Columbia Gorge North Hiking Trip report Washington

Cape Horn

For our November hike we chose the Cape Horn trail. We had wanted a hike that was a little shorter than our normal trips since Heather had just run her first race in awhile. The 7+ mile loop around Cape Horn fit the bill perfectly and it was a good time for a visit given the full loop is closed from February 1st to July 15th due to nesting Falcons.

Just 30 minutes from the Portland airport the trailhead is located at the Skamania County Transit Park & Ride lot near milepost 26 along State Highway 14 at Salmon Falls Road. The all volunteer Cape Horn Conservancy works with the United States Forest Service (USFS), Washington Trails Association (WTA), and Friends of the Columbia Gorge (FOCG) to maintain and improve the trail here which was evident by the well maintained trail and abundant signage along the way which began at the trailhead.



Cape Horn Trailhead//

Almost immediately after crossing Salmon Falls Rd. and starting on the trail we faced the choice of going clockwise or counter-clockwise around the loop. We stayed to the right heading counter-clockwise and began climbing up toward the viewpoints on top of Cape Horn.


Our first good views were to the north as the trail neared some power lines where several snow dusted peaks were visible.
Lookout Mountain

Silver Star Mountain, Little Baldy, and Bluff Mountain
Silver Star, Little Baldy, and Bluff Mountain//

The trail then crossed over to the Columbia Gorge side of Cape Horn for our first unobstructed views of the Columbia River. The Sun had just crested over Larch Mountain to the southeast and was creating some glare limiting the views. A cold wind was racing down the Gorge which made it a little too chilly to spend much time at any of the viewpoints which was too bad because they were nice enough to warrant a longer stay.
Columbia River from the Cape Horn Trail//


A little bit of ice at the viewpoint.//

The trail then dropped down away from the Gorge (and out of the wind) briefly joining an old roadbed and then climbing to a crossing of paved Strunk Rd. where the trail passes through grassy fields on a gravel road.


The next viewpoint of the Columbia Gorge was the Nancy Russell Overlook which had recently undergone some repairs. A long stone bench in the overlook offered plenty of space for hikers to relax and soak in the view, but again the cold wind wasn’t going to allow us to enjoy it for long.

Columbia River from the Cape Horn Trail//

The trail began to descend after the Nancy Russell Overlook switchbacking and passing yet another viewpoint on it’s way down to a tunnel beneath SR 14.



Yet another viewpoint awaited on the other side of the highway.


A nice waterfall cascaded down a grassy slope near the viewpoint.

The section that is closed for the Falcons begins shortly after that viewpoint but that wasn’t an issue now so we continued on. After another series of switchbacks the trail began to head back leading us east parallel to the river. The wind was really whipping down closer to the river and we were blasted by it every time there was a break in the trees. We passed an unsigned side trail to the right and momentarily paused wondering where it might go. After continuing on for a minute or so it dawned on us that it had likely led to an overlook of the railroad tracks as they headed into the tunnel beneath Cape Horn. We began looking for the other end of that side trail to rejoin the main trail and spotted it at a set of trail signs. We turned right and headed out to check out this unsigned trail. It led to a series of grassy viewpoints and the view of the railroad tracks as we had suspected.


Railroad entering the tunnel beneath Cape Horn//

The wind along here was so strong that we struggled to not be pushed around by it. It was a challenge to try and stand in one spot for anytime at all. We followed the side trail all the way back to the unmarked junction we had wondered about earlier and then resumed our hike on the main trail. Another windy viewpoint awaited not far ahead where three unique rock formations where visible. From this spot Cigar Rock, Beacon Rock, and Phoca Rock were all visible.

Cigar Rock is the tall column of rock on the left, Beacon Rock is in the distance straight ahead, and Phoca Rock is in the middle of the Columbia to the right.
Cigar, Beacon and Phoca Rocks//

After fighting with the wind attempting to take pictures of the rocks the trail turned uphill passing through an interesting rock field below some cliffs.


As we crossed the rock field we got our first view of Cape Horn Falls.
Cape Horn Falls//

The falls were a delight. A small rainbow appeared and faded at the base of the falls as wind gusts blew the cascade from side to side. The footbridge below the falls was somewhat protected from the wind allowing us to spend some time watching the water dance in the wind.
Cape Horn Falls//



Rainbow beneath Cape Horn Falls//

Beyond Cape Horn Falls the trail continues through the trees below the cliffs until it finally drops down to Cape Horn Road.


The paved road acts as the trail for the next 1 1/4 miles passing farmland below Cape Horn.
Cape Horn from Cape Horn Road on the way back up to the trailhead.//

The trail leaves the road just prior to reaching SR 14 leading to another tunnel and than a short climb to complete the loop.

The hike was just what we were hoping for. Not too long (7.3 miles) but packed with views and diverse scenery. Happy Trails!


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