How do we describe this hike? It’s a 2/10 paved stroll for an elderly woman with a walker. It’s a grueling one mile uphill battle shoving a baby stroller. It’s a quiet walk next to an incredible stream filled with rapids and waterfalls. It’s a five hour, 4000 foot exhausting climb to the most beautiful view in the area. It’s anything you want it to be. It just depends on how far you go.
The Larch Mountain trail was constructed in 1915 by founding members of the Trails Club of Oregon. Portland residents might recognize the names of a few early members such as store owners Julius Meier and Aaron Frank, newspaperman Henry Pittock, and Columbia River Highway Builders Sam Lancaster and Simon Benson. Today the Trails Club still maintains Nesika Lodge on a spur trail off of the Larch Mountain Trail.
The trail begins at Multnomah Falls Lodge, a historic building built to serve early automobile travelers in 1925. The first part of the trail is a gently sloped 2/10 mile trail to the Benson Bridge, built in 1914 by Simon Benson, one of the builders of the old highway. This part of the trail is a paved cakewalk, although one small flight of a few stairs block the way to wheelchairs beyond the lower falls viewpoint.
Beyond the bridge, the asphalt trail switches up steeply for another mile to a ridgecrest. Look for Columbia River views as you ascend. From the top, the trail drops slightly to a junction with a trail labeled “Top of the Falls Trail #441A” on some old Forest Service documents. Today’s signs just say “viewpoint”. The asphalt follows the side path to the Multnomah Falls Upper Viewpoint, a balcony of sorts at the lip of the falls looking down on the lodge and the less motivated people below. Most people take in this view, grab a couple of snapshots and return down the steep hill to that mocha latte thing.
On returning to the main trail, more patient people will turn upcreek and enter a magical place. The next three miles of the trail parallel Multnomah Creek past scores of scenic creek views. The trail passes Lower, Middle and Upper Dutchman Falls, followed by a unique trip through a creek washed overhang called Dutchman Tunnel. Just beyond the tunnel, you’ll come to Weisendanger Falls. The trail switches up above Weisendanger and keeps rising to clear Ecola Falls. The trail is rocky in places, but the climb isn’t nearly as steep as it was in the beginning. Another quarter mile brings us to a trail junction with the Wahkeena Trail and another creek bridge, this one made of steel.
Above this bridge, the trail follows Multnomah Creek a short distance up the hillside. When the trail drops back to creek level it splits into two trails. The main trail goes close to the creek through a rocky area carved out of the cliff in the creek bed. During the summer, it’s a beautiful walk next to the creek. In the spring, this area floods, so hikers will need to take the alternate route signed as the “High Water Trail” to switchback up the ridge a bit to go over the large basalt formation right next to the creek. The two trails come back together opposite the place where Big John Creek flows into Multnomah Creek from the west.
Now, the climb begins in earnest. After all, you have 4000 feet to gain. The trail traverses a long ridge up the west side of the Larch Mountain crater. I did tell you that this pile of rock is an ancient shield volcano, didn’t I? You’ll pass a large open rockfield, and cross a small closed road. You’ll know you’re getting close, when you begin to pass abandoned picnic tables and firepits filled with moss and ferns. Eventually, winded and worn out, you’ll reach the Larch Mountain Trailhead. There are restrooms here, as well a picnic spot.
Next, you’ll hike up 3/10 mile on paved Sherrard Point Trail #443 to, naturally enough, Sherrard Point. The view from here makes it all worth while. Most people visiting here will have driven up Larch Mountain Road, but you’ll enjoy the satisfaction of knowing you got here the hard way. Hopefully, that will help you fend off the stares from the great noncomprehending masses.
SRC: Find out more about the Larch Mountain hike here: www.oregonhikers.org/field_guide/Larch_Mountain_Hike
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