Fall in the Pacific Northwest isn’t known for spectacular New England-esque colors, but it is known for great weather! The heat of summer subsides, and it’s replaced by clear, crisp air and bright, sunny days. One place to take advantage of this great fall weather is the Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area — 292,500 acres of amazing scenery, waterfalls, and hiking trails — just east of Portland. And one of the trails closest to Portland offers some of the Gorge’s best views: the popular and breathtaking Angel’s Rest hike.
The trailhead is just off of I-84 at the Bridal Veil exit, close to the start of the “Waterfall Loop” (which offers lots of opportunities for waterfall viewing and hiking). Parking can be tight on weekends, so get an early start and bring some patience along with your water bottles! The Angel’s Rest trail is a 4.8 mile (7.7 km), round trip hike with a 1450 ft (442 m) elevation gain — and an option to extend the hike on to Devil’s Rest or Wahkeena Spring.
The trail immediately enters the forest, so the shade keeps temperatures cool even on a sunny day. A waterfall and a few small stream crossings (which were easy to walk across or spanned by short log bridges) make the start of the trail interesting. We encountered a few groups of descending hikers, but the trail had less foot traffic than expected, considering the number of cars we’d seen in the parking lot!
As the trail ascends, a few viewpoints provide Gorge views between the trees. Despite having quite a few switchbacks, the trail didn’t seem overly steep. At one point, the trail cuts across a scree slope, giving hikers another view through the forest. Evidence of a 1991 fire remains toward the top of the trail, cutting down on the shade and providing more Gorge views — and some patented Gorge wind!
As the trail nears the top, a few areas of boulders and broken rocks face west, providing nice windbreaks from the prevailing east wind, great picnic spots, and amazing views of the Columbia River and Portland in the distance. On a sunny weekend, you’ll share the view with other hikers, but sacrificing solitude for scenery seems well worth it.
Getting to the top of Angel’s Rest requires a bit of a scramble between some big boulders, but the extra climb — on a short spur trail off of the trail that continues eastward — is the coup de grace of the hike. Don’t miss it. What starts out as a narrow spit of land with a dizzying dropoff (use caution — over the years, a few hikers have fallen to their deaths here) and, at least on the fall day we visited, a staggeringly strong east wind, widens out to a vegetated plateau with a stunning view of the Gorge, the Columbia River, the forest below, and a glimpse of Washington’s Mt. Adams. Awesome!
This fantastic hike offers panoramic views, picnic spots, waterfalls, and an on-top-of-the-world feeling that’s well worth the 30 minute drive from downtown Portland. We highly recommend it … and, perhaps, rewarding yourself afterwards with a quick stop at the nearby Charburger Restaurant in Cascade Locks for a back-in-time bowl of hot soup or some tasty pie.
Wherever your car, legs, or taste buds take you, enjoy your week or your weekend!