Hiking the Lower Deschutes Canyon, Oregon in Spring

30 05 2017


The winter of 2016-17 brought record rainfall to many parts of the Pacific Northwest, including Portland and Seattle, which saw all-time records for the October – April periods. It was great for skiers. Great for replenishing reservoirs. But it. Just. Kept. On. Raining. Sometimes, the only way to escape Portland’s gloom is to head east, past the Cascades. There, the clouds part and it’s likely a sunny hike can be had!

There are many good springtime hikes in the eastern Columbia Gorge. Wildflowers start coming out in March and peak sometime in late April. One nice choice are the trails along the Lower Deschutes River Canyon. There are three main trails leading from the mouth of the river. One is an old railroad bed converted to a bike trail. Another follows the riverside, snaking along. And a third is in between these two. It is possible to go many many miles upstream following the old railroad bed.


To get there, take I-84 east from Portland, past The Dalles, to Deschutes River State Park. Park at the area in the southern part of the park.

Laura and I decided to do this hike as it’s a rolling terrain hike and doesn’t involve lots of elevation gain. A loop is possible by taking the river trail about 3 miles to where it climbs and connects with the railroad bed trail.

We had wonderful weather. It was warm in the sun. A train on the opposite side slowly made its way, stopping for a time.

The river was flowing swiftly, emptying Central Oregon of all the excess water from the spring rains.

We saw the occasional balsam root flowers starting to emerge, plus some others I couldn’t identify.

Total hike mileage was 6.5 miles, a good conditioning hike.


Laura photographs some emerging flowers

The Deschutes River cuts through some of Oregon’s interesting Geologic features. So the trail offers some natural interest. Along the way one can view layers of basalt and ash laid down over millenia. In some spots natural lava bridges formed.


Weather plus the river have carved some interesting shapes into the rocks here. For wildlife, we saw mostly ospreys and buzzards. Supposedly there are deer and rattlesnakes in the area as well. It’s popular with anglers for the trout and salmon. And backpacking is possible along this trail, too.


For me, spring and fall are the best times to hike this canyon. Obviously it offers sun when Portland is cloudy. But in the midst of summer, this canyon has three things I don’t like: Intense heat, little shade and often punishing wind. In the summer, it just bakes here. And that heat, which makes air rise, means something has to displace it. And that is air from the Columbia River and the Pacific. In the summer, by afternoon, it can be like a convection vortex here. I have even seen a kite torn from its string! Rafters cannot make progress against this force – often being forced to spend the night and start off in the morning.

So for me, it’s all about the seasons, and this hike is just GREAT in spring!

Rowena Crest – Columbia Gorge: Carpets of Wildflowers and What a View!

14 04 2015
rowena crest,mosier,columbia gorge,hiking,wildflowers,lupine,balsamrot,columbia river highway

Balsamroot and lupine everywhere

In the spring, head just east of the Cascades in the Columbia Gorge, and take historic highway 30 up to Rowena Crest – and you will be dazzled with unlimited views and wildflowers stretching to the horizon! I was impressed with the wildflowers over at Lyle, Washington, just across the river, and I was anxious to check out the Oregon side. I went out there with my friend Jessie and we were treated with a huge display – especially of the yellow balsamroot.rowena crest trail,hiking,columbia river gorge

Oregon’s Historic Columbia River Highway leads up to Rowena Crest trailhead. Once there, it’s not a hard hike to the views and wildflowers. It’s utterly fantastic. Unlike Lyle, where you have to hike 1,100 feet up to get to the top, you arrive already up there. The hike round trip to the view point is only about 1.5 miles, and it’s full of fields blanketed with wildflowers and littered here and there with ponds. At this time of year the parking is busy but once on the trail, we found solitude.

The area is atop a gently rolling landscape. The geology here is a full of exposed geologic history. It’s a history steeped in cataclysms of a planetary scale. A hike to the edge reveals a pancaked landscape – steppes of lava – carved out by the Columbia river 1,000 feet below. And now for some jaw-dropping history!

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Looking east from Rowena Crest Oregon.

Millions of years ago, in Eastern Oregon, basaltic lava flowed in a series of 300 eruptions over thousands of years. They are known as the Columbia River Flood Basalts, and they covered an area stretching from Idaho to Washington and Oregon – in some areas the total thickness reaches 9,000ft! The flows reached the Pacific. They were so big that they filled entire valleys and some of the Eastern Oregon mountains like the Elkhorns or Blues are just the tops. In between flows, Cascade volcanoes erupted depositing 20 foot layers of ash. This can all be viewed along the Columbia Gorge. More recently ice ages shaped this land. During a recent ice age, an ice dam formed near Missoula, Montana, forming a lake the size of Lake Erie and Ontario combined. Periodically that dam broke, sending water and chunks of ice down the Columbia River Gorge all the way to the Ocean. This scoured the Gorge. It all makes for a fascinating view.

