• Rating: Moderate
  • Activity: Hike
  • Distance: 7.8 miles round-trip
  • Time:

WHY IT’S GREAT: Until recently, the only way to take in the spectacular east-facing Gorge views from Washington’s Cape Horn was to pull over on Rte 14 and stare upriver. With the traffic whizzing at your back, it was more nerve-wracking than soul-stirring. But now Cape Horn hosts one of the Gorge’s newest and most secret trails, making it possible to stand atop the bulging rock for far quieter meditations of the magnificent scene across the river: Larch Mountain, the bare knob of Angel’s Rest and of course Multnomah Falls, which appears to dangle from the Oregon cliffs like a fluttering bit of string.

But perhaps the most spectacular part of this trail is its existence. Its uppermost lookouts were supposed to be the property of Rim View Estates; a developer had divvied up a prime parcel of land like a sheet cake. That was before Friends of the Columbia Gorge’s Nancy Russell loaned the Trust for Public Land some $300,000 to buy out the developer in 1986. In 2006, the Friends purchased the only private home that managed to get built in the subdivision: a $1.5 million behemoth complete with stable and koi pond that will eventually be replaced by a scenic overlook—a kind of Washington rival to Oregon’s Vista House across the Columbia.

ROUTE: To reach these viewpoints, you’ll have to navigate the Cape Horn Trail, a 7.8-mile loop that twists through a delphinium-filled forest, switches back over mossy fields of scree and—just as your legs begin to jelly—slips behind a showerlike waterfall. Finding the trail is a minor challenge, as it has yet to make an appearance on official Forest Service maps, lacks the grooming and foot traffic of many Gorge trails and is largely sign-free. All this, Cape Horn Trail enthusiasts will tell you, precisely defines its wild appeal.

GETTING THERE: Head east on Rte 14. After you round Cape Horn, look to the left for Salmon Falls Rd between Mileposts 26 and 27 (marked by a bus stop and a pullout). Park here and walk perhaps 80 feet up Salmon Falls Rd; the trail begins on the left at a tree marked with a Resource Conservation Area sign.

After a milelong ascent through brushy forest, the trail briefly joins with a dirt road. Keep left past a pasture until you reach paved Strunk Rd. Turn left for 200 feet and then a make quick right down the gravel road that winds past a house. The gravel path becomes a grassy lane, then winds through a maple forest to Rte 14. (Two 30 mph signs conveniently point to the trail’s second half.) After crossing Rte 14, head straight at the four-way junction to the Cape Horn area. Eventually you’ll reach Cape Horn Rd. Make a left on this little-used stretch, walking the 1.3 miles or so back to Rte 14 and Salmon Falls Rd. —Jill Davis

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