plateau are owned by the U.S. Forest Service, Oregon State Parks and the Nature Conservancy and offer some of the most spectacular wildflower displays in the Gorge each May.

Driving Directions

Rowena Crest Trailhead:  From I-84, take Exit #69/Mosier. Follow the Historic Columbia River Highway into Mosier. Continue east on the highway for almost 7 miles. Look for a turnoff on your right with a big sign reading "Rowena Crest."

Community Connection

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: View of town of Lyle from Lyle Cherry Orchard (Debbie Asakawa)

Preserve Story

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)