But we were here for wildflowers! Along the trail lots of lupine, which had not come into full bloom, but also blooming balsamroot.

Jessie takes some macro shots

Jessie takes some macro shots

There were other wildflowers, like buttercup, and several others I cannot name. Some were tiny, delicate and pink.

I saw two bachelor buttons – only two along the trail. I guessed that more will come into season as spring rolls on.

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Bachelor button

There was also a patch of May Bounty – each like a microscopic daisy.

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May bounty

The plateau is also home to some ponds complete with their own tiny ecosystems. Each pond comes complete with frogs, tadpoles, salamanders, crickets, trees, lily pads, red-winged blackbirds and reeds.

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Sit quietly and listen to the frogs, crickets and red-wing blackbirds!

In sum, a visit to Oregon’s Columbia Gorge in the Mosier area is a must-see experience in the spring. Wildflowers area out earlier out there, and chances are a cloudy day west of the Cascades will be drier. A refreshing break!

When Life Gives You Lemons…Switch Paddling Venues!

31 07 2011

Sunday July 24th was to be my day to enjoy paddling in “conditions.” Conditions – means rougher water and wind. We sought out 20+ mph winds, 2+ foot wind waves and maybe rollers. The goal was to learn to paddle in these seas, but also to perform assisted rescues and self rescues in them, too.

Paddling and doing rescues in flat wind-less water is completely different from doing them in rough water and wind…so taking a class & practicing with instructors around is really helpful! During the days leading up to the session we watched the weather forecast closely and found it to be questionable. The forecast wasn’t calling for a windy day. Still, it seemed like some places in the Columbia Gorge would offer winds kicking up.

The group met at Alder Creek in Portland, early in the morning, and loaded up cars and the van.

And we headed out. First venue: Viento State Park. We arrived and I soon saw my old kayak, a P&H Scorpio nicknamed “Diana,” on another student’s car.

My old flame...with someone new...

I immediately recognized the Welsh and British flags I had put on her deck.

We headed out to view the wind conditions on the Columbia. It was starting to blow, but just not enough for a meaningful class just yet.

So Paul decided to drive east, to the Klickitat River area to see if things would be more conducive to this class. Well, it was even worse! Just glassy. Well, we figured we are here, might as well paddle, something. We crossed the Columbia and entered the Klickitat. Paddling up, up, up to finally find some fast-moving water.

We got up to a section with a 1-foot drop and couldn’t paddle any further. So we dropped back to a spot with eddies on both sides of the main channel and practiced peel outs and eddy turns.

Fun! Here is Dennis Pennel doing a nice job peeling out, and then eddy turning on the other side of the river.

We did these forward. We did them backward. We did them eyes closed. We did them without paddles. And finally, Paul did it standing up…sort of. One of the few times you’ll ever see Paul Kuthe swim!

Wild River Restoration Night! Hollywood Theatre May 13th…

29 04 2010

Local film provides first hand look at unique dam removal and restoration project in the Wind River watershed in the Columbia River Gorge – The Wild River Restoration Night.

On Thursday, May 13th Crag and Gifford Pinchot Task Force will host the Wild Rivers Movie Night at the Hollywood Theater.  The evening will feature the Portland Premiere of Trout on the Wind, a locally produced documentary about the removal of the Hemlock Dam from Trout Creek in Washington.  Trout Creek is a tributary of the Wind River in the Columbia River Gorge, and in the summer of 2009 salmon and steelhead made their way up the creek without the aid of a fish ladder for the first time in decades. The Forest Service worked with local organizations, contractors and citizens to joined forces to remove Hemlock dam and restore over 20 miles of prime habitat for Columbia River Steelhead.  This film provides a first hand look at how this successful restoration project was accomplished from start to finish.

Three additional selections from the Wild & Scenic Film Festival will be shown, including John Waller’s Ascending the Giants, the Good Life Parable: An MBA Meets a Fisherman and a short called SalmonsKin by Thomas Dunklin.

All proceeds from the showing will benefit the Crag Law Center and Gifford Pinchot Task Force. Crag is a public interest environmental law center that supports community efforts to protect and sustain the natural legacy of the Pacific Northwest.  Gifford Pinchot Task Force supports the biological diversity and communities of the Northwest through conservation and restoration of forests, rivers, fish, and wildlife.  The two organizations have worked together for many years on projects in Washington, played a role in the removal of Hemlock dam and restoration of Trout Creek.

May 13th, 2010, Doors 6:30 PM at the Hollywood Theatre, 4122 NE Sandy Blvd – $7