by Craig Romano | photo by David A. Birkbeck
It’s no secret among Pacific Northwest hikers that some of the finest waterfall and wildflower viewing trails in the country, such as trails to Multnomah and Bridal Veil Falls, are within the Columbia River Gorge
It’s a land of superlative natural beauty where one of the country’s grandest rivers cuts through one of its longest and most impressive mountain chains—and all within a short drive from the region’s second largest metropolitan area. But come fall when the last of the flowers wither and many of the waterfalls that roar in winter now trickle, what’s the main lure to hike in the Gorge? The dramatic scenery as always—but now it’s emblazoned with gold and crimson, thanks to abundant deciduous foliage. Agreeable weather too, and a good chance that spring and summertime trail nemeses ticks, poison oak, and rattlesnakes are taking a hiatus from hassling hikers.
Autumn is an excellent time for hiking the Gorge and for venturing off onto trails that you may have overlooked earlier in the year as you hiked to beloved waterfalls and wildflower gardens. Here are eight great hikes, each with that special autumn lure of the Gorge.
1. Gibbons Creek Wildlife Art Trail, Washington. Just outside of Washougal, within the Steigerwald Lake National Wildlife Refuge, you’ll observe a myriad of feathered species and some works of art too on the Gibbons Creek Wildlife Art Trail. One of the Gorge’s newest trails, this wheelchair accessible path ventures across wetland meadows and alongside cottonwood breaks on wildlife-rich Columbia River floodplain. Wintering swans as well as kingbirds, phoebes, nighthawks, Lewis’ woodpeckers and burrowing owls that stray from the east side of the Cascades can often be spotted in autumn. fws.gov/refuges.
2. Cape Horn Trail, Washington. East of Washougal on SR 14, you’ll round the impressive Gorge landmark Cape Horn and discover another new trail—one of the finest within the National Scenic Area. The Cape Horn Trail is a 7.5-mile circuitous journey across precipitous ledges, hilltop pastures, and oak-cloaked basalt bluffs that drop to the river’s edge. Stroll through maple groves that glow gold in October, and pause at overlooks above the Columbia to watch passing ships and thermal-riding raptors. capehorntrail.org.
3. Catherine Creek, Washington. Near Bingen, experience a taste of the Southwest within the Northwest. Here, in the Catherine Creek Area, one of the newer acquisitions to the National Scenic Area, set out on a multitude of trails through a geological wonderland of synclines, chasms and a natural arch. And, while the area is coveted for its wildflowers, in autumn currants and other shrubs streak the pine and oak groves of these old ranch lands in brilliant shades of red. fs.usda.gov.
4. Klickitat Trail, Washington. East of Catherine Creek, experience the grandeur of one of the Gorge’s major tributary rivers, the Klickitat. From the little town of Lyle, follow the Klickitat Trail, an old rail line turned trail, along the churning glacial-fed waters of this wild and scenic river. Hike across a restored trestle spanning “the Narrows,” a deep basalt cleft where Native Americans dipnet fish from suspended platforms. You just might witness early wintering bald eagles doing a little fishing as well. klickitat-trail.org.
5. Pacific Crest Trail to Dry Creek Falls, Oregon. The more popular Oregon side of the Columbia River Gorge harbors plenty of trails ….
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