Best Day Hikes in the Columbia River Gorge

The Columbia River Gorge is famous for its waterfalls, lush forests, and wildflowers – and a vast trail network for hikers to explore this diverse landscape.

Featured Hikes in the Columbia River Gorge

Diverse Landscape

Designated a National Scenic Area in 1986, the Columbia River Gorge is 85 miles long, from the Deschutes River near The Dalles to the Sandy River near Troutdale. Due to the extreme variability of elevation and precipitation, the Gorge is a place of incredible environmental diversity.

The Columbia River cuts through the Cascade Mountain Range at sea-level, creating a gorge with cliffs up to 4,000 feet high. The western portion receives up to 100 inches of rain each year, creating temperate rain forests filled with streams and over 90 waterfalls. In Spring, the waterfalls are at their fullest, and the mossy forests are at their greenest, with woodland wildflowers alongside the trails. The eastern side of the Gorge receives less than 15 inches of rain annually, rendering the landscape a virtual desert with rolling hills and rocky bluffs. Balsam root and lupine wildflowers fill the grasslands and meadows with bright colors in the spring.

Hiking in the Gorge

A network of hiking trails running throughout the Gorge area range from easy and relatively flat (and family-friendly) to steep and extremely difficult. Most of the trails start near the river, climbing to ridges and viewpoints far above the river. This guide is focused on easy to moderate hikes on both the Oregon and Washington sides of the Gorge, although a few more difficult hikes are also listed for those interested in longer hikes. To learn more about each featured hike, view the trip report links.

Best Hikes in the Columbia River Gorge

Best seasons to hike

My favorite time of year to hike in the Gorge is in the winter and spring when water levels are running higher in creeks and waterfalls. An added bonus is that the trails are much less crowded at this time of year, except when the spring wildflowers are blooming in the eastern Gorge… then it’s a good idea to get a super early start or better yet, go during the week. In the summer, the forest understory tends to be overgrown, water levels are lower in streams and waterfalls, and the parking lots and trails are much more crowded. Plus, summer is a great time to hike in the mountains instead!

Permits & Passes

Some of the trailheads in the Gorge require a pass for parking. See the trip report links for info on whether or not a pass is needed. In the summer of 2022, timed entry permits were required to enter the waterfall corridor so check with the Forest Service to see if this is required before heading out.

Hike Difficulty Ratings

  • Easy: Up to 6 miles round trip, and up to 1,000 ft. gain
  • Moderate: Up to 8 miles round trip, with 1,000-2,000 ft. gain
  • Strenuous: Up to 10 miles round trip, with 2,000-3,000 ft. gain
  • Very Strenuous: Up to 12 miles round trip, with 3,000-4,000 ft. gain

Featured Hikes

Angels Rest

Angels Rest - Devils Rest - Wahkeena Spring loop hike

distance: 4.8 miles (out and back)
elevation gain: 1,475 ft.
difficulty: moderate
best season: fall, spring
I Heart PNW trip report: Angels Rest sunset hike

Angels Rest is one of the most popular hikes in the Gorge due to the short distance, closeness to Portland and the views from the top. Due to how many people are typically on this trail, I prefer to do this hike later in the day, perfect for catching sunset. The hike out in the dark can be a bit tricky on the rocky sections so make sure to take a headlamp with backup batteries.

Cape Horn

Columbia River Gorge – Cape Horn hike

distance: 7.4 miles (out and back)
elevation gain: 1,230 ft.
difficulty: moderate
best season: fall, winter, spring
trip report: Cape Horn hike

Cape Horn is located on the Columbia River near the town of Washougal – and offers outstanding views of the Columbia River from the trails. The full loop hike is open from July 16 to January 31 each year. The upper section is open all year, but the lower section is closed from February to July 15 for peregrine falcon habitat.

Dry Creek Falls hike via PCT

Dry Creek Falls hike

distance: 4.5 miles (out and back)
elevation gain: 725 ft.
difficulty: easy
best season: spring, winter, fall
trip report:
 Dry Creek Falls via PCT

This short hike to the Dry Creek waterfall starts in Cascade Locks on the Pacific Crest Trail heading south. This area was impacted by the 2017 Eagle Creek Fire, but the damage is mainly seen on blackened tree trunks – most of the tree crowns survived. The trail traverses a couple of ridges before reaching an old road that leads to the waterfall. A former water works from the 1930s used to supply water to the town of Cascade Locks and a few remnants from this era remain. For a longer version of this hike, start at the Herman Creek trailhead and connect to the Pacific Crest Trail to Dry Creek Falls.

Hamilton Mountain

Hamilton Mountain hike

The hike up to the summit of Hamilton Mountain offers many rewards, with several waterfalls on Hardy Creek, interesting rock formations, and sweeping views of the Columbia River Gorge. The trail is quite steep in sections, so you have to work for the rewards. It’s also very popular so plan to arrive early or hike mid-week if possible.

distance: 5.7 miles (roundtrip loop)
elevation gain: 2,100 ft.
difficulty: strenuous
best season: fall, spring
trip report: Hamilton Mountain hike

Hardy Creek loop

Hardy Creek loop hike

distance: 7.3 miles (round trip)
elevation gain: 1,240 ft.
difficulty: moderate
best season: fall, winter, spring
trip report: Hardy Creek loop

This loop in Beacon Rock State Park combines multiple trails for a quiet hike in the forest next to Hardy Creek. This loop starts at the less crowded Equestrian trailhead and instead of climbing to viewpoints, it features mossy forests and Hardy Creek as highlights. Most of the trails in this area are former roads, and there’s even a vault toilet about half way in on the hike.

