NW Trails: Seeking Solitude in the Columbia River Gorge

July 21, 2016

The Trail Less Taken

Story and Photos by Craig Romano

Photo at right: Flowered meadows complement the view of Mt. Adams from Augsperger Mountain.

 

There is no place in the country quite like the Columbia River Gorge. It’s no secret among Pacific Northwest hikers that just a short drive from Portland, Oregon some of the finest waterfall and wildflower viewing trails in the country are within the sprawling Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area.

The popular Gorge and its trails can be crowded during the summer hiking season, so we’ve come up with three alternative Gorge hikes that are just as stunning as the region’s well-trodden favorites, yet with a fraction of the hikers.

Augspurger Mountain

Looking west over the Columbia River from Augsperger Mountain

Tucked behind Dog Mountain, Augspurger Mountain is quite possibly the loneliest trail-accessed peak on the Washington side of the Gorge. But the views and wildflower displays here are as outstanding as those from busy Dog Mountain. So what’s the scoop? The hike is much longer with plenty of elevation gain. However, the trail is in excellent shape and you’ll have the entire mountain to yourself.

From Dog Mountain’s parking lot locate the Augspurger Trail. The pathway starts with a gentle grade and wraps around Dog Mountain, it then comes to a junction from which you’ll want to continue left descending into
a saddle.

Start climbing again traversing high above Dog Creek. Emerge on a basalt ridge and behold the views and flowers. Keep climbing, the views keep getting better! Crest a 2,950-foot knoll and take in vistas of the Columbia River, Beacon Rock, Table Mountain and of course, Dog Mountain.

Continue along the ridge undulating between forest and view-granting meadows until reaching the 3,660-foot summit. While cloaked in trees, continue on the trail another 0.1-mile descending into spectacular flower-dotted meadows and jaw-dropping views of the Columbia River, Wind River Valley, Mt. St. Helens and Mt. Adams. Enjoy a view that very few of the thousands of hikers that visit Dog Mountain each year will ever see.

Herman Creek

Hike up the verdant Herman Creek Valley to one of the finest stands of old-growth western red cedars within the Gorge.

This long but moderate hike is a great reprieve from the maddening crowds of nearby Eagle Creek. As you wander through groves of ancient giant noble firs, hemlocks and Douglas-firs, more than likely you’ll have the entire valley to yourself.

The Herman Creek Trail starts off wide and well-trodden providing access to several popular routes. After passing the Nick Eaton Trail, the Herman Creek Trail narrows and takes on the role of a less-trodden path as you enter the Mark Hatfield Wilderness. Pass a tall slender waterfall, and come to an oak-topped bluff providing valley views.

Pass the Casey Creek Trail heading left to Nick Eaton Ridge, and pass an unmarked side spur on the right that drops to the confluence of Herman Creek and its east fork.

Continue straight through big firs, crossing Casey Creek and heading farther up valley across more creeks and through old-growth forests before reaching Slide Creek Falls. After crossing Mullinix and Whiskey creeks, the path ascends more steadily and the East Fork Herman Creek now runs close to the trail.

At 7.2 miles, come to a junction with the Herman Creek Cut-off Trail. The ancient cedar swamp lies just a quarter-mile or so straight ahead. Campsites dot the magnificent grove—one of the finest old-growth cedar stands within the Gorge. Find a spot to sit and savor this forest which was old even when our nation was young.

Indian Mountain

Hiking along the PCT looking out to Mount St Helens beyond the Eagle Creek Valley.

From Indian Mountain’s wind-swept north ridge, enjoy unsurpassed views of the Eagle Creek Watershed and its lofty Columbia Gorge guardian peaks while staring right into the glistening ice adorning Mt. Hood.

From the Wahtum Campground, take the Wahtum Express Trail, immediately entering the Mark Hatfield Wilderness Area and rapidly descending to Wahtum Lake. Once you reach the Pacific Crest Trail, turn left and head south, traveling along Wahtum Lake’s forested shoreline.

Pass the Eagle Creek Trail near a popular backcountry camping area. The trail gently ascends along Waucoma Ridge soon leaving the wilderness to parallel an old Forest Service road.

Continue past the primitive Indian Springs Campground on the PCT and soon emerge on an open ridge adorned in showy bear grass, ground hugging junipers and blueberry bushes. The view north to Mt. Adams is one of the finest alpine views in the region.

Reach a junction with the Indian Mountain Trail. Turn left following this rocky path up Indian’s open north ridge passing an old road and weather station. Pass through groves of wind-stunted trees.

At 4.7 miles reach the 4,892-foot summit and a former fire lookout site with extraordinary views! Gaze the horizon from the Columbia Hills to Badger Mountain. Mt. St. Helens, Mt. Jefferson and Mt. Hood stare back—practically close enough that you can feel the cool breezes blowing off the glaciers.

Trip Details/Resources

Augspurger Mountain

Distance: 13.8 miles roundtrip with 4,180 feet of elevation gain

Trailhead Directions: From Vancouver, follow SR 14 east for 54 miles to Dog Mountain trailhead.

Herman Creek Ancient

Distance: 15 miles roundtrip with 2,600 feet of elevation gain

Trailhead Directions: From Portland follow I-84 east to Exit 44. Proceed through Cascade Locks for 1.8 miles, bear left onto the Frontage Road and drive 1.6 miles to the trailhead located within the Herman Creek Campground.

Indian Mountain

Distance: 9.4 miles roundtrip with 1,440 feet of elevation gain

Trailhead Directions: From Portland follow I-84 east to Hood River Exit 62 turning right onto US 30. Follow for 1.3 miles turning right onto 13th Street (County Road 281). Continue south on CR 281. At 5.1 miles bear right onto Dee Highway, which is still CR 281. Continue for 6.2 miles bearing right to bridge crossing Hood River; then bear left onto Lost Lake Road. After 4.9 miles, bear right onto FR 13. After 4.5 miles, bear right onto FR 1310 and follow for 6 miles to trailhead at small campground.

Notes: Northwest Forest Pass or Interagency Pass required at trailheads. Wilderness Regulations in place at Wahtum Lake and Herman Creek.

Green Trails Maps: Green Trails, Columbia River Gorge –West no. 428S

Craig Romano is Trails Editor of OutdoorsNW and author and co-author of 15 Northwest hiking guidebooks including Day Hiking Columbia River Gorge (The Mountaineers Books).