Tag Archives: hiking

Hiking Hart’s Cove via Lower and Upper Cascade Head

Y’all, look.

Listen.

Last Saturday I hiked Hart’s Cove via Lower and Upper Cascade Head out at the Oregon coast and it’s a good thing this was my last hike of the season because it absolutely destroyed me??? And for no reason????

The weather was perfect (PERFECT) and I was dressed appropriately for it. I got a full night of sleep the night before. I ate well all week and the morning of. I brought (and ate) all my regular hiking snacks. I wore the same socks and boots that I always wear while hiking. I had (and drank) plenty of water. And yet. AND YET! I ended this hike broken—physically, mentally, emotionally, spiritually. My heels were raw. My head was pounding. My joints were aching. My muscles were screaming. EVEN MY BONES HURT. It’s almost an entire week later and my life is still pain!!! I have no idea where or why or how things went so, so wrong.

Photo of me, Kelsey, a white woman, at the end of Hart's Cove Trail. I'm standing in tall, dry grass. The Pacific Ocean is behind me. I'm wearing black leggings, a purple tank top, a red day pack, sunglasses, and a smile.

This was my second attempt at this trail, which is, allegedly, a 13.3-mile out-and-back. The math ain’t mathing, though. When I hit the halfway point (Hart’s Cove, pictured above), I was at 7.8 miles. After turning around and hiking back THE SAME EXACT WAY I CAME, I was at 14.7, not 15.6, miles??? I don’t know!!!

I first tried this trail a few weeks ago. It was a last-minute and poorly planned decision. I was PMSing, it was the morning after I got both my flu shot and my bilvalent Covid booster (the new bivalent booster protects against two of the most contagious variants, the OG booster protects only against OG Covid) (here’s a more scientific and detailed explanation of the new booster) (also: please get a bivalent booster shot if you’ve not already, and please get your ass vaccinated in general if you’ve not already), and the state was under a thick layer of wildfire smoke. Yes, even out at the coast. No, I didn’t bother checking the forecast for anything other than the temperature that day. I made it about 2.5 miles in before turning back because the wind kept knocking me down and the smoke made breathing gross.

Here’s a photo of the hazy, smokey view from Lower Cascade Head Trail, taken at 7:37 am during my first attempt at this hike.

View of the Pacific Ocean and the beach from a hillside portion of Lower Cascade Head Trail. The sky is hazy and smokey, and pastel-colored peach and periwinkle.

And here’s a photo from a similar spot on the same trail, taken this past weekend, about an hour later, at 8:45 am.

View of the Pacific Ocean and the beach from a hillside portion of Lower Cascade Head Trail. The sky is bright blue and clear.

Given how nice of a day it was, and that that was probably the last decent weekend here until next spring, I was surprised at how few people I encountered most of the hike. For the first five hours/11.5 miles, I saw only two other people—one about a mile from Hart’s Cove and one at Hart’s Cove. Most of the people I saw were starting as I was finishing—I passed about 25 people over the course of the last 2.5 miles (or, first 2.5 miles for them).

AllTrails said I gained just over 3,000 feet in elevation, but who the fuck knows if it’s telling the truth. There *are* some pretty steep stretches of trail. The worst of it is in the very beginning of Lower Cascade Head Trail, which is covered by tree canopy, which means SHADE, which is helpful if you hike this on a warm or hot day. Most of those steep portions are actual steps. Some of it’s more like this gnarled mass of tree roots.

Photo of gnarled tree roots that serve as steps on an early stretch of Lower Cascade Head Trail.

Portions of this first part of Lower Cascade Head Trail level out a bit—or at least, the ascent becomes more gradual in some spots. Once you hit the uncovered portion of the trail, though, it becomes more steep again and you basically zig-zag your way up this fucking thing:

Photo taken from the trail, looking up at the hill the trail requires you to hike. The hillside is covered in long and dry grass. The sky is bright blue and cloudless.

Once you make it up that hill, you hit tree canopy for the rest of the way to Hart’s Cove. It’s also relatively flat from the time you hit tree canopy on Upper Cascade Trail until you hit the Hart’s Cove trailhead. A lot of it looks like the photo below—until you hit the Upper Cascade trailhead. At that point, you’re still under tree canopy, but you’re on a forest service road for about a mile (little less) until you hit Hart’s Cove trailhead. The road, NF-1861, is currently (and has been (and, apparently, will remain)) closed to vehicle traffic because of landslide debris, which means the only way you can access Upper Cascade Head or Hart’s Cove is by starting at the Lower Cascade Head trailhead and hiking your ass there. It’s like nobody wants to get their ass up and hike Hart’s Cove from Lower Cascade Head anymore! (The NFS says you can also get to Hart’s Cove via Rainforest Trail, but I don’t know anything about that.)

