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Cape Horn

This rugged hike is bound to become a classic, if it isn’t already. The full trail loop provides fantastic views of the Columbia River Gorge, an intimate look at the Cape Horn Falls and a challenging workout as it climbs and descends the rocky slopes of Cape Horn.

The entire loop is made up of two segments separated by Hwy 14; each are mostly single track, but also include stretches of road where the trail is incomplete. The description here is a general overview of the loop in a counter-clockwise direction. In some places the route is hard to discern especially where it joins or leaves a road, or where an old segment has been abandoned in favor of a different route. If you have hiked this route before, be a friend and take someone out there who hasn’t so they can find the way. Guided hikes are often offered by the Mazamas, Friends of the Columbia River Gorge and the Mt. St. Helens Club.

The main parking area is the Skamania County Public Transit Park and Ride at the intersection of Salmon Falls Road and Hwy 14. The upper trail begins on the west side of the parking lot, on the opposite side of Salmon Falls Road. From there the trail ascends several steep switchbacks, then traverses west and south past scenic views of Hamilton Mountain, Beacon Rock and the Gorge.

The hardest part to navigate is where the trail follows a road. this happens twice. First after a short descent from Pioneer Point. And again after crossing Strunk Rd at its dead end where you follow a gravel road south to the Cape Horn summit, former site of a large home that has since been deconstructed. The Friends of the Gorge funded the construction of an overlook platform in honer of their founder, Nancy Russell, who helped to protect the site for the public to enjoy.

It then descends back to Hwy 14 just west of Cape Horn.

The lower segment picks up on the opposite side of the Hwy. Crossing the Hwy is much safer now that the Pedestrian underpasses have been built. The lower trail continues to the west passing more cliff top view points before descending mossy talus slopes, then turning eastward. From Feb. 1 until July 15th, the lower segment is closed at a viewpoint just before the decent. This closure is for nesting Peregrine falcons. The trail passes Cape Horn Falls, then traverses a some steep side slopes and rocky outcrops ending at Cape Horn Road. The last 1.3 miles of the route are on Cape Horn Road back to the Park and Ride.

Be advised that this trail has not yet been constructed to typical Forest Service trail standards so be prepared for steep, rocky terrain, particularly on the lower section. Some of the viewpoints have precipitous drops that are not recommended for the faint of heart. For a shorter hike try the upper trail going out-and-back from the parking area to the Nancy Russell Overlook.

Since the trail was only recently made official, it does not appear on Forest Service maps. Follow this link to a map that shows the general location of the trail: Note also that to minimize disturbance to nesting peregrine falcons, the lower portion of the trail is closed. In 2011 the closure dates were modified to February 1 - July 15.

In the early 1980's Friends of the Gorge founder Nancy Russell was so inspired by the sweeping vista from atop Cape Horn that she embarked on a 20 year effort to protect the area for all the public to enjoy. Bruce and Nancy Russell purchased land originally slated to become a private subdivision and worked with the Trust for Public Lands to convey the land to the Forest Service.

Additional parcels were similarly acquired and transferred as the Friends of the Gorge worked in partnership with the Columbia Land Trust, Trust for Public Lands and the Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area.

Today the Forest Service owns nearly all the land that the trail is on with the exception of two small sections of trail that are in easements. In addition to gaining a substantial amount of land, the Forest Service also acquired a user-built trail. Prior to sanctioning the already popular trail, the Forest Service completed a lengthy planning process in an effort to balance the trail's outstanding recreational value with its potential impacts on sensitive species such as peregrine falcons and Larch Mt. salamanders.

As a result of that plan completed in early 2010, the Cape Horn Trail is scheduled to undergo a number of upgrades to bring it to Forest Service standards for sustainability and safety. As well some sections will be rerouted away from important habitat areas or closed seasonally for nesting falcons.
Driving Directions:

The Skamania County Public Transit Park and Ride is about 40 minutes from downtown Vancouver. Take Hwy 14 east though Camas and Washougal. Drive past Cape Horn then look for the park and ride on the left side of the road at milepost 26.4. Since it is a county facility, you don’t need a Forest Pass to park there.

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Recent Trip Reports

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There are 30 trip reports for this hike. See all trip reports for this hike.
Cape Horn — Mar 23, 2014 — Amber
Day hike
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It was a beautiful sunny day for a spring hike!! Just a tease of what is to come with the approachin...
It was a beautiful sunny day for a spring hike!! Just a tease of what is to come with the approaching summer weather. The trail was very well maintained. There are a few streams that you cross so the dogs have water to drink along the way. There were a few other groups of hikers with and without dogs that we ran into but the trail was pretty quiet for such a nice day. On our way out we finally saw some horses headed in! Might have to come back out with the horsies. We did hike one of the horse turn offs along the trail and there was a blow down that blocked the path for horses. To sum it up, nice easy rolling hike. Nothing too hard, nice view points, clean well maintained trail, except the horse turn offs.
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Cape Horn — Dec 07, 2013 — Ryan Ojerio
Day hike
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WTA and Cape Horn Conservancy Volunteers have been working on a long reroute to move the existing tr...
WTA and Cape Horn Conservancy Volunteers have been working on a long reroute to move the existing trail off of sensitive habitat. It was one of the projects the Forest Service put into the Recreation Plan for the Trail when they decided to adopt the user-created route. Weather permitting we will open the new route on January 18th 2014 and begin restoring parts of the old trail that will be abandoned. Below is a map showing the change.

