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10 Gorge Winter Hikes to Start the Year on Good Footing

10 Gorge Winter Hikes to Start the Year on Good Footing
Strawberry Island trail, North Bonneville, Washington, December 2020. (photographer: Stan Hall)
By Stan Hall
Digital Content Specialist

On New Year's Day 2021, the Eagle Creek Trail reopened after being closed for more than three years by fire damage. The trail's comeback, due to a remarkable combination of nature's resilience and the collaborative work of several agencies and groups, is a cause for celebration. But the heavy influx of visitors wishing to reconnect with Eagle Creek brings concerns of overuse, particularly during the COVID-19 pandemic and in winter when inclement weather brings increased chances of landslides and further trail closures. (UPDATE: As of Jan. 14, 2021, the Eagle Creek Trail has been indefinitely closed again, this time due to damage from heavy rains over the previous week.)

If you're ready to bundle up for a Gorge trek but wish to avoid crowded trailheads and overly cozy trail experiences, check out these less famous hikes that offer plenty of scenery and austere appeal during the winter months. This list was prepared by Friends' Gorge Towns to Trails Program Manager Renee Tkach, a seasoned hiker and Gorge resident. Before you go: Check out ReadySetGOrge.com for up-to-date trail conditions and tips to make your visit as safe and sustainable as possible, as well as Gorge weather and road conditions.

The 10 Winter Hikes

  • Columbia Hills Historical State Park - Crawford Oaks Loop, Washington | Distance: 7-8 miles round trip; elevation gain: 900 feet; difficulty: moderate | Gorge insider tip: Here's a great way to escape the rain and soak in wide-open spaces; it’s on the south side of the Gorge so gets longer sunshine in winter (a plus for Washington-side hikes).
  • Deschutes River State Park - Ferry Springs Loop, OregonDistance: 4.4 miles round trip; elevation gain: 500 feet; difficulty: moderate | Gorge insider tip: Lose the crowds and get a better chance of winter sunshine along the Deschutes River.
  • Deschutes River State Park - River Trail, OregonDistance: 22.6 miles out and back; elevation gain: 200 feet; difficulty: easy Gorge insider tip: Another Deschutes River trail, this one's an easy hiking or mountain bike trail. You've got a good chance at bald eagle and bighorn sheep sightings, too.
  • Hardy Ridge Loop, WashingtonDistance: 9 miles round trip; elevation gain: 2,500 feet; difficulty: strenuous | Gorge insider tip: Get a workout and be rewarded with some of the most spectacular views of the mid-Gorge.
  • Lyle Cherry Orchard, WashingtonDistance: 5 miles round trip; elevation gain: 1,500 feet; difficulty: moderate | Gorge insider tip: Friends of the Columbia Gorge Land Trust's trail offers impressive vistas year-round but in winter, the rains turn the landscape extra green (unless it's snowing, of course).
  • Klickitat Trail - Swale Canyon, WashingtonDistance: 10.2 miles out and back; elevation gain: 1,000 feet; difficulty: moderate | Gorge insider tip: In winter, this is a place for bald eagles galore. Hike in and out or ride a mountain bike.
  • Mosier Plateau, OregonDistance: 3.5 miles round trip; elevation gain: 600 feet; difficulty: moderate | Gorge insider tip: Friends land trust's Oregon-side trail offers outstanding Gorge views and a look at the community and agriculture of the Mosier Valley.
  • Mosier Twin Tunnels, OregonDistance: 14 miles rount trip; elevation gain: 300 feet; difficulty: easy | Gorge insider tip: A fine trail for a really rainy day; it's paved, so no mud!
  • Sams Walker Loop, WashingtonFamily-friendly Distance: 1.1 miles round trip; elevation gain: 50 feet; difficulty: easy | Gorge insider tip: A quick and easy one for families; offers sneak views of Horsetail Falls.
  • Strawberry Island Loop, Washington | Family-friendlyDistance: 4 miles round trip; elevation gain: 150 feet; difficulty: moderate | Gorge insider tip: Accessed from the community of North Bonneville, it's another kid-approved trail that offers some great views at a place where the Columbia River narrows considerably; the Oregon side looks very close by. Note: It can get muddy; wear proper footwear!
And a bonus trail: Keep it natural: Please pack in and pack out any litter.
Be safe, plan ahead: Have a backup trail in mind in case parking at your favored trailhead is full; parking on the side of the highway can be dangerous.