Photo by Ben Mitchell
INDIAN POINT, located just outside of Cascade Locks, offers breathtaking views of the Columbia River Gorge. Above, the rocky spine leading to the eponymous point offers a thrill for intrepid hikers, although caution should be used as an errant step here could spell disaster.
As of Friday, July 8, 2016
I’ve done a lot of view hikes in the Columbia River Gorge during my time here and frankly, that’s not very difficult to do. There are many options on both sides of the Columbia River for those who want to take advantage of a clear summer’s day and take in the view from some overlook or basalt outcropping.
Not all views and not all view hikes in the Columbia River Gorge are made equal, though, and people will have differing opinions on their favorites. There are too many good options, and that’s a nice problem to have.
In my opinion, Indian Point, located just outside of Cascade Locks, has probably the best view of the Columbia River Gorge of any hike that is in it. The vista from Indian Point is literally breathtaking, as the viewpoint sits on a spine of loose basalt that juts out from sheer cliff walls with big drop-offs. It’s reminiscent of Mitchell Point (a close second in terms of breathtaking Gorge views), but with a more enjoyable, albeit strenuous hike. According to Friends of the Columbia Gorge, the hike is a 7.6-mile lollipop loop with 2,800 feet of elevation gain, and is considered difficult. Also, if you have a problem with heights, this probably isn’t the trip for you.
The trail begins at the Herman Creek Trailhead, located just past the campground (closed indefinitely due to root rot that created hazard trees in the area) off of Frontage Road. From Hood River, head west on Interstate 84 to exit 47, head under the overpass and then drive west on Frontage Road until you arrive at the entrance to the campground and trailhead. You will need a Northwest Forest Pass.
The hike starts on Herman Creek Trail and winds through a forest of firs and ferns. At the beginning of the hike, you may notice the temperature drop all of a sudden, as cool winds are exhaled from a little underground cave visible from the side of the trail. Continue on the trail for a little over a mile until you arrive at a junction with Gorton Creek Trail and the Gorge 400 Trail. You’re pretty much in the trees for the whole time, but you’ll get a couple nice peek-a-boo views of the cliffs that rise up from Herman Creek.
Once you get to the junction, continue on the Herman Creek Trail, and then turn left onto the Nick Eaton trail. This is where the slog really begins, but eventually the hike will pop out of the trees and get a great view down the west side of the Gorge toward Bonneville Dam and get an equally great view of the Herman Creek drainage area. At this point, you can even see the very top of Mount Hood poking out from above the hills.
Keep heading up until you reach the junction with Nick Eaton Ridge Cutoff Trail, and head left for less than mile down to the Gorton Creek Trail (you also could have headed up the Gorton Creek Trail for a more gradual hike if you wanted). At the T, take a right onto Gorton Creek Trail until you see a small and steep footpath winding down to the point itself.
Use caution and only do what you’re comfortable with when accessing the point. The rocks may look stable, but many of them are not and will shift underfoot. I only went out just far enough to get a view of the Gorge. You can see Mount Adams, Mount St. Helens, and are looking right out at Carson and Home Valley. To the west, drink in the sheer basalt cliff faces and look past Bonneville Dam, look east and watch the traffic from I-84 buzz far below, with views that go all the way down the Gorge past Hood River.
Head back up the narrow path until you rejoin Gorton Creek and head back from where you came, this time staying on Gorton Creek all the way back until you reach the junction with the Gorge 400 Trail and the Herman Creek Trail that you came upon earlier in the hike. Hop back on the Herman Creek Trail and head back to your car — maybe pause again at the cave opening to cool off after your strenuous hike.