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Columbia River Gorge South Hiking Mt. Hood Area Oregon

Gorton Creek Falls, Punchbowl Falls Park, and Lost Lake

After striking out on a view of Mt. Hood during our previous hike on the Boulder Ridge Trail (post) we planned on trying again during our next outing by visiting Lost Lake. The hikes around Lost Lake and up Lost Lake Butte had been on our schedule in both of the previous years but changes in those plans had bumped it back to this year.

A featured hike in Sullivan’s NW Oregon book (hike #74 in the 4th edition) it presented an issue with our rule to not have our driving time be longer than our hiking time. At a little under 8 miles for both trails we figured the hike would wind up taking us around 4 hours based on our typical pace leaving us an hour short of the 5 hour round trip driving time. Our solution was to add a pair of stops along the way where we could do a couple of short hikes which would bring the times closer in line with each other.

Our route to Lost Lake would be via Interstate 84 through the Columbia River Gorge to Hood River so for our first stop of the day we chose the less than a mile and a half round trip to Gorton Creek Falls. This hike began at the same trailhead (at Wyeth Campground) that we had used in 2016 for the Wyeth Trail (post) which REMAINS CLOSED after the 2017 Eagle Creek Fire.
Wyeth Trailhead

In fact with closures still in place over numerous parts of the gorge we stopped to consult the closure map both at the trailhead and then at the fence erected blocking access to the Wyeth Trail at its junction with the Gorge Trail.
Eagle Creek Fire closure map

With Gorton Creek outside of the closure area and no visible signs of closure we followed the unofficial trail along Gorton Creek from the junction.
Trail along Gorton Creek

A nice path follows the creek for about a half mile where it ends near Emerald Falls, a small 10′ cascade.
Emerald Falls

Emerald Falls

The much taller Gorton Creek Falls is another 100 yards up the creek and requires a bit of scrambling along the left side of the creek over boulders and through trees.
Gorton Creek

Gorton CreekLooking down the scramble route.

Obstacles along Gorton CreekSome of the obstacles

Gorton Creek below Gorton FallsFirst sight of Gorton Creek Falls through the trees.

Gorton Falls

It is a nice two tiered waterfall but the upper tier is only visible from certain angles.
Gorton Falls

Gorton Falls

After admiring the falls we headed back down to the trailhead completing the very nice 1.3 mile hike. We then continued driving east on I-84 to Hood River where we took exit 62 and followed our GPS to the Punchbowl Falls Park Trailhead. Not to be confused with the more famous Punch Bowl Falls which is located on Eagle Creek (also CLOSED due to the Eagle Creek Fire) this Punchbowl Falls is located on the West Fork Hood River in a county park established in 2016 after the land was purchased by the Western Rivers Conservancy. Trailkeepers of Oregon have since constructed trails (with a new one set to open this year) allowing for a short loop hike through oak woodlands and past a pair of waterfalls.

The trail starts at a gated service road.
Punchbowl Falls Park

Just beyond the gate are a signs for the park and trails.
Punchbowl Falls Park

Trail sign in Punchbowl Falls Park

We took the West Fork Trail which led to an open hillside with a few lingering ookow in bloom overlooking the West Fork Hood River.
West Fork Hood River

Ookow

The path followed the river gorge through the oak woodland where there had been a nice lupine display by the looks of it.
West Fork Trail

Lupine

As we neared Punchbowl Falls we could see the crumbling remains of a staircase that had led down to a fish ladder along the river.
Old staircase to a fish ladder

Old staircase to a fish ladder

A very short side trail led to a viewpoint overlooking the falls and the wide bowl at the base.
Punchbowl Falls

Pool below Punchbowl Falls

We could also see the top of Mt. Hood rising up above the trees up river. There wasn’t a cloud to be seen near the mountain which was a great sign for our hike up Lost Lake Butte later.
Mt. Hood above the trees

Mt. Hood

From the viewpoint we continued on the West Fork Trail toward Dead Point Falls.
Trail sign in Punchbowl Falls Park

Another viewpoint along the way looked back up river to Punchbowl Falls and Mt. Hood as well as across the gorge to Dead Point Falls.
Punchbowl Falls

Dead Point Falls

Dead Point Falls

Just a little further along was a signed spur trail to another viewpoint of Dead Point Falls and the confluence of Dead Point Creek and the West Fork Hood River.
Sign for Dead Point Falls

