less than an hour's
drive east of Portland, Oregon, the Columbia River Gorge offers casual
visitors many beautiful sites, from cascading waterfalls and steep
to blossoming fruit orchards and imposing dams.
Much more natural beauty lies just off the beaten path, revealing itself to those willing to invest some time and effort. Backpacking in this country is relatively easy, enormously popular, and almost always rewarding.
Portland backpacker Douglas Lorain maps out a 39-mile loop trail in his new book, Backpacking Oregon, that begins and ends at the Eagle Creek trailhead, located just off Exit #41 on Interstate 84.
The loop starts on Gorge Trail #400 going upstream on the south side of the river through forests of fir, maple and dogwood before joining up with a segment of the Pacific Crest Trail. Climbing up Nick Eaton Trail to the east, the route passes by lacy waterfalls, craggy rock pinnacles and broad meadows full of wildflowers on its way to the scenic Rainy and North Lakes and the summit of Green Point Mountain.
From there, the loop makes a long, gradual descent along a jeep road to excellent campsites beside Wahtum Lake.
The 4-5 day loop trip concludes with a day-long hike down Eagle Creek Trail. "Cliffs draped with moss and ferns, lush forests, and a clear stream will be constant companions for the next several miles," Lorain explains. "Punctuating this lovely tapestry are a series of spectacular waterfalls. The falls come in a variety of shapes and heights, but they are all beautiful."
The trails along this loop are usually open from mid-May to November, Lorain points out, but some sections are especially crowded on weekends and it's important to arrive at the trailhead early to get a parking space. Wildflower blossoms peak about mid-May; maple and dogwoods show their best color in late October.
"The loop can be hiked in either direction," Lorain points out, "but is more enjoyable going clockwise since this saves the spectacular Eagle Creek Canyon for the end."
Oregon, Lorain celebrates the geographic diversity of Oregon
handpicked trips illustrated with photos and trail maps: "Here you can
hike wild beaches, enjoy colorful desert canyonlands, walk amid
granite peaks, relax in wildflower meadows, circle glacier-clad
and explore trails through the deepest river canyon on the continent --
all in one state!"
Backpacking Oregon by Douglas Lorain. Trade paperback, 206 pages. Wilderness Press, 2000.
Packing: How To Backpack In Comfort