Photo of a portion of Upper Cascade Head Trail. The trail cuts through the forest and the path is fresh grass instead of dirt.

Here’s what the mile-ish hike along the forest service road from the Upper Cascade Head trailhead to Hart’s Cove trailhead looks like:

Photo of Forest Road 1861, which is currently closed to vehicle traffic. The road is packed dirt and lined by forest.

Hart’s Cove Trail is NOT flat/level. The first 0.5 mile is a fairly steep descent (which means your last 0.5 mile on the way back is all uphill—dizazz), and then it kind of yo-yos the rest of the way to the viewpoint/turnaround spot.

This trail was covered the entire way until you hit the viewpoint, which is wide open, and it was wet and muddy much of the way. There were 2.5 water crossings on this trail, and several obstructions (lots of fallen trees). Some obstructions were things you could mostly just step over.

Photo of a downed tree across a footbridge that allows hikers to cross over a creek.

Some, though, were like…this:

Photo of piles of large tree branches and brush obstructing a portion of the Hart's Cove Trail.

And this:

Photo of piles of large tree branches and brush obstructing a portion of the Hart's Cove Trail.

A mile before the viewpoint, there’s a bench (and also a sign nailed to a tree that reads “Hart’s Cove 1 mi.”), where you can sit and take in the loud bark of the sea lions below (can’t see ’em tho), have a snack, take a nap, cry about how much your feet hurt, etc. Directly across from the bench, through the trees, is the grassy viewpoint you’re headed to.

Photo of Hart's Cove from a bench in the forest across the way. The grassy meadow is barely visible through tall Sitka Spruce-Western Hemlock trees in the foreground.

I am NOT a mushroom person. I cannot stand the way they feel or taste or smell. Some of them do look cool, though. And there were a lot of cool, giant mushrooms on this trail. This one, which looks like it got dressed in 1974, was the coolest and most giant one I saw.

Photo of a large mushroom growing at the base of a tree. The mushroom is about the size of an adult's face, and colored white, yellow, orange, and brown.

It took me just under three hours to hike the 7.8 (or however many) miles to the viewpoint. I stopped once along the way to dress my wounds (I started blistering around 2.5 miles and stopped to put on moleskin), and a whole bunch of times to take pictures and say “WOW!” à la Owen Wilson at everything I looked at.

I spent about 30 minutes at the viewpoint. I ate some snacks, took some photos, let my heels air out before applying new moleskin, chatted for a bit with the other hiker up there, laid down in the grass and soaked in some sun, etc. I’d thought about bringing a book. I didn’t, because literally every time I’ve done that in the past, the summit/turnaround point has been crowded and not at all conducive to reading and relaxing. Of course that wasn’t the case this time. This time, I wish I’d brought a book. It was so peaceful and quiet! I could’ve hung out up there, reading, for hours.

Photo of Hart's Cove taken from Hart's Cove Trail. The Pacific Ocean pools in the cove, surrounded by tall Sitka Spruce-Western Hemlock trees on cliffs. The sky is bright blue and cloudless. The water has a green/teal tint to it.

Of all the trails I’ve hiked this season, this one had the most (visible) wildlife. During my failed first attempt at this trail, I saw deer (elk?), a bunch of creepy-looking insects, a ton of bees (portions of the trail are lined with wild berries and, naturally, swarms of bees near those berries), and a giant worm that I learned was actually a small snake almost immediately after bending down to be like “damn, that’s a giant worm.” This time I saw A TON of large black beetles, lots of caterpillars, some frogs, a bunch of mushrooms, a chipmunk, and an impressive variety of animal shit. The other hiker at the top (?) of the trail let me borrow their binoculars so I guess technically I saw a bunch of sea lions, too.

