Hiking: Cape Horn Loop


I am a big fan of mornings.

There are no better hours in a day than the stillness and quietness that the early morning brings. Sunrises’ are packed with the great possibility and inspiration that a new twenty-four hour brings. I can get more done with the first waking hours of most days than my can do in a whole afternoon…

So you can imagine how excited I was to catch the sunrise on the way to the Cape Horn Trailhead Sunday morning. A friend and I set out on the 7.1 mile loop along the Columbia River Gorge. This time, the hike would be on the Washington side, versus the Oregon side that the Eagle Creek Loop Hike took us.

Leaving Portland at 5:45 am, we made it to the parking lot of the Cape Horn Trailhead (off Salmon Falls Road) and were hiking by 6:40.The fact that we were the only Jeep in the parking lot should not have been surprising, but I am always shocked that no one else had the idea that this “may be the most beautiful time for a delicious morning hike.”

As we set off, I felt overwhelmed with invigoration. That quickly wore off as there is an elevation gain of 1,357 on this hike and I’m very sure the first 1,000 is in the first 1/2 hour of the trail. Keeping a good pace, we reached a lookout point that was well worth the buckets of sweat.


There are several more viewpoints along the trail overlooking the gorge when you first begin that are tucked back in the trees. Follow those little side trails. Note: if you’re afraid of heights, these may not be for you. Of course, I was creeping along the ledges to get the very best views.


The trail divides several times and we stayed toward the “horses” trail as we continued. After about 3 miles, the trail ends on a quiet road and meadow, and picks up directly across the road. After you cross the road and catch the trail on the other side, it’s worth the sidetrip to the left to see the Cape Horn Outlook.. (I can’t remember the exact name of it, but I thought that suits it pretty well) They had created a great ampitheater out of rocks with a circular view of the whole gorge, but it happened to be under construction at the time we visited. I’m not sure why they would need to pull the whole front of the rock wall ampitheater out… but I’m guessing they have their reasons.


After the outlook, there’s several small viewpoints that provide views of the Columbia River. My favorite part of the hike though was after mile 4, when you head through a tunnel and hit several switchbacks directly alongside the Columbia. With the fall colors and water backdrop, you couldn’t have asked for better scenery. The trail does narrow a bit and there are some tight ledges, but I’ve also enjoyed trails that are mildly technical.

As you reach the end of the trail, there is a Private Property sign that signals the last several yards. That’s when you have to hike a small two lane road up to the freeway where another small trail sign takes you back under, through a tunnel and directly into the parking lot.

I’ve found I’m a big fan of loops. I enjoy seeing all the new scenery and the fact that I’m not traveling the same way twice. This loop was extremely enjoyable and didn’t feel like a hard 7 miles. We were back at the Jeep by 9:35 and ready for the rest of the days’ adventures.

That last comment made me realize how much has changed in my adventures- since when does 7 miles seem easy?! By the way, this adventure day ended with me getting 21,012 steps on my FitBit.

I am already searching for the next big adventure while this weather holds.

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