Dead Point Falls

Beyond the Dead Point Falls viewpoint we came to a junction with the Dogwood Trail which could be used to make a short loop back to the trailhead. We stuck to the West Fork Trail which descended slightly to another viewpoint, this time of the confluence of the West and East Forks of Hood River.
Trail junction in Punchbowl Falls Park

Punchbowl Falls Park

The East Fork Hood River was noticeably siltier having the clouded color indicitive of glacier runoff.
Confluence of the West and East Fork Hood Rivers

At a junction just beyond the viewpoint we turned right at a point for the East Fork Trail opting not to continue down to the river which was only a tenth of a mile or two away but we didn’t really feel like climbing back up.
East Fork Trail sign

By the end of this year the East Fork Trail will extend out along the East Fork Hood River but for now this path brought us to the gated serviced road which we turned right onto and followed back toward the trailhead.
Punchbowl Falls Park

After about 150 yards we came to the Dogwood Trail as it crossed the road where we turned uphill to the left.
Dogwood Trail

A lone pink pyrola was blooming along this trail which we followed through the wood for two tenths of a mile to signboards and completing a .9 mile loop.
Pink pyrola

Dogwood Trail

From Punchbowl Falls Park we drove back the way we’d come a mile to Lost Lake Road were we took a right and followed a car with Florida license plates nearly the entire 13.5 paved miles to the entrance to the Lost Lake Campground. I bring this up to ask that if people aren’t comfortable driving on the narrow curvy forest roads that’s fine but when you have cars following you and are going 20 mph below the speed limit and have multiple chances to pull over, please do it (end mini-rant).
Lost Lake Campground entrance

There is currently a $9 day-use fee charged to enter the Lost Lake area but the OregonHkers Field Guide mentioned a possible starting point along gated Jones Creek Road just before the campground entrance. We parked at a small pullout here (room for a couple of cars).
Pullout near Lost Lake Campground

The precursor to the Pacific Crest Trail, the Oregon Skyline Trail (now the Old Skyline Trail) could be accessed here and followed up to the Lost Lake Butte Trail. The only problem was we didn’t read the field guide closely enough. It states that there is a sign for the Old Skyline Trail at the road junction, but the GPS map showed the trail leaving the road a little beyond the gate. Having missed that detail we headed up the road watching for the trail which didn’t materialize. Just under a quarter mile from the gate the road forked and we followed the left hand fork which led toward the location of the trail on the map. Approximately 100 yards later we found the unsigned Old Skyline Trail crossing the road.
Old Skyline Trail

We turned right onto the trail and followed it through the forest looking for a four way junction where we would turn onto the Lost Lake Butte Trail. That trail was also not where the map on the Garmin indicated it would be. The junction was about a tenth of a mile further south than shown on the map but it was obvious and well signed.
Lost Lake Butte and Old Skyline Trail junction

Old Skyline Trail junction with the Lost Lake Butte Trail

At the junction we took the Lost Lake Butte Trail and began the 1000 plus foot climb to the summit. A Forest Service Crew had just come through the weekend before to do maintenance, so it was in great shape.
Lost Lake Butte Trail

Lost Lake Butte Trail

The forested route offered no views to speak of and there was as an unusual lack of flowers along the route but it wasn’t a bad climb and in 45 minutes we were passing the remains of the Lost Lake Butte lookout tower.
Foundation from the old lookout on Lost Lake Butte

Although much of the former 360 degree view is now blocked by trees the view south to Mt. Hood remains and is spectacular.
Mt. Hood from Lost Lake Butte

Mt. Hood from Lost Lake Butte

Mt. Hood from Lost Lake Butte

To the right of Mt. Hood we also had a pretty good view of the upper portion of Mt. Jefferson.
Mt. Hood and Mt. Jefferson from Lost Lake Butte

Mt. Jefferson from Lost Lake Butte

It was also possible to look north across the Columbia River and see Mt. Adams.
Mt. Adams from Lost Lake Butte

Mt. Adams from Lost Lake Butte

After spending some time enjoying the view and talking with a couple form Astoria who were staying at the Lost Lake Lodge we headed down. When we arrived back at the four way junction we crossed over the Old Skyline Trail and followed the trail down to a paved road crossing.
Trail crossing of the Lost Lake Camground road

Google has this marked as the Old Growth Trailhead but the sign here called this the Rhododendron Trail which led to the Old Growth Trail.
Rhododendron Trail to the Old Growth Trail

