Gorge Explorer: Weldon Wagon Trail falls short of other Gorge hikes

VALLEY VIEWS, a glimpse of Mount Hood, oak trees, and wildflowers await hikers of the Weldon Wagon Trail near Husum.

Photo by Ben Mitchell
VALLEY VIEWS, a glimpse of Mount Hood, oak trees, and wildflowers await hikers of the Weldon Wagon Trail near Husum.

The Weldon Wagon Trail maybe over a century old, bit it has been enjoying some recent prominence.

The trail, located in the White Salmon River Valley outside of Husum, is one of the featured hikes on the Friends of the Columbia Gorge website and was the subject of a writeup in The Oregonian a couple months ago.

Heralded as a prime location for balsam root and other wildflower viewing, as well as offering good views of Mount Hood and Husum, I decided to check out the trail myself two or three weeks ago, even though I knew I would likely be arriving at the tail end of the balsam root bloom, if I were to even find any at all.

With so many wonderful trails in the Gorge, standards of what constitutes a good hike have been raised high enough to the point where if a trail doesn’t look like it was plucked out of a scene from Avatar, I’m disappointed. The Gorge spoils us.

With that in mind, I was underwhelmed while hiking the Weldon Wagon Trail. There’s nothing necessarily wrong with the hike. It had wildflowers and mountain views, but neither were particularly striking.

According to an interpretive sign, the Weldon Wagon Trail was completed in 1911 as a way for orchardists up in the hinterlands above the White Salmon River valley to haul their produce (apples in particular) down to Husum and larger markets. Today, the majority of the trail isn’t wide enough for wagons — a packed earth path on which two people can barely squeeze by. The hike is 2.5 miles one way (5 miles out-and-back), with 1,340 feet of elevation gain according to the Friend of the Gorge website, which makes for a moderate hike.

The trailhead is located just outside of Husum — take State Route 14 west to Highway 141 ALT, turn right onto Highway 141, turn left onto Indian Creek Road in Husum, then head left onto Indian Cemetery Road for 0.3 miles until you see signs for the trail.

The trail starts out in the trees on a wide logging road, then narrows as you skirt the edge of a clearcut, then pops out into a dry grassland with balsam root, Indian paintbrush, and other wildflowers. The hike alternates between white oak forests and grasslands (part of the hike enters the White Salmon Oak Natural Resources Conservation Area, established to protect stands of Oregon white oak).

As the trail continues to climb, Mount Hood will gradually come into view. Eventually the hike will head back into the trees, creeping along the boundaries of landowners who want to make real sure hikers know they are near private property, then comes to an end at Sanborn Road. Turn around and head back on the exact same route.

The views of Hood were adequate on the hike, but I kept waiting for the trail to pop over the top of a hill. It never does, and Mount Adams never makes an appearance on the trail. Though I missed most of the balsam root, there were plenty other wildflowers, but they are concentrated more in the middle of the hike, hugging the side of the hill the old wagon trail cuts into, before the grassland turns to oak forest again. Pretty enough, but lacking the visual impact of the sweeping wildflower vistas at Hood River Mountain, The Dalles Mountain Ranch, Memaloose hills, McCall Point, and other trails.

If you’re looking for a quick hike to get some exercise in (I did the five miles in an hour and 45 minutes) and/or looking for an excuse to get some primo barbecue at nearby Big Man’s Rotisserie, then go for it. Otherwise, there’s plenty of other better options for Gorge exploring.

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