The Cape Horn Trail – in the Gorge, not Africa

Recently I went with some friends out to the Columbia River Gorge for a hike. The Cape Horn Loop trail was a terrific hike with great views, and we all got a good workout, too. I would recommend hiking shoes or boots on this trail, not tennis shoes like I wore. Oops. If you like to hike with poles, they would have been handy on this hike, too.

The trail is on the Washington side of the river on Hwy. 14 past Washougal. The parking lot is around milepost 26 and is well marked. The parking lot was nearly empty when we got there at about 9:00, but it was full when we left around 12:30 or 1:00. There is a pit toilet at the parking lot. It’s better than nothing, but not much…bring your hand sanitizer.

Heading to the right from the trailhead, the trail is about a seven-mile loop that starts out in the forest and goes up, and up, and up. The elevation gain for this hike is around 1,500 feet (450 m). The uphill is over a few miles, I think, so it’s not incredibly steep, but it does climb continually and has a few steep switchbacks. I was definitely trying to do the backpacker’s rest step that Jeff taught me this summer. This part of the trail is easy to walk on, mostly packed dirt.

There is definitely a reward for the climbing: the views of the Columbia are awesome. The tide was way out when we were up there. I never really think of the tide affecting rivers, but we could definitely see the mud flats, and I am sure those are not always there. There were several different viewpoints along the trail, and we really enjoyed seeing different views of the river and the rock formations and things. On minute a big rock is right in front of you, and then in just a little while, It’s way off to your left and you’re seeing it completely differently. Another reward at the top was blackberries! They were SO good. The best I’ve had all season. Big and juicy and so sweet. My friends and I ate a whole bunch of ’em. Yummy.

The trail then goes through a meadow and crosses under the highway and through a tunnel. It’s kind of a fun little thing, and then you start heading back toward the trailhead. There’s a lovely little waterfall on the way that you can walk behind, and the pool there would be terrific in summer for a little dip of the toes, too! This part of the hike was the most challenging. There was a bit of a scramble near the falls itself and there’s a lot of the trail that’s on these fairly large rocks. It’s called talus, apparently, but I’m not sure if that refers to the type of rock or size. Dr. Science here, sitting at my side, NO help on this. I think it’s the kind of rock. Anyway, it’s pretty, and there’s lots of this sagely green moss mixed in with it all the way up the hill and lots of heart rocks, but it is hard to walk on, especially with the aforementioned tennis shoes. Was really wishing I’d been smart enough to bring at least one hiking pole.

Soon enough we were through the talus and ended up on an a road which was the last mile+ of the trail. It’s a very quiet road that went past one or two farms and some sweet, sweet goats who came over to the fence for a scratch on the head. The end of the hike is a gradual uphill to the parking lot, but it’s quite easy compared to the beginning climb.

I read that the Forest Service has done a lot of work on improving this trail in the last few years, and it is in really good shape. There’s good signage along most of the trail, although there are a few spots where one could go wrong. Stay to the left our printout said, and that did work. If you’d like to download the trail map, you will find it here. Definitely a hike I’d do again and would recommend to people who are reasonably fit.

Important note: The lower part of the loop is closed February 1 to July 15 to protect nesting Peregrine Falcons. Upper part of the loop, down to the Gorge viewpoint 1/2 mile below SR14 is open all year. Learn more about the falcons by watching this Oregon Field Guide video.

Have a favorite hike? Share it with everyone in the comments section.

Enjoy your next hike, whether it’s during a week or a weekend!

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One thought on “The Cape Horn Trail – in the Gorge, not Africa

  1. I really want to try this hike. Always interested in new hikes on the Washington side if the Gorge. I haven’t heard of talus, we normally call it scree. But maybe it’s just scree when it moves underneath you while climbing up hill and its talus when it’s more sturdy on the trail. Hmmm… Interesting!

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