Rhododendron Trail

We followed this trail through the forest to a junction where we turned left onto the Old Growth Trail.
Rhododendron Trail

Trail sign at Lost Lake

The Old Growth Trail is an interpretive trail with a number of informational signboards along the way. It joined the Shrader Old Growth Trail (post) as one of our favorite interpretive trails. Much of the trail was boardwalk and there were a few pullouts with benches where one could sit and enjoy the forest.
Interpretive sign along the Old Growth Trail

Old Growth Trail

Old Growth Trail

Bench along the Old Gowth Trailone of the pullouts

Interpretive sign along the Old Growth Trail

Interpretive sign along the Old Growth Trail

The Old Growth Trail ended at another paved road crossing (it was a mile one-way in between the two roads).
Connector trail between the Old Growth and Lakeshore Trails

We crossed the road and followed a pointer for the Lakeshore Trail.
Connector trail between the Old Growth and Lakeshore Trails

The Lakeshore Trail, as it’s name suggests, loops around the shore of Lost Lake. We turned left when we reached the trail and started our way clockwise around the lake.
Lost Lake

We passed the Huckleberry Mountain Trail which connects up with the Pacific Crest Trail on the ridge above Lost Lake. We had passed the upper end of the trail on our visit to Buck Peak in 2016. (post)

Lakeshore Trail junction with the Huckleberry Mountain Trail

The trail looped around to the west side of Lost Lake where the hillside was much steeper than that of the opposite side where Lost Lake Butte rose up from the forest.
Forest along Lost Lake

Lost Lake Butte from Lost Lake

There was one short section where the trail was under water and a brief but steep detour led up the hillside and back down. Other than that the trail was in good shape. Flowers including rhododendron, anemones, bleeding heart and wild bugbane were in bloom.
Lakeshore Trail

Rhododendron blossoms

Anemone

Bleeding heart

Wild bugbane

The trail briefly becomes a boardwalk as it passes over the lake’s inlet creeks where small fish and rough skinned newts could be seen swimming.
Lakeshore Trail

There were some little fish swimming here

Rough skinned newt

As we made our way around the lake Mt. Hood finally began to come into view.
Mt. Hood across Lost Lake

Numerous side trails led down to the shore between the boardwalk and the Lost Lake Resort providing excellent views of Mt. Hood and lots of newts to watch in the clear water.
Mt. Hood from the Lakeshore Trail

Rough skinned newts

Rough skinned newt

Bench along the Lakeshore Trail

Mt. Hood from the bench

Things were pretty hectic as we neared the day-use area and only got busier as we neared the lodge.
Sign for the Lost Lake General Store

We left the Lakeshore Trail near the lodge and cut up through the resort toward the entrance road in hopes of following it back to our car. We had just popped out of some trees onto that road when a pickup passed us and we heard someone call out my name. We turned to look as the truck stopped and realized it was my cousin Lance and his family. They were visiting the lake for the first time too and were planning on doing some kayaking. It was quite the random encounter. After saying hi we went our separate ways and returned to our car and headed home. We wound up taking Highway 35 to Highway 26 around Mt. Hood instead of returning via I-84 after pulling up Google traffic and seeing that there were at least two accidents holding up traffic on the Interstates.

Our route on the trails at Lost Lake added up to 7.7 miles giving us 9.9 miles combined. It turned out to be a nice combination of hikes with varying scenery and different types of trails and best of all we got to see Mt. Hood this time around. Happy Trails!

Flickr: Gorton Creek Falls, Punchbowl Falls Park, and Lost Lake

Categories
Columbia River Gorge South Hiking Oregon Trip report

Nesmith Point

With the remnants of Typhoon Songda sending a series of storms over the Pacific Northwest we were wondering what kind of conditions we’d be hiking in as we headed out to the Columbia Gorge for our 56th hike of 2016. The storms had not lived up to the dire predictions we had been hearing but there had been a good amount of rain and some stronger than normal winds over the previous couple of days.

