By WTA staff and Patricia Coulthard
You don't have to head to Mount St. Helens to get your hiking fix. From stunning views and the cascading waterfalls of the Columbia River Gorge to wide-open reaches of grasslands and marshes, Vancouver and Portland couldn't be more perfectly situated for reaching some incredible Washington trails.
Try one of our suggestions below or share your local favorite in a trip report.
Is it really a 30-minute drive? Your starting point and traffic may make these 5 minutes or 40 minutes away. And if you're taking a bus, it may take quite a bit longer to reach the trailhead. (Be sure to double check routes and schedules.)
Cape Horn Trail
Location: Columbia River Gorge - Vancouver metro area
Mileage: 7 miles, roundtrip
Elevation Gain: 1300 feet
This rugged seven-mile hike provides an outdoors experience without a long drive. The full loop provides fantastic views of the Columbia River Gorge, an intimate look at Cape Horn Falls and a challenging workout as it climbs and descends the rocky slopes of Cape Horn.
The loop is made up of two segments separated by Hwy 14. The upper section offers cliff-top views of Hamilton Mountain, Beacon Rock, and the scenic Columbia River. The lower section has riverside cliff-top viewpoints, eerie moss-covered talus slopes, and picturesque Cape Horn Falls. If the lower section is closed for nesting peregrine falcons, the upper trail to the Nancy Russell Overlook is still worthwhile.
Location: Columbia Gorge - Beacon Rock State Park
Mileage: 7.5 miles, roundtrip
Elevation Gain: 2000 feet
This classic Gorge hike leads up past a pair of powerful waterfalls then climbs to a high peak on the western end of the Columbia River Gorge. The nine-mile loop passes Hardy and Rodney Falls, and then rolls up around sheer cliffs which present spectacular views of the Columbia River
At the summit you will get unmatched views of Mt. Hood, the Colombia River, and waterfalls that plummet down the steep walls on the Oregon side of the gorge. You will also have earned bragging rights for having climbed one of the highest mountains in the gorge.
Ridgefield National Wildlife Refuge
Location: Columbia River Gorge - near Ridgefield
Mileage: 2.0 miles, roundtrip
Elevation Gain: 100 feet
The Oaks to Wetlands Trail provides several options for loops of up to two miles. It is perfect for children because there is something interesting to see around each bend. Depending on the season, you can view sandhill cranes, songbirds, migrating Canadian geese, swans, hawks, and more.
One of the highlights of this hike is the full-scale Cathlapotle Plankhouse, built on the site of a Chinook town visited by Lewis and Clark.
Steigerwald Lake National Wildlife Refuge (NWR)
Location: Columbia River Gorge - Vancouver Metro Area
Mileage: 2.8 miles. roundtrip
Elevation Gain: Minimal
This wildlife refuge is the perfect get-away without a long drive. The refuge includes mixed wetlands and pastures with riparian strips lined with cottonwoods and white oak trees. More than 200 species of waterfowl and songbirds have been recorded here, making it the perfect place to slow down and enjoy nature.
The 2.8 mile Gibbons Creek Wildlife Art Trail loops through the refuge. Although part of the loop is closed for wildlife from October 1 to April 30, there is a nice alternative. Turn right when you get to the closure and follow Gibbons Creek to the East Dike Trail which overlooks the Columbia River.
Location: Columbia River Gorge - Clark County Parks
Mileage: 4.0 miles, roundtrip
Elevation Gain: 90 feet
Public Transit Access: Yes, with an extra mile road walk.
Moulton Falls Trail is an out-and-back hike along the Lewis River. The 2.6 mile trail crosses a picturesque footbridge and then follows the Lewis River, keeping the river on the right and a mossy cliff on the left. The wide hard-surfaced trail is mostly flat, making this a perfect hike for people of all ages.
The drive to the trailhead is worth the trip alone. It includes part of the Clark County Scenic Drive and follows the cascading Lewis River. Be sure to check out Lucia and Big Tree Falls as part of this adventure.