Hey, September. Where’d you come from, and how are you already halfway over? Summer lasts until mid-October around here (case in point: it’s going to be 92 degrees on Monday), so we have plenty of warm weather hiking ahead of us before the rain and gloom sets in. But at this point, we’re really looking forward to some different weather on our hikes, partly to make the scenery a little different, and partly because I would really like to wear some other clothes.
That being said, we enjoyed a nice summertime hike in the Columbia River Gorge last weekend on the Cape Horn Trail.
The first thing I should point out is that we hiked in WASHINGTON. Because we live close enough to Washington to do that. What?! So cool.
From what I’ve read, Cape Horn is the closest Gorge hike to Portland (about 40 minutes away), which was super appealing on a day when I just wanted to get out and do something (perhaps I was going stir crazy after one whole week of unemployment?).
The Cape Horn Trail is a 7 1/2 mile loop. We took the Upper Trail, which is definitely the way to go for a relatively easy hike. You’ll hit most of the inclines going down, rather than up, this way. And my exhausted marathon training legs say “no” to hiking up steep hills.
The trail opens up to tons of scenic viewpoints. It was a bit hazy when we went, so the view could’ve been better, but it was still pretty spectacular. I’m pretty sure there’s no bad view in the Gorge. Have I mentioned how excited I am to live so close to this place?
The trail crosses over Strunk Road and continues on what kind of looks like someone’s driveway. But don’t panic. It’s the trail.
And eventually that mysterious driveway trail comes to this awesome overlook, which is the perfect place to enjoy a picnic lunch in the sun. Delightful.
The trail passes through a little tunnel under Highway 14, and then continues through the woods.
We both kept commenting on the high quality of the dirt path, which was gloriously even, free of tree roots, and generally well-maintained. And then we hit the rocks. Switchbacks made entirely of rocks are a bit challenging for the feet.
Luckily, the rock path didn’t last incredibly long, and it led to a waterfall, which we weren’t expecting. Obviously we hadn’t read the map very thoroughly, since it clearly states you’ll pass “Cape Horn Falls,” but sometimes it’s better to be surprised, right? Right. The waterfall was pretty small since we’re currently in the driest time of year, but it was lovely.
Just a little after the waterfall, the trail left the woods and met up with Cape Horn Road (another thing we would’ve known, had we studied the map). We walked up the road for a long time, wondering if we had missed the trail connection somewhere. But it turns out the last mile or so of the trail just happens to be on the blacktop. Not the finest end to a pretty hike, but I would’ve been really discouraged if we started the hike in that direction (which is why we recommend starting on the Upper Trail).
It took us about 4 hours to hike the Cape Horn Trail, including a 30-ish minute lunch break, and lots of stops for photos.
To get to the Cape Horn trailhead, take Hwy 14 about 27 miles east of I-5 in Vancouver, WA. Turn left on Salmon Falls Road (you’ll see a sign for the Cape Horn Trail), and park in the first parking lot on your right. The trailhead is just across Salmon Falls Road.