Our goal for this hike was Nesmith Point, a 3800′ climb from John B. Yeon State Park.
Nesmith Point Trailhead

We had started at this same trailhead in March 2015 when we visited Elowah and Wahclella Falls. The trail set off uphill from the parking area where it promptly forks.
Trail sign for Nesmith Point

We hadn’t originally been planning on revisiting any of the waterfalls from our previous visit, but the recent rainfall piqued our interest enough that we decided to hike the .7 miles to Elowah Falls before heading up to Nesmith Point. There was definitely a lot more water pouring over the basalt now.
Elowah Falls

Elowah Falls

One of the great things about Elowah Falls is that the Gorge Trail crosses McCord Creek on a footbridge very close to the waterfall’s splash pool. Crossing it was literally a blast as wind and water sprayed out from the thundering waterfall.
Elowah Falls

After crossing the bridge we turned right back around and headed back across. We were sufficiently wet at that point and ready to begin the day’s big climb. When we got back to the fork in the trail near the trailhead we stayed on the Gorge Trail following the pointer for Nesmith Point. The Gorge Trail led uphill at a reasonable grade crossing an unnamed creek that was also swollen with rain water.
Creek crossing

Our maps showed the Nesmith Trail splitting off from the Gorge Trail after approximately .9 miles at a swtichback along another creek. We passed the switchback without realizing it because there was no sign of the Gorge Trail continuing from it across the creek. It turns out a 2.4 mile section of that trail is missing from the creek to Ainsworth Campground. We were now climbing in earnest and wondering when the .9 mile section was going to end. I eventually took a peak at the Garmin which is when I discovered that we had already passed the switchback where we should have split from the Gorge Trail. Heather was quite relieved when I informed her that we were now well into the 2.4 mile climb from the phantom trail split to a ridge top saddle. This portion of the Nesmith Trail was forced to climb steeply due to the narrowness of the valley we were heading up. Several sets of switchbacks alternated sides of the valley allowing views from different angles.
Nesmith Point Trail

Fall colors and seasonal waterfalls along the Nesmith Point Trail

Fall colors along the Nesmith Point Trail

View from the Nesmith Point Trail

Occasional views across the Columbia River included Beacon Rock along with Hamilton and Table Mountains.
Beacon Rock from the Nesmith Point Trail

Hamilton and Table Mountains from the Nesmith Point Trail

The trail showed little sign of damage from the storms as we slowly made our way up to the saddle where a trail sign awaiting announcing it was only 1.6 more miles to Nesmith Point.
Nesmith Point Trail

At the saddle we could see across the McCord Creek valley to the next ridge but not beyond.
View from the Nesmith Point Trail

From the saddle the trail wrapped around the SE side of a ridge extending to the NE from Nesmith Point. One of the rewards of climbing up out of the Gorge is getting to experience the change in the forests. At the lower elevations along the Gorge the forest typically looks something like this:
Forest along the Gorge Trail

Gorge Trail

On top of the basalt plateau the forest is noticeably different.
Nesmith Point Trail

Nesmith Point Trail

The stark contrast makes it hard to believe that these ecosystems are so close to one another as they feel like different worlds. We were now climbing at a much more reasonable grade. Approximately 1 1/4 mile from the saddle the trail curved sharply to the right at a pointer for Nesmith Point.
Nesmith Point Trail

Trail sign for Nesmith Point

Less than a quarter mile from the sharp turn we arrived at the now closed road that led to the former lookout tower on Nesmith Point.
Trail junction near Nesmith Point

Nesmith Point Trail

We followed the old road uphill .3 miles to the now overgrown site of the old fire lookout.
Anchor for the former lookout tower on the rocks

Just before reaching the lookout site there was a break in the trees that offered a bit of a view across the Columbia River Gorge.
View from Nesmith Point

Columbia River from Nesmith Point

Columbia River from Nesmith Point

To get a better view (and on a clear day a view of Mt. St. Helens and Mt. Adams) we continued on the trail past the old lookout site. This path led downhill before splitting. We took the right had fork to begin with which led us down to a cliff top viewpoint that was a little sketchy on such a damp day. The cloudy conditions weren’t allowing for any better view than what we’d seen at the viewpoint before the lookout site either, so we backtracked to the split and took the left hand fork. This fork led to a viewpoint across from where we had just been. Again the clouds effectively canceled the views but it was fun to watch them as they swirled below.
View from Nesmith Point

View form Nesmith Point

We decided to take a break there and eat some food. It was very peaceful being that far above the noise of the cars on I-84 and the trains chugging through the gorge. I found myself thinking I could spend quite a while just watching everything pass by below. Just a couple of minutes later our hands were becoming numb and we were ready to get moving again. Between the damp conditions and the breeze on the plateau our core temperatures had fallen and now we were cold. So much for the peaceful bliss 🙂 We retraced our steps making our way back downhill past several hikers and a number of beetles.
Beatle on the Gorge Trail

At the switchback where we had expected the Gorge Trail to split off we looked for any signs of the other trail. The only thing we could see was a wooden post surrounded by rocks at the switchback but there was nothing on the other side of the creek to even hint at where the Gorge Trail had been. We felt better about having missed that spot now that we knew there was really nothing there that we should have seen. We returned to the now full trailhead having finished our 56th hike of the year equaling our total from last year. Only 4 hikes remained on our 2016 schedule and we wondered what would be in store for us on those. Happy Trails!

