One of my favorite Columbia River Gorge hikes is the trail around Cape Horn. Located across the river in neighboring Washington, it has the distinction of being one of the closest Gorge trails to the Portland Metro area. This 7.5 mile loop is perfect when I want a scenic jaunt without the long drive.
One cloudy, but dry day in mid-January I joined friends Debbie and Barry for a revisit.
|Foggy cliffs of Cape Horn|
Cape Horn is a series of towering basalt cliffs that line the north side of the Columbia River. This trail of the same name climbs up to the very top of these cliffs. It then follows the ridgeline before winding steeply downhill to a lower path paralleling the mighty Columbia, boasting fabulous river views. State Route 14 splits the loop, and one can either start the hike above or below the highway. When I first started hiking this trail, I used to always begin with the trail portion above SR 14, leaving the lower section for last. The only problem with taking this direction is the last mile is an uphill walk along a boring paved road. Not fun on a hot summer's day! (Trust me on this one) Then someone mentioned walking the loop in reverse, traversing the road first. After trying the opposite direction, I've never hiked it any other way.
|Cape Horn Falls|
So of course, my friends and I started out getting that pesky road walk out of the way. Since the road is quite a bit lower than the highway, it offered good views of Cape Horn's cliffs soaring high above as we made our way along. Today the cliffs were cloaked in fog, giving them an aura of mystery.
|My friends below the falls|
Soon we intersected with the official trail and began climbing this rocky path through the woods. Not far from road's end, we made a quick stop to admire lovely Cape Horn Falls, gushing full from the recent rainy winter days.
|Crossing one of the large talus slopes|
Immediately after the waterfall, my friends and I crossed a couple of large, moss-covered talus slopes. Not the funnest to walk over, Debbie and I were on guard the entire time. Neither of us wanted to trip or twist an ankle stepping around the large rocks. Luckily, we all passed over these uneven trails without incident.
|One of the many lovely Columbia River views|
The lower trail is my favorite part of the loop because of the numerous viewpoints offering excellent river vistas. The first clearing had sweeping views across the mighty Columbia. We could see Beacon Rock in the distance, peeking out of the low clouds, and the tall cylindrical Cigar Rock closer in.
|Barry poses for me|
Barry was a good sport and posed for a photo with the glorious river views and Cigar Rock in the background. Looks like an REI ad, doesn't it?
|Another pic of the foggy Columbia River|
Although the cloudy skies didn't make great light for photography, I snapped several images anyway ('cause that's what I do).
|Bare, mossy trees|
After following the river for another short stretch, our trail began to climb through a dense forest of leafless, mossy trees. The path angled past another couple of developed viewpoints, complete with sturdy rock walls to keep folks safely away from the steep slopes.
|Another viewpoint with brighter light|
Beyond the "official" viewpoints, we wandered uphill through the forest until reaching State Route 14. I've hiked this trail for many years, and in the "old" days, I remember darting across this busy highway. But no longer! There is now a tunnel under SR 14, enabling hikers to cross safely.
|Gotta get a selfie for the blog|
From the tunnel there's more climbing to be had. My friends and I trudged upward through lots of switchbacks, stopping to admire the mossy forest and look for birds (Debbie and Barry are avid birders and I've learned so much from hiking with them.)
|Columbia River above the highway|
After about a mile of climbing the forested slope (with one really nice viewpoint) my friends and I arrived at the Nancy Russell Overlook. The Cadillac of viewpoints on the Cape Horn Trail, this special site is comprised of a spiraling rock wall located on top of a prominent clearing. Views extend eastward, past Beacon Rock and Hamilton Mountain, to the slopes of the Oregon side of the Gorge, with the mighty Columbia's blue water shining below. This lovely vista is named for Nancy Russell, a friend, advocate, and protector of the Columbia River Gorge.
|Huge forest full of mossy trees|
The Nancy Russell Overlook is the perfect place for a lunch break. My friends and I enjoyed our sandwiches, cookies, and hot tea (a thermos of tea is standard equipment for a winter hike!)
|Nancy Russell overlook|
Rested and refreshed we were then ready to finish the Cape Horn loop. The trail led us to a road, which we crossed, and followed an old gravel track that led us back to proper trail. After a short downhill run we again climbed and followed a trail through the woods to a series of viewpoints atop Cape Horn itself. The most westernmost overlook, Pioneer Point, gives the best views in my opinion.
With a little more than a mile left, my friends and I now navigated the steep downhill path leading off of Cape Horn, back to the trailhead. The trail wound endlessly through thick forest. Now tired from our journey, the switchbacks seemed to go on forever. But I reminded myself this was much better than an uphill trek on a paved road!
|Birds-eye view from Pioneer Point|
Finally trail's end came in sight. Although the day had been cloudy, the clouds held their raindrops, and the temperatures remained fairly mild. Not too shabby for mid-January!
It's always a treat to take a hike through the lovely Columbia River Gorge, especially in winter.