Cape Horn

Option 1

  • Level: Easy to Pioneer Point (Beginner Level: Challenging)
  • Length: 3 miles
  • Elevation: 870 ft. gain
  • Open: all year

Option 2

  • Level: Moderate to Cape Horn Falls
  • Length: 7.2 miles
  • Elevation: 1300 ft. gain
  • Type: loop
  • Open: January 31 – July 16

Further Details

  • Permit: n/a
  • Drive time from Portland: 30-40 min.
  • Google map: “Cape Horn Trail” (bring screenshot or hard copies of directions, you may lose reception.)
  • Features: Columbia River Gorge, Cape Horn Falls

This is one of my favorites. I also like that it always kind of sounds like I’m saying “Cape Porn.” It’s close enough to Portland to have a big adventure without being gone all day and the climb is high enough for me to feel like I got a good workout without taking the piss out me. When driving eastward to the trailhead, do not let the “Cape Horn” viewpoint on Highway 14 fool you. This is not the trailhead, but it does mean you are close.

(I revisited this trail on December 15, 2016.)

It poured the entire time and we didn't care. #capehorn #columbiarivergorge #itakethelongway

A post shared by Jenny Bruso (@unlikelyhikers) (@jennybruso) on

The bulk of the trail is in an impossibly green forest of Bigleaf Maple, Doug Fir, Vine Maple and a zillion ferns. There are wildflowers in the spring months, but part of the trail closes from January 31 to July 16 for Peregrine Falcon brooding, so I always seem to miss them. There are so many viewpoints! Which magically manages to get a little redundant in an awesomely stunning way. I’ve included a few trail options to suit various needs. The shortest option has a nearly 900 ft. climb and three beautiful viewpoints. If you’re like me, you’ll rationalize that you already climbed the biggest part of the trail so you may as well continue on to do the longer loop. That isn’t to say the rest is a breeze. It isn’t. However, if you are up for it, the longer loop has so many more nature prizes on it’s wonderfully varied terrain. You’ll pass a farm with friendly horses, stumble over a couple of rocky outcrops and pass two waterfalls, one of which is a little difficult to spot. The last 1.3 miles of the trail is a road walk alongside a gorgeous meadow with a gentle incline just steep enough to make it feel sort of endless in the moment, but it’s totally worth it.

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(I revisited this trail on December 15, 2016.)

From the trailhead:

Cross the street from the parking lot to a hand painted sign saying, “Cape Horn.” Go to the right where you will begin switchbacking uphill for 1.5 miles and gaining about 900 ft. Follow all of the signs that say “view” or “viewpoint,” ignoring all “horse” trails. There are a lot of little side trails here that can get confusing, but they will all take you back to the main trail. The third viewpoint, the unlabeled Pioneer Point, is a good place to turn around if you want to do the 3-mile out and back option. Otherwise, continue ahead for .6 mile across the wooded summit to an old forest road and stay left, walking alongside a big farm to a paved road. Cross the road and follow the trail signs, which will quickly wind you down to the Russell Overlook. (You could also turn around here for a 5.2 mile trail.) From this point on, you will swiftly wind down for 1.2 miles to a pedestrian tunnel beneath Highway 14. Continue another .3 mile past a viewpoint area that has recently closed permanently and continue just a bit further to a newly constructed viewpoint. From here, things get exciting. For the next 1.8 miles, continue down the switchbacks for a stretch and then the trail just kind of goes up and down along the cliffside. You’ll cross a couple of small rocky outcrops and pass sparse Cape Horn Falls, which almost disappears in the hotter months. When you reach Cape Horn Road, turn left to start the daunting 1.3 mile road walk back to your car. (Watch for trail signs on the left when you reach Highway 14.)

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Brie on one of the two rocky outcrops.

"Imagine how many white girls have done yoga poses on that branch." -@breezy__does__it #capehorn #columbiarivergorge #itakethelongway

A post shared by Jenny Bruso (@unlikelyhikers) (@jennybruso) on

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At least the road walk is pretty.

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8 thoughts on “Cape Horn

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