Hardy Ridge

Hardy Ridge loop hike

At Beacon Rock State Park, several former logging roads have been gated and turned into trails. Beacon Rock and Hamilton Mountain are the more popular destinations here, while Hardy Ridge is far less crowded. This hike starts at the equestrian trailhead. The lower part of the trail is through forest on closed forest roads, then a narrower trail switchbacks up a forested ridge to the upper portion of trail on a rocky ridge with sweeping views of the Gorge.

distance: 8.1 miles (roundtrip loop)
elevation gain: 2,200 ft.
difficulty: strenuous
best season: fall, spring
trip report: Hardy Ridge hike

Herman Creek to Casey Creek

Herman Creek to Casey Creek hike

The Herman Creek area is less visited than most areas on the Oregon side of the Columbia River Gorge. With several trail options, it’s a great place for a cloudy day. This hike starts at the Herman Creek trailhead and stays on the Herman Creek trail for 4 miles to a former campsite at Casey Creek, passing Nick Eaton Falls on the way. In spite of the name of the trail, this hike is not next to Herman Creek. Instead, there are several tributary creeks with small waterfalls that the trail crosses as it goes through the forest.

distance: 8 miles (out and back)
elevation gain: 1,800 ft.
difficulty: moderate
high point: 1,520 ft.
trip report: Herman Creek to Casey Creek

Herman Creek Pinnacles

Herman Creek Pinnacles hike

distance: 4.6 miles (out and back)
elevation gain: 1,300 ft.
difficulty: moderate
best season: fall, spring
trip report: Herman Creek Pinnacles hike

The basalt monoliths on this hike aren’t the only interesting feature: a metal footbridge over lovely Herman Creek, wispy Pacific Crest Falls, and a mossy section of lava boulders add to the appeal of this short hike.

Klickitat River Trail

Klickitat River Trail

distance: 8 miles (out and back)
elevation gain: 260 ft.
difficulty: easy
best season: spring (due to excessive heat, this trail is only open October to June)
trip report: Klickitat River Trail

In the spring when it’s still cloudy and rainy in Portland, head east to the sunny and drier environment of the Eastern Columbia River Gorge, an area that looks much like the wild west of old movies. The Klickitat River Trail is a 31-mile former rail corridor that runs along the Wild & Scenic Klickitat River.

Larch Mountain Crater loop

Larch Mountain Crater hike

distance: 6.3 miles (loop)
elevation gain: 1,310 ft.
difficulty: moderate
best season: late spring, fall
trip report: Larch Mountain Crater hike

Hike through the ancient volcanic crater of Larch Mountain that now contains old-growth forest and boggy meadows, and cap it off with a short walk up the former shield plug to views of five Cascade peaks.

Larch Mountain Rim loop

Larch Mountain Rim loop hike

distance: 6.2 miles (loop)
elevation gain: 
1,360 ft.
difficulty: moderate
best season: 
late spring, fall
trip report:
Larch Mountain Rim hike

This hike circles the rim of Larch Mountain, a former volcanic peak in the Columbia River Gorge.

Lyle Cherry Orchard

Lyle Cherry Orchard hike

distance: 6 miles (out and back)
elevation gain: 1,150 ft.
difficulty: moderate
best season: in the spring during wildflower blooms: April – May
trip report: Lyle Cherry Orchard hike

A popular hike in the spring when wildflowers are blooming, the Lyle Cherry Orchard Trail has big views of the Columbia River, with balsamroot and lupines covering the slopes.

Multnomah-Wahkeena loop

Multnomah-Wahkeena loop hike

distance: 5.4 miles (loop)
elevation gain: 1,600 ft.
difficulty: moderate
best season: fall, winter, spring
trip report: Multnomah-Wahkeena loop

Six waterfalls, including Oregon’s highest, two cascading spring-fed creeks meandering through lush greenery, and old-growth Douglas fir make this a spectacular loop hike. My preferred route for this classic loop hike is to park at Wahkeena Falls and take the return trail next to the road to Multnomah Falls, then begin the loop. This way, the most crowded part of the hike is completed at the start.

Tomlike Mountain

Wahtum Lake - Tomlike Mountain hike

distance: 6 miles (out and back)
elevation gain: 1,200 ft.
difficulty: moderate
best season: fall, spring
trip report: Tomlike Mountain hike

Tomlike Mountain is located on Wooly Horn Ridge, between the Columbia River and Mount Hood. An unmarked trail leads to the rocky summit and long ridge on Tomlike, with views from Mount Rainier to Mount Jefferson.

Wahkeena-Angels-Devils loop hike

Wahkeena Angels Devils loop hike

distance: 8.3 miles (out and back)
elevation gain: 2,730 ft
difficulty: strenuous
best season: fall, spring
trip report: Wahkeena-Angels-Devils loop

For a long conditioning hike that includes big views, waterfalls, and plenty of forested trail, this loop starts at the Wahkeena trailhead, goes up to Wahkeena Springs, over to Angels Rest, then up to Devils Rest before heading back down to the Vista Point Trail and finally, returning to the Wahkeena Trail and the trailhead.

Wind Mountain

Columbia River Gorge – Wind Mountain hike

distance: 2.9 miles (out and back)
elevation gain: 1,180 ft.
difficulty: moderate
best season: all year
trip report: Wind Mountain hike

The Wind Mountain Trail is steep, but also quite short so it’s over before you know it, and the views of the Columbia River Gorge from the top are amazing. It’s also the location of sacred tribal rock pits and terraces at the top. Please be respectful of these spaces … there’s a sign that shows where you can go and which parts are closed.