The other weekend a few of us from Outdoor Project went out in search of fall foliage. Surprisingly enough, none of us had ever hiked Cape Horn on the Washington side of the Columbia River Gorge, and to our delight, I can easily say that the Cape Horn Loop Trail is certainly in the running as being the best day hike, closest to the Portland Metro Area.
Not only were the bigleaf maples all shades of beautiful fall color, but we were also absolutely impressed with the panoramic views, bounty of mushrooms, variety of trail scenery, and Cape Horn Falls.
The hike passes through public lands, through right-of-ways on private land, on old gravel roads, and along a scenic farm-lined country road, to make for a delightful and variety-filled 7.6 mile adventure. The trail is split into upper and lower sections, both of which are recommended hikes, and can easily be combined into one day hike.
The upper portion of the trail jogs in and out of a forest dominated by bigleaf maples (ideal for an autumn visit) and second growth Douglas fir, providing numerous panoramic vistas along the basalt bluffs of Cape Horn, situated 1,100 feet above the Columbia River. Views stretch east toward Beacon Rock, across the river toward Angel's Rest, and southwest toward Crown Point. Thanks to local activist efforts during the 1980s led by Nancy Russell of Friends of the Columbia Gorge, this section of trail was spared from residential development.
The lower portion of the trail starts with a series of switchbacks atop rock fields, leading to the nearly hidden Cape Horn Falls. A footbridge crosses just below the the 90 foot middle-cascade of the falls, but in their entirety the three tiers of the waterfall drop a total of 600 feet. The last section dramatically plunges 250 feet straight into the Columbia River. This 2.1-mile section of trail also features numerous craggy outcropping viewpoints.
Note: The lower trail is closed February 1st through July 15th due to nesting peregrine falcons. The upper trail is open year-round. The main parking area is just off of Salmon Falls Road, but there is also an upper parking area at the end of Strunk Road making a shorter hike possible.