In the Columbia River Gorge, there are trails that are harder than several notable nearby mountains. And while these trails will kick you hard in the glutes, they’ll also make you feel like a queen or king of the mountains. The best part of tackling these trails? Besides outrageously fine views and a deep sense of satisfaction, you get most of them to yourself. Make sure you carry the 10 essentials and take a buddy. Just consider making that buddy a human. Steep with plenty of exposure, these trails beg for dogs to be left at home or at the very least, always on a short leash. Here are 10 of our favorite Gorge hikes on the Oregon side of the Columbia River.
It starts easy with pretty creek and waterfalls—and quickly becomes a big, bad, steep butt-kicker, easily one of the hardest hikes in the Gorge. Some say it’s harder than hiking to the summit of Mt. Hood. At 11.3 miles round trip, out and back, with an elevation gain of 4,935 feet, it’s at least ideal training for the 11,250 ft. peak. Though it’s fairly straightforward, get a map to navigate this one.
Trailhead: Take I‑84 from Portland to exit 55 (Starvation Creek State Park rest area).
Intermittently loose scree over hard dirt, with several sections of “death ledges,” the route to North Lake follows the Wyeth Trail, marching from an old roadbed straight up to the Gorge’s rooftop. It covers 3,800 feet in the first four miles before temporarily leveling out and then proceeding up again. The total gain is 4,220 feet over 11.4 out-and-back miles through lush old growth. Go left at the Gorton Creek junction on the Wyeth Trail #411. Switchback after switchback with a few long traverses interspersed, you’ll finally reach the junction with the Wyeth-Green Point Ridge Trail. The trail descends a series of talus slopes before dropping into an old growth forest. You’ll pass across a wetland area and then up over Lindsey Creek. Two tie-spur trails lead back from the North Lake Trail to the Wyeth Trail. Keep left and descend 500 feet before regaining the elevation as you approach North Lake.
Trailhead: East on I‑84, take Exit #55/Starvation Creek State Park and Rest Area (eastbound exit only).
Green Point Ridge
You’ll feel like you’re on a relentless switchbacking staircase as you ascend 3,840 feet in the first four miles of this 15-mile out and back trail. Pass North Lake where #411 (Wyeth Trail) joins #423 and take the trail south to ascend to the top of Green Point Ridge. Enjoy the view and reclaim your lungs before heading back down #418 for 2.8 miles to where it rejoins #411 for the last four miles. The trail is 15 miles with a total gain of 4,400 feet.
Trailhead: Take I‑84 to Exit #51/Wyeth to the campground. Follow trailhead signs to the far back of the campground to the parking lot.
Nesmith Point Trail
Turn around as you ascend this lung buster and you’ll see that you’re never far from towering views of the gorge—another reason why this trail should be called steep and steeper. Start at the Elowah Falls trailhead, continue with an easy pace past the junction of the old Columbia River Gorge Trail #400 and follow the signs south to Nesmith Point on the Trail #428. From there, you’ll knock off almost 3,000 feet in 2.5 miles. Continue on for another mile and a half to the junction with Trail #425. After this junction, you’re a short, literal crawl to the top of Nesmith Point and outrageous views across the top of the Gorge’s rooftop. You’ll feel like a loaded bus in neutral with no brakes as you head back down a trail that gains 3,706 feet over 5.1 miles (10.2 round trip).
Trailhead: Take I‑84, exit #35/Ainsworth State Park.
Ruckel Ridge Trail
This is the penultimate outdoor Parkour challenge: at times you’ll bear down on a near 35 percent grade, which includes root ladders, a narrow, elevated, moss-encrusted basalt spine called “The Catwalk” that begs for sitting and scooting on, with lots of exposure above Ruckel Creek. After hitting the Benson Plateau, take Ruckel Creek Trail (#405) down (6.5 miles). You’ll wend through a steep but gorgeous Doug Fir rainforest bordered by neon green rock walls and boulder fields. The ridge trail scales 3,700 feet in 3.8 miles.
