Play it Safe. Check Conditions and Pack Accordingly.
Every year, several people get lose or hurt while exploring the Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area.
Most commonly, hikers become lost or fall off steep cliffs after venturing off established trails. Search and rescue efforts are expensive and are often risky to the searchers, many of whom are volunteers. "Anything can happen, whether you’re out for a short hike or an overnight trip,” says Rachel Pawlitz, public affairs officer for the U.S. Forest Service. “So it’s important to take some very basic steps to be prepared.”
When planning your visit the Gorge, follow these tips to help ensure you have a safe and fun adventure.
1. Choose trails that meet your group’s comfort and fitness level.
When choosing a hiking trail, consider the following:
- Total distance (round-trip).
- Total elevation gain and loss (generally speaking, the more elevation gain, the more strenuous it will be).
- Trail conditions (read online trail descriptions and trip reports to determine any natural hazards).
- Trail closures (check here for trail closure alerts).
2. Research road, trail and weather conditions.
For up-to-date road conditions, visit these mobile-friendly websites:
Sometimes weather events or other factors make trails hazardous or unpleasant to hike. Always check at least two sources before deciding on a trail. We recommend the following information sites:
- Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area Hiking Guide
- Friends of the Columbia Gorge Find a Hike Tool
- Oregon Hikers Trip Reports
In any area, weather can change rapidly and with very little warning. The weather in the western Gorge is often very different from the weather in the eastern Gorge. Always bring an extra layer and rain/wind jacket.
3. Tell someone where you are going and when you plan to be home.
1. Before leaving on your hike, call or send a text message to a close friend or family member, letting that person know:
- Where you are going hiking (the area and trail number).
- When you plan to leave and return.
- Who you are going hiking with.
2. Send that person another message once you are safely back to your car.
3. Make sure that person knows what to do if you don’t return safely:
- If you don't return by dark, your friend or family member should first try calling the person or people you were hiking with (in case your phone battery died).
- If your friend or family member can’t reach anyone in your party, he or she should call 911 or notify the local sheriffs office:
4. Research recreation use fees and bring cash to pay them.
Recreation fees help pay for trail maintenance and amenities, such as restrooms and picnic areas, at trailheads. Not all sites in the Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area require passes. Go here to find a comprehensive list of the three types of passes and where they are required.
5. Bring the 10 Essentials.
- Appropriate footwear. Wear boots or tennis shoes. Do not wear flip-flops or shoes with heels.
- Printed map and compass. We recommend the National Geographic Columbia River Gorge trails map.
- Extra water and chlorine dioxide tablets or other method for purifying water.
- Extra food. Energy bars and trail mix are good sources of protein and calories.
- Rain and wind gear, and extra clothing. Hypothermia is the #1 killer of outdoor enthusiasts. Always carry a windproof layer and a rain jacket (even in the summertime).
Fast-drying, wicking fabrics such as polyester or wool are best. Avoid cotton.
- Emergency items: Firestarter and matches, headlamp, and a whistle. A headlamp will come in handy if you are trying to read your map or follow a trail at dusk. The whistle is a good tool for signaling distress (use 3 short bursts). Refrain from starting a fire unless you need it for warmth, which might be the case if you are hurt and can't walk.
- First aid kit. Many outdoor stores sell compact hiker’s first-aid kits. If you hike often, consider taking a first-aid class.
- Knife or multi-purpose tool.
- Sunscreen, a sun hat and sunglasses. These items will help you avoid sunburn.
- Backpack. A comfortable pack will help you carry all the essentials, as well as litter you might find along the trail.
BEFORE heading out, keep these additional tips in mind just in case you do get lost or injured.
- Consider hiring a local guide for challenging activities.
- If going on a long hike, carry an emergency shelter and/or emergency blanket.
- If you forget a map and compass, take a photo of the map posted at most trailheads.
- Cell service in the Gorge is spotty. If you download maps onto your phone, don't plan to rely solely on your phone for navigation.
- If you get lost or injure yourself, call 911. If the injured person can’t move, send someone for help. Depending upon your location you may be able to get cell service by moving up or down the trail or up or down one of the geographical features close to you or hiking out to a trailhead.