Update: As of January 2018, this trail is closed because of the 2017 Eagle Creek Fire. Check the National Forest website for the latest info.
There are, of course, many epic hikes in the Columbia River Gorge. They lead to waterfalls, forests, flowers, and viewpoints. But perhaps none takes in all of these as the uber-epic Larch Mountain Trail, which starts at the Multnomah Falls Lodge.
Seven miles in length, gaining some 4,000 feet in elevation, and just over 100 years old, this is surely one of the grandest hikes of the Gorge.
There are several ways to approach Larch Mountain Trail: just go to the top of Multnomah Falls, go a little farther to take in more waterfalls, do the loop over to Wahkeena Falls, do an upper loop from Larch Mountain Road, do a car shuttle or a key-swap one way … .
Or do what I did on June 30, which is start early and knock the whole damn thing out: 14 miles roundtrip, 4,000 feet of gain, and a whole bunch of hiking happiness.
I even nailed the end-of-hike ritual!
You start at a place we all know well: Multnomah Falls. Nothing to add here, except that do everything you can, if hiking in summer, to go on a weekday and/or start early. I started at 8 on a weekday morning and got parking in the main lot.
The first mile is paved to the top of the falls, and then you cross a lovely bridge … and leave 95 percent of the other people behind.
For the next mile or so, you are walking right along Multnomah Creek through some of the last ancient forest in the Gorge. There are two more big waterfalls, plenty of rich green scenery, and a full-whitewater stream plunging through the whole thing.
Soon you cross the creek, and the scenery just continues. Making it even nicer, all along the trail, the grade is a nearly constant 600 feet per mile, which is just enough to make you earn it but not enough to wear you out.
Higher up, it really becomes about the forest, which is some of the nicest around. I am always working on capturing this image, because I have long said that, for me, the prettiest place on Earth my be a Pacific Northwest old forest around 3-4,000 feet elevation.
Here are two panoramas that I hope give some idea of this. These are around 4 or 5 miles up.
And here is another attempt:
When you get to the top (which you can actually drive to), you are pretty tired. That’s why I might have cursed when I came upon the final hurdle: more than 100 steps leading to the viewpoint on the summit:
But the view, I mean … Here is a video from my Youtube Channel:
I suppose the most famous part of the view is that of Mount Hoof (right), but you can see from Mt. Rainier to Mount Jefferson, which is well over a hundred miles, as well points in the Gorge, Adams, St. Helens … just about everything if you catch good weather like I did.
There are many, many more photos in my gallery, below.
I also encountered other hikers on the day. When I was on my way up, perhaps 1.5 miles form the trailhead around 9 a.m., I encountered two people coming down already; they must have started around 5 a.m., and one of them was a woman I think I would have married on the spot.
But some of the folks I saw on my way down really freaked me out. I saw people, 4 or 5 miles up, who were out of water, wearing sneakers, with no idea how much father the trail was. I told one woman, clearly exhausted, that she was three miles from the top, and there was no water to be had — but that, in fact, she was 10 miles from being done if she went for it … and she kept going! Good gosh, people. Do your research!
End of rant. Larch Mountain is a truly amazing hike, and if you’re up for it, you should give it a go.
Here is my Gaia track, which you can see in full here. It only shows the way up.
And as for the post-hike ritual, you’ll have to check out the gallery below. All I can say is it involves salty-crunchy foods, sugary drinks, and cold, cold water.
For now, here is that photo gallery (click on the first one to scroll through them all):