Trailhead: Begins at Eagle Creek Campground, near exit 41 from I‑84, east of Portland.
Bell Creek Loop Trail
This lollypop loop starts at the Oneonta Trailhead, connecting with Gorge Trail #400 and finally Trail #424. Once on it, continue past the junction with Horsetail Falls Trail (#438 at 0.8 miles in). Pass Triple Falls and cross several side drainages before finally reaching the bridge over Oneonta Creek. Pass another bridge before leaving and turn northeast onto the Horsetail Creek Trail (#425), and across the Oneonta Creek ford. After that, the grinder really starts: switching back about 20 times in 2.3 miles before mellowing a bit and reaching the junction with Bell Creek Trail (#459). Take #459 and cross the footbridge over Bell Creek and cruise (for about 1.4 miles) beneath a canopy of Doug fir canopy and along wetlands another 1.4 miles to the junction of Oneonta Trail (#424) again, bypassing a few other junctions. This trail ascends 3,300 feet and clicks off a total of 14.5 miles.
Trailhead: From the west, travel east on I‑84 to Exit #28/Bridal Veil. Drive east on the Historic Highway for 5.1 miles to a small parking lot on the left/north side of the road, just before the Oneonta Gorge.
Tanner Ridge, Dublin Lake
It takes a map (look for the Tanner Butte trailhead) to find the trailhead. But once you figure it out you’re on your way up, covering 3,700 feet in 6.8 miles. At the Tanner Ridge/Butte Trailhead, follow Trail #401 for about 2.2 miles and up 1,500 feet to the junction with the Wauna Point Trail #401D. Go west right and continue to Tanner Ridge. In about 2 miles you’ll arrive at a junction with Trail #448, which descends back down toward Tanner Creek. Use it to complete a loop. Add the lake to your hike by continuing on to Trail #401 and the junction for the beautiful little Dublin Lake, Trail #401B to add 4.2 miles to this hike.
Trailhead: East on I‑84, take Exit #40/Bonneville Dam.
Indian Point Loop
Basically, this trail follows Gorton Creek Trail out and comes back on the Herman Creek Trail (#406). Start up the Herman Creek Trail; in a third of a mile connect to the Herman Bridge Trail. Avoid spurs and stay on the main trail. In 1.2 miles, the trail reaches Herman Camp and the junction with the Gorge Trail #400, which tracks north, while Gorton Creek Trail #408 tracks east and the Herman Creek Trail tracks southeast on an old logging road. You want Gorton Creek Trail. It steadily gains elevation, crossing a few small seasonal streams on a few switchbacks. At mile 3.8, you’ll meet the Ridge Cutoff Trail (#437). A short trail leads to the rock spire where you can take in views of Mounts St. Helens and Adams, Wind Mountain and Dog Mountain. After a breather, head back to the #437 and follow it 0.6 miles to the Nick Eaton Trail (#447). Descend north on the Nick Eaton Trail about 1/2 mile a viewpoint and continue down the same trail to the junction with the Herman Creek Trail (#406). The loop is 8.3 miles total with 2,800 feet of elevation gain.
Trailhead: East on I‑84 to Exit #44/Cascade Locks. Follow signs to Herman Creek Campground.
Multnomah Falls – Franklin Ridge Loop
Easily the tamest of the bunch, it’s still a challenge, especially because you’ll have to navigate crowds of people at the start at Multnomah Falls. Head up to the highest viewpoint at Multnomah Falls and continue on up to its feeder, Multnomah Creek. Turn east at the Franklin Ridge junction, and follow it up to the junction with Oneonta Gorge. Descend to Oneonta Gorge and follow the creek past Triple Falls to the junction with Gorge Trail #400, before heading back to Multnomah Falls. You won’t see many horizon views but you’ll have gained 2,660 over the 12-mile loop.
Trailhead: Multnomah Falls exit 28 to Historic Columbia Highway 30 East to Multnomah Falls Lodge.