Cape Horn Loop Hike
From Portland Hikers Field Guide
- Start point: Cape Horn Trailhead
- End point: Cape Horn Trailhead
- Trail Log: Trail Log
- Hike Type: Loop
- Distance: 7.1 miles
- Elevation gain: 1350 feet
- Difficulty: Moderate
- Seasons: Year-round, but lower part of the loop is closed Feb. 1 through July 15
- Family Friendly: No
- Backpackable: No
- Crowded: Yes
The Cape Horn Trail is a new trail and one of the closest Gorge trails to the Portland-Vancouver metropolitan area. It features gorgeous views, rocky crags, streams and two waterfalls. The trail is very well signed. There are both metal stakes and wooden signs at each junction. The signs and markers mentioned in this guide were noted on September 13th, 2014, but they might not last. This hike guide will be wordier than most, but it should keep you on the right path. You might want to print this description and carry it with you on the trail.
The trail starts on the west side of Salmon Falls Road, opposite the Park and Ride lot. It quickly crosses a small creek and passes a waterproof box with trail maps. Next the trail starts the biggest climb in the entire loop. Eight switchbacks later, there's a poorly signed junction with the trail that leads to the temporary 2008 parking area. The main trail heads southward, paralleling a powerline access road for a bit before branching out on its own. The climb gets pretty steep here and the narrow trail probably isn't safe during heavy snow or icy periods.
When you reach Pioneer Point, at the 1.2 mile mark, you'll have climbed about 800 feet. The view from here to the east includes Hamilton Mountain, Beacon Rock, Multnomah Falls and Mist Falls. Carefully step past the viewpoint and in another tenth of a mile, you'll find a short side trail leading to Fallen Tree Viewpoint. The view here is mostly to the west, with a good look at the State Highway viaduct, as well as Oregon points like Angel's Rest, Devil's Rest, Foxglove Falls and Coopey Falls. Back on the main trail, you'll soon come to the summit of Cape Horn, hidden away in the forest, marked by a pair of orange poles.
Now heading westward, the trail soon comes to a fence marking a section of private land. The trail follows the fence to the right, then works its way down the west side of the ridge for about a quarter mile where it comes to a closed road. Head straight ahead on this road, through a broken gate. About 1/10 of a mile later, the trail follows a fainter road uphill to the left. This junction was marked by an orange piece of tape at our last visit. Follow this new road for about a quarter mile under a set of residential powerlines to another private fence. Follow the trail to the right and in another 1/10 mile, you'll be at Strunk Road.
Turn left on Strunk Road and walk the few feet to the end of the road. There are two gravel lanes heading south here. Walk down the right one. This is a private road, but its owned by the Friends of the Columbia Gorge and it's open to hikers. Just after the road enters the woods, turn left on to a trail marked by a green fence post. This section of trail works down the hill about 3/10 of a mile through five switchbacks to the Phoca Viewpoint. There is a newly constructed stone amphitheater here. The entire Gorge is on display.
The trail continues down through four more switchbacks. You'll pass an small, somewhat collapsed shed. Soon you'll see and hear traffic on Highway 14. The trail doesn't get to the highway right away though. It insists on crossing a small creek and working it's way up and down for almost a quarter mile, before it finally reaches the new tunnel under the highway.
Cross under the highway via the tunnel and start down the trail on the opposite side. The trail crosses another small creek. Soon our trail crosses another trail. Make the short trip left to a viewpoint of a waterfall and the Columbia River. The trail to the right just heads back to the highway, so continue west on the main trail. There are more little seasonal streams to cross and more spectacular clifftop viewpoints. If you are hiking between February 1 and July 15, you'll come to a trail closure sign after the viewpoints. The reason for seasonal closure are peregrine falcons that live near the trail. If you're there in season when the trail is open, continue downhill through switchbacks including a series on a moss covered talus slope. Eventually the trail comes to a viewpoint above the west portal of BNSF Tunnel 1. At 2382 feet, this is the longest tunnel in the Gorge. The shipping channel is very near the shore here and this is a great place to watch river traffic, as well as trains.
The trail is now finally heading back to the east. There are a couple more really good river views, including a good view of Cigar Rock, a column-like pillar of basalt towering over the river. Soon the trail begins to switchback up. You'll come to a larger talus slope with views up to two waterfalls from the same place. The trail climbs to a bridge that cross in front of the second waterfall, Cape Horn Falls. There are several paths up to the falls from the bridgehead, and you can use them to walk right up to the falls and to get behind them for a very interesting view. The trail then drops steeply and gets pretty rugged. There are a couple of places where you'll be using your hands for stability.
Eventually, you'll come to a sign warning that you're entering private property. Just beyond the sign, the trail comes to the bottom of Cape Horn Road. This trail was made possible when trail builders were able to come to an agreement with the land owners in this area. Please respect their property and stay on the trail. From the base of Cape Horn Road, you have 1.3 miles of road walking gently uphill back to your car. Take the new tunnel under SR 14 to avoid crossing the busy road.
Regulations or Restrictions, etc.
- The lower part of the loop is closed February 1 to July 15 to protect nesting peregrine falcon. Upper part of the loop, down to the Gorge viewpoint 1/2 mile below SR14 is open all year.
- Search Trip Reports for Cape Horn
Related Discussions / Q&A
- Search Trail Q&A for Cape Horn