Cape Horn Trail’s full loop reopens

Vision of 34-mile trail stretching from Washougal to Stevenson and Cascade Locks coming into focus

Volunteers from a trail work party along the Cape Horn Trail gather for a picture after a fun day of work.

Photos courtesy Friends of the Columbia Gorge Volunteers take to a gorge trail with rakes and shovels as part of a work party to improve the quality of trails in the gorge.

A Friends of the Columbia Gorge work party meets at Fort Cascades, a national historic site in North Bonneville, Wash.

After a day of fixing trails, members of a Friends of the Columbia Gorge work party celebrate the moment.

Even pets enjoy a day in the Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area. Here, a pup runs on a recently cleared trail near North Bonneville, Wash. (Photos courtesy of Friends of the Columbia Gorge)

The summer hiking season in the Columbia River Gorge is officially in full swing after the full Cape Horn Trail reopened to the public on Monday, July 15.

The lower section of the trail, which goes through rocky outcroppings along Cape Horn, closes every year from February to July 15 to protect peregrine falcons that nest there.

Hikers, especially those in Camas and Washougal, get excited every year when the full loop reopens.

“I really believe the Cape Horn Trail is the most beautiful and well-done trail in the entire Gorge right now,” Renee Tkach of Friends of the Columbia Gorge said during a recent interview with the Post-Record at the conservation group’s office in downtown Washougal.

Tkach gives much of the credit for the current quality of the trail to the countless volunteers who help the Friends of the Columbia Gorge and the Cape Horn Conservancy constantly monitor and care for the trail.

Kevin Gorman, the executive director of Friends of the Columbia Gorge, said before the official Cape Horn Trail was built 10 years ago, the unorganized trail system along Cape Horn was having a much greater negative impact on the environment than it does today, even though few people knew about the trail, which was undeveloped a decade ago.

“It was much more of an environmental detriment, and it had one-tenth of the people,” Gorman said. “Now you have way more people, but we created a trail system with a group of monitors, so it’s better managed.”

Volunteers clean up graffiti at Nancy Russell Overlook

At great example of that dedication to quality happened just last month when someone tagged the beautiful Nancy Russell Overlook in the middle of the Cape Horn Trail with graffiti. Volunteers with the Cape Horn Conservancy spotted the damage on the same day and immediately jumped into action.

“They were out there scrubbing the stuff off and restoring the beauty the same day,” Tkach said.

Volunteers with Friends of the Columbia Gorge are also involved in organized work parties along various trails in the Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area four times per week. They help restore trails damaged by heavy use and natural erosion, along with Oregon trails damaged by the Eagle Creek Fire two years ago.

Many of those trails have reopened, and while hiking in the Gorge is starting to get back to normal, there are still several trails on the Oregon side that remain closed. Work parties are opportunities to give back and are open to everyone, not just those strong enough to swing a pickaxe.

“It’s really a great way for families to spend time together and once you take part you will never look at a trail the same way,” said Tkach, who is currently in charge of an ambitious effort called Gorge Towns to Trails.

The goal of Towns to Trails is to create a 200-mile trekking network around the Columbia Gorge, connecting communities, rural areas and wilderness trails. One key 34-mile section of the trail will connect Washougal to Stevenson and Cascade Locks, and the vision is now much more focused after Friends of the Columbia Gorge purchased 160 acres of land just east of the Steigerwald National Wildlife Refuge in Washougal.

There’s only about a quarter-mile section of private land left that organizers are working to gain access to. The rest of the route is on Forest Service and Washington Department of Natural Resources land.

“It’s a convoluted process,” Gorman said, “but the corridor is there now for a trail system which will hook into the Cape Horn Trail and then connect to the ridges of the gorge before coming back down near Beacon Rock.”

The trail will continue on from Beacon Rock along the river to Stevenson and is likely still a few years away from construction. Even so, the long-term project is being helped by the tremendous success of the Cape Horn Trail system, which is helping people see the organization’s vision.

For more information or to sign up for a work party, visit gorgefriends.org and capehornconservancy.org.