Columbia Gorge, part of the Lewis and Clark Mount Hood Wilderness Proposal
Distance: 7 miles
Elevation Gain: 1,300 feet
Season: late spring through early fall (road is open for season, 6.28.11)
Maps: Trails of the Columbia Gorge (US Forest Service)
About the Hike
Even the most alert hiker will not find a single larch tree on the Larch Mountain trail. That’s because this unique species of conifer, which sheds its needles each fall and grows new ones in the spring, is a native of Eastern Oregon. Though hikers may be disappointed by the lack of larch trees in the area, its scenic beauty won’t disappoint them.
Larch Mountain is home to impressive groves of western hemlock, Douglas-fir, and some noble fir, all of which can be found along this trail. Many of the trees are 400 years old or more. Although elevations here range from only 2700' to 3400', there is often a heavy winter snowpack. Mid-May or even June is usually the earliest you can make this hike without crossing a lot of snowbanks. When snow blocks higher elevation routes, the Multnomah Basin can be reached from Multnomah Falls on I-84 (Exit 31) via Larch Mountain Trail #441. The end of this trail is the rock stairs on the east side of the lodge.
The suggested seven-mile loop trail includes segments of four different trails. Because this loop has seven trail junctions, a detailed map is indispensable. The Forest Service's large-scale, topographic map, "Forest Trails of the Columbia Gorge," which can be obtained for $2 from local agency offices, is especially good.
Oregon Wild and other conservation groups are currently working to gain Wilderness protection for the Larch Mountain area as part of the Lewis and Clark Mount Hood Wilderness proposal. Wilderness protection would forever safeguard the land from logging, mining, and other development while preserving the public’s right to enjoy backcountry recreation.
Heading east from Portland on I-84, take Exit 22 for Corbett. Proceed uphill 1.6 miles on NE Corbett Hill Road. At the top of the hill turn east (left) on the Columbia Gorge Scenic Highway, and follow signs for Crown Point and Multnomah Falls. In two miles bear right on Larch Mountain Road. Continue 14 miles through a corridor of second growth forest to the trailhead parking area at the end of the road. Signs along this corridor indicate that no logging is allowed within 200' of the road, providing a “screen” for the clearcuts and heavily damaged land beyond.
The seven-mile loop begins (reading clockwise on the map) on Larch Mountain Trail #441, turns onto Multnomah Spur Trail #446, then Oneonta Trail #424, and finally Multnomah Way Trail #444, which will take you back to your car at the end of Larch Mountain Road (or to the Larch Mountain Picnic Area).
If you have the energy for a side trip, the Bell Creek Trail (which takes off from Oneonta Trail #424 in section 27) reaches some of the largest old trees in the basin along another mile and a half of trail (marred by a quarter-mile long segment through an area that was logged after a windstorm). The trees east of Bell Creek in Section 23 are especially big ones! (Check a Mount Hood National Forest recreation map for section numbers.)
You can take a shorter, five-mile loop hike (with many switchbacks) by taking FS trail #441 to FS Trail #446 and immediately returning on FS Trail #444. When you cross the first log footbridge over Multnomah Creek, turn right on FS Trail #444 and you will soon pass a marshy meadow with a view of the top of Larch Mountain. A half-mile from the bridge FS Trail #444 enters a beautiful ancient forest grove in Section 28. You can reach this grove in 1.5 miles on Larch Mountain Trail. From the Larch Mountain Road a half-mile east of the 11-mile post, turn east on FS Road 315. Unless you have a high clearance vehicle, park in the gravel quarry just ahead and walk up the road another quarter-mile, watching for the trail which starts downhill to the left just before the gravel road ends.
For More Information
The Forest Services' Columbia Gorge web site also contains useful info. In spring and early summer call Multnomah County (503.988.5050) to find out if the road is open and clear of snow.