- Level: Difficult
- Length: 8 miles
- Elevation: 2,600 ft. gain
- Type: lollipop loop
- Open: all year
- Permit: Northwest Forest Pass or $5
- Drive time from Portland: 53 min.
- Google map: “herman creek campground”
- Features: Columbia River Gorge, Indian Point, wildflowers, camping, scrambling
This trail. This motherfucking trail. What a shit show. My friend, Amanda, tells me it wasn’t so when she did it last summer, so I would caution anyone interested to wait until then when it’s, hopefully, been cleared a bit. There were dozens of downed trees on this tiny mostly cliffside trail, which made for a lot of precarious scrambling. Near death on the left! I’m not exaggerating, dozens. I wish I would’ve counted. I love a good scramble, but near the top I was more than over it and cursing the trail. Sadly, so many of the trees were old growth. I have never seen anything like it. The wind was so intense it took no stretch of the imagination to figure out how it all happened. One hiker cautioned me as I was heading up. He had turned around, which is really what I should’ve done, but I wanted to collect my bad ass points and he was making it sound like I could collect more than my fill. I went up.
The climb is immediate and nearly ceaseless. Four miles up and gaining 2,600 feet through dense viewless forest. Beautiful Herman Creek is actually not even a part of this trail. There is a fun 5-mile trail option along the creek I highly recommend, but alas, on this trail no creek. No water of any kind. Dense woods and no bodies of water made the miles feel long. That with the scrambling and the creaks and groans of the still-standing trees… And the constant gun shots due to hunting season. I frequently thought about turning around. I carried on and I’m happy I did because I collected a million bad ass points and the snow-lined trail to stunning Indian Point made it all worth it. Indian Point is this phallic crook of lava jutting out of the hillside over the Columbia River. You can climb out to it, but I stayed about forty feet back because it drops on both sides and was plainly terrifying. This cost me a few hundred points, but I felt I had some to spare. The next part was actually pretty fun! For exactly twenty minutes. The mostly flat Ridge Cutoff Trail to Nick Eaton Trail pops out in this gorgeous canyon, the hills quilted with trees, fading into the distance. Everything gold and glittering in the magic hour. As soon as the trail dipped back into the woods, the downed tree chaos began again. I lost the trail a few times, but it wasn’t hard to find. I did the last mile in the dark due to losing so much time scrambling over trees, grateful for my trusted headlamp.
From the trailhead:
The gate to the trailhead is occasionally closed on weekdays in winter, but the trailhead is only a few hundred yards beyond the gate. The trail begins switchbacking for 0.6 mile, crossing a powerline access road, to a fork. (The right fork is for the 5-mile Herman Creek Bridge Trail.) Turn left for another 0.7 mile joining an old dirt road. There are a couple of other trails around this part, but stay right following the road uphill. Turn left at the signed Gorton Creek Trail, climbing steadily for 2.6 miles. The Ridge Cutoff Trail is where you will begin the loop, but first continue forward a hundred feet or so and then turn left on an unsigned side path steeply downhill for 0.1 mile to Indian Point. Please be safe when approaching the point! Climb back up the path, turning right back onto Gorton Creek Trail and then left onto the Ridge Cutoff Trail for 0.6 mile. Turn right on the Nick Eaton Trail (it’s actually more like going forward and ignoring the left-side option) for 2 miles until you rejoin the old dirt road. Return as you came.