No doubt the change will be met with a mixture of responses. Some will miss the trail the way it was, others will see the reroute as an improvement. In a nutshell, the reason for the reroute was to move the trail off of talus slopes, seep areas and away from cliff edges. They were concerned about safety and ongoing impacts to plants an animals in those unique habitat areas.

During the planning process that occurred mostly in 2009, WTA, Friends of the Gorge and the Cape Horn Conservancy advocated vigorously for keeping viewpoints available. While the original Forest Service design would have moved entirely away from the cliff south of Hwy 14 - we were able to convince them to retain two popular spots with a "T" spur. (see map)

The Forest Service designed the corridor of what we've come to call the "western reroute", but WTA was responsible for design details and construction. In accordance with the Forest Service Rec. Plan the portion above the switchbacks is built to accommodate equestrians (intended to be part of a Equestrian/Hiker route to Washougal in the future). Descending the first switchback marks a transition to a hiker-only Class 1 (primitive trail) that we've designed with steep sections, rock steps and tight switchbacks.

Please help spread the word throughout the hiking community so folks aren't too confused when they next hike the trail.
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Cape Horn — Nov 14, 2013 — dragonjerr64
Day hike
Features: Fall foliage
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First time Hiking the full loop. we had a blast and highly recommend it. Looking to hike it again in...
First time Hiking the full loop. we had a blast and highly recommend it. Looking to hike it again in august or September.
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Cape Horn — Oct 01, 2013 — PatriciaC
Day hike
Issues: Blowdowns
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This is a good hike that keeps getting better and better. It is good because it has grand views and ...
This is a good hike that keeps getting better and better. It is good because it has grand views and is close to Vancouver. It keeps getting better because of the extensive work done by WTA, the Cape Horn Conservancy, and the U.S. Forest Service.

The hike features spectacular views of the Colombia River Gorge from the top and bottom of the Cape Horn cliffs. While many Gorge hikes offer views of the Columbia River from lofty elevations, this hike also offers views from bluffs near the water.

Since I first hiked the loop in 2006, trailhead parking has been added, parts of the trail have been rerouted with steps added to steeper sections, the Nancy Russel Overlook was built, the section at the top no longer crosses farmland, and tunnels under the highway have been added eliminating “run for your life” dashes across the road. Recently, a bridge was built across the stream, proving safer footing and much improved views of the Cape Horn Waterfall.

Going counterclockwise gives the best views of the Gorge since you will be looking at them as you descend the slopes. The trail leading from highway 14 up to the upper viewpoints is in excellent condition, and the trail dropping back to the highway is generally in good condition. The trail below the highway zigzags down and across a steep talus slope. Good hiking boots with ankle support are a boon as you navigate across the lengthy sections of rocks. The last mile of the hike is a gentle climb through farmland complete with goats.

I hiked this after several days of fall storms. There were four newly-downed trees on the trail, and two were especially challenging to negotiate. They were on steep muddy slopes and had root balls, trunks, and branches on the trail. Hopefully they will be taken care of soon.
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Cape Horn — Sep 26, 2013 — Ryan Ojerio
Day hike
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WTA and Cape Horn Conservancy Volunteers were hard at work today finishing the construction on a set...
WTA and Cape Horn Conservancy Volunteers were hard at work today finishing the construction on a set of steps leading down to the Oak Viewpoint. Thank you to the volunteers as well as the Jubitz Foundation which awarded a grant to pay for the materials.
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View upriver from the Cape Horn Summit. R.Ojerio
WTA worked here!
2010, 2011, 2012, 2013
South Cascades -- Columbia Gorge
Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area
Roundtrip 7.0 miles
Elevation Gain 1300 ft
Highest Point 1350 ft
Old growth
Mountain views
Guidebooks & Maps
Day Hiking, Columbia River Gorge. Craig Romano. The Mountaineer Books, Seattle, WA 2011
Curious Gorge. 3rd edition. Scott Cook. Maverick Publications. Bend, OR. 2010

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Red MarkerCape Horn
45.5889961605 -122.178697586
  • Signature Trail 2010
  • Trail Work 2013 Frontcountry
  • Trail Work 2012
  • Trail Work 2011
  • Trail Work 2010
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