Photo by Ben Mitchell
VIEWS FROM NESTOR PEAK are some of the best you can get in the Hood River/White Salmon area of the Gorge, with sweeping vistas of the Hood River Valley, Mount Hood, and Mount Adams available. Though the trailhead is near Husum, the drive up to the trailhead takes awhile due to the network of narrow and bumpy forest roads. The hike itself, which takes place on a singletrack downhill mountain bike trail, is also arduous, but the payoff is worth it (or you could cheat and drive to the top... we’ll leave it up to you).
As of Friday, July 1, 2016
Easy-going hikes in the Gorge are pretty hard to come by. The geography of the area doesn’t lend itself to many leisurely, pleasant strolls through the woods. Believe me, I’ve looked.
The other weekend, I climbed Nestor Peak — a calf-snapping climb located on the other side of the river near Husum and definitely not an easy, half-a-mile waterfall jaunt that you can sometimes find in the middle of the Gorge.
Normally, you wouldn’t find me anywhere near a hike like this, but seeing as I’ll be climbing Mount St. Helens next week, I figured it would be a good idea to do more challenging hikes than I usually would do.
You won’t find Nestor Peak in the Curious Gorge guidebook and getting to the trailhead is a journey itself. Some mountain bikers will undoubtedly be familiar with the area, which is primarily used as a shuttle route, with exception of those hardcore bikers who are in the mood for a grueling four-mile climb (one way, or eight miles roundtrip) to the top of the 3,088-foot peak. It’s primarily a mountain biking trail, but hikers are welcomed there as well.
Technically, if you had a capable four-wheel drive vehicle, you could just drive to the top of the peak, which can be reached through a network of primitive forest roads that feed the larger Buck Creek Trail system that is located on a patchwork of Washington Department of Natural Resources (DNR) land. And while it would be tempting to cheat, those who are looking for a good workout and great views without having to travel that far from home should consider this hike. Trekking poles are highly recommended.
Before you head out, make sure you have a Discover Pass, as they are required at the trailhead, which also doubles as a campground and has a nice peek-a-boo view of Mount Hood. I’ve balked at getting a Discover Pass over the past few years, trying to time my hikes on DNR land that corresponded with the pass’ free days (check out last edition’s Home and Garden section for my story on hiking Hamilton Mountain that includes more info on Discover Passes), but I finally caved.
To get there, cross the Hood River Bridge, turn left on SR 14 and drive up SR 141 Alt, heading up to the former site of Northwestern Lake. Turn left onto Northwestern Lake Road, and keep on it until it turns to gravel, then follow the signs that tell you to turn onto Nestor Peak Road. Take a left onto the bumpy forest road (also known as N-1000) and follow signs for Buck Creek Trailhead 1. After about a mile and a half, you’ll come to a fork; keep right at the fork to stay on N-1000 and soon you’ll arrive at the trail head. Turn right at the sign to head into a small parking area, complete with information kiosk, outhouse, and picnic table with views of Mount Hood.
To hike the trail, walk back across the N-1000 that you turned into the parking lot on and head onto the Buck Creek Trail that leads up into the forest and is signed with a white “Buck Creek” trail marker with a blue diamond on it, indicating the difficulty of the mountain biking trail. You will be sharing the path with mountain bikers, who will be heading downhill (they should be, anyway), so be alert, although you may not encounter many riders. I was there on a beautiful, sunny, warm, Sunday in June and encountered only one group of riders on my three-and-a-half hour hike.
You can essentially follow this trail all the way up, although you do have to travel along some forest roads at some points before the picking the Buck Creek Trail back up. For detailed directions, oregonhikers.org has a good entry on the hike.
You’re in the trees for the most part on the single-track trail and the climb rarely relents, nor are there many views, although after a couple miles or so of hiking, you get offered a taste of what you’ll see at the top as a drainage area and Mount Hood comes into view. You’ll also be treated to a smattering of wildflowers, which this time of year included Indian paintbrush. Then it’s back into the trees and up the never-ending hill.
Eventually, the hard-packed earth trail will turn to lose rock — a sign that you’re getting close to the top. Soon, you’ll pop out of the trees and see a rocky road leading up to a shed perched on top of a hill (Nestor Peak was once the site of a fire lookout where the shed now stands), which is the viewpoint you busted your butt to get to. Trudge up to the top where the shed is and look behind you toward the trail for sweeping views of Mt. Hood, the Hood River Valley, and the Columbia River Gorge. Look to the north for nearly unimpeded views of Mt. Adams — even catch a glimpse of the desert.
Turn around and gird your loins (or rather, your knees) in preparation to descend on the exact same trail. Mountain bikers will now be coming up behind you, as opposed to in front of you, so be alert still.