Flickr: https://www.flickr.com/photos/9319235@N02/albums/72157675210106016

Categories
Columbia River Gorge South Hiking Oregon Trip report

Elowah & Wahclella Falls

The Columbia Gorge is famous for its many waterfalls, three of which we visited on our most recent hike. The numerous trails and trailheads in the gorge offer plenty of options for hikers. Some of the waterfalls can be seen at the parking areas and others can be visited on hikes less than 5 miles total. Our plan was to combine two of these shorter waterfall hikes by connecting them using the Gorge Trail #400 which follows Interstate 84 for 35 miles from the Angles Rest Trailhead in the west to the Wyeth Trail #441 in the east. Starting at the Elowah Falls Trailhead we could hike a 3.1mi section of Trail 400 from the base of Elowah Falls to the Wahclella Falls Trailhead.
Elowah Falls Trailhead

We headed up the trail to a junction with the Gorge Trail and turned left toward Elowah Falls.
5

In another .3 miles we came to a second junction where a right hand fork heads up to Upper McCord Creek Falls.
6

We headed toward Upper McCord Falls climbing through a forest before views opened up across the Columbia River to Hamilton Mountain.
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10

Hamilton Mountain

We got our first glimpse of Elowah Falls below us as we rounded a ridge end.
Elowah Falls

The path leads to McCord Creek just above Elowah Falls then follows the creek a short distance to Upper McCord Falls.
Upper McCord Falls

The creek turns at a right angle at the base of this twin fall then flows over the canyon lip forming Elowah Falls.
Upper McCord Falls

After visiting this fall we returned to the Gorge Trail and made our way to the base of Elowah Falls.
Elowah Falls

The bridge across McCord Creek is close enough to the base of the falls that the spray really soaked us as we passed by. Once across we continued on Trail 400 and headed toward our next waterfall trail. Because the Gorge Trail follows both I84 and the Historic Highway 30 traffic noise was constant on the trail, but it didn’t bother us much as we enjoyed the views and various spring flowers that we spotted.

Beacon Rock

Hamilton & Table Mountains

Bleeding Heart

Trillium

serviceberry

Sweet Coltsfoot

105

Fringecup

Midway through the 3.1 mile stretch the trail crossed Moffett Creek on a footbridge.
Moffett Creek

Moffett Creek

It rained off and on while we were on the Gorge Trail but the weather began to clear as we arrived at the Wahclella Falls Trailhead along Tanner Creek.
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Tanner Creek

The Wahclella Falls trail follows Tanner Creek for a mile to Wahclella Falls, but before reaching that waterfall it first passes Munra Falls. The trail is actually so close to Munra Falls you can touch it from the footbridge as you pass by. What you can’t do is get the whole thing in a picture due to how close you are.
Munra Falls along the Wahclella Falls Trail

Munra Falls along the Wahclella Falls Trail

Near Wahclella Falls the trail splits creating a loop that passes near the base of the falls. We opted to do the loop counter-clockwise which would lead us first to a lower viewpoint of the falls then up to a higher view before completing the loop. From this direction the first glimpse of the falls revealed two sections to the falls. An upper section on the left-hand side of the canyon then a lower section falling into the splash pool.
Wahclella Falls

Wahclella Falls

As we made our way across Tanner Creek and began to climb to the higher views we noticed a third section of falls located directly above the lower section.
Wahclella Falls

One of the perks of having set off early was we were able to spend time at each of the falls alone, but more people began arriving as we completed our loop and headed back. When we arrived back at Elowah Falls there were quite a few folks milling about. I detoured up an unmarked side trail to a former viewpoint above Elowah Falls to get a couple of final pictures.

Elowah Falls

Elowah Falls splash pool

One of the neat things about the gorge waterfalls is how different they are. All four of the waterfalls we saw on this hike were unique in their own way making each one that much more memorable. Happy Trails!

flickr:https://www.flickr.com/photos/9319235@N02/sets/72157651027769877/