Overall, an unexpectedly brutal hike. The most brutal I’ve ever done, even! I think the blisters are what did me in—though my entire body and all of my bones and even my brain hurt by the time I finished. And for days—DAYS!!!—after. So I don’t know if it was just (“just”) the blisters. It was also a gorgeous hike, and a perfect day for it. If you’re up for a 14-ish mile hike, I definitely recommend this one. Only thing I would’ve done differently, aside from not getting blisters? I would’ve brought trekking poles. There were several times, mostly on Hart’s Cove Trail, that I found myself wishing I’d brought mine. And maybe also a book.

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A few more details:

Permit: None.

Fees: None required, a few donation boxes along the way.

Trailhead: This hike is three trails: Lower Cascade Head to Upper Cascade Head to Hart’s Cove. Currently, only the first trailhead—Lower Cascade Head—is accessible by vehicle. So you’ll have to start there. I used the directions that AllTrails gave me via Google Maps and it took me exactly where I needed to go.

Gas stations: This hike is about 90 miles from Portland, so make sure you head out with a full tank, especially if you leave early in the morning. Most of the second half of the drive is through sparsely populated areas. There are a few big gas stations about half an hour out from the trail (the Shell at the casino felt the safest to me (it’s self-service, though, which might be weird or stressful if you’re not used to pumping your own gas)), and a mom-and-pop one a couple miles from the trailhead.

Bathrooms: A pair of vault bathrooms, which were very well maintained and throughly stocked with TP the days I was there. There are spots here and there along all three trails (Upper and Lower Cascade Head, and Hart’s Cove) to pee.

Parking: Paved lot with about 25 marked spaces, including one (1) designated handicapped spot. Cars are to the left, vehicles with boats to the right. I got there early both times I tried this hike—about 6:45 am the first time and an hour-ish later this past time—and there were plenty of spots open both times. By the time I got back to my car last Saturday, around 2:30 pm, the lot was full and there were a lot of vehicles parked along the roads.

Cell service: I brought both my personal phone and my work phone (just in case), which are Verizon and AT&T, and I had service until Hart’s Cove. No service after that. Service came back when I made it back to the Upper Cascade Head trailhead.

Water source: None along either of the Cascade Head trails. Some along Hart’s Cove. Probably best to bring your own. I brought 3L and drank almost all of it.

Viewpoint: You can hike just the first 2.5-ish miles of Lower Cascade Head Trail and you’ll get amazing views. The only other view is at the end of Hart’s Cove, 7.8 miles (allegedly) in. And because the forest service road is closed, the trailhead is inaccessible to cars, so if you want to see the Hart’s Cove views, you’ll have to hike there from the Lower Cascade Head trailhead, or Rainforest Trail.

Dogs: Explicitly not allowed. Horses explicitly not allowed either, FWIW.

Having a panic attack on the trail (0/10, do not recommend)

Remember when I tried to hike Elk Mountain/King’s Mountain Loop back in May and didn’t finish? That’s because I had a panic attack—3,000 feet atop exposed trail in inclement weather while hiking with someone I barely knew. DIZAZZ.

Photo of Tillamook State Forest taken from about 2,500 feet atop Elk Mountain Trail. The sky is gray with heavy, low clouds. The trees are various shades of green.

I feel like the weather had a lot to do with it. I’m not really afraid of heights—not when my feet are literally on the ground, anyway. I don’t like flying, and I don’t like driving on elevated roadways (bridges, windy sides of mountains, etc.). But if my literal feet are on the literal ground, I’m usually okay with height. Unless, apparently, there’s weather involved.

For the week prior to this hike, my hiking partner and I checked the weather daily. We knew this was going to be a tough hike (it’s rated “hard” on AllTrails, which we presumed, from the comments, was due to the elevation gain), and neither of us wanted to hike in pouring rain or super cold temps. We were prepared to delay the hike if we felt the weather called for it. It was chilly the day we attempted this hike, and a bit overcast when we began, but overall, the forecast seemed okay. Remember, we were under the impression the elevation gain would be the most difficult/technical thing we’d encounter.

Reader: We were wrong.

There were several stretches of incredibly narrow and steep trail that was exposed and required scrambling. I’m not saying this is the most technical or challenging trail on the planet. I’m saying it wasn’t what we expected, and personally, I wasn’t prepared for it. I think if the weather had been dry and warmer, this would be a non-story because we would’ve finished the hike. That’s not what happened.

Right as we reached what felt like the most technical part of the trail (steep grade, steep drop-offs, steep scramble), the fog rolled in and the rain started coming down. And with the change in weather and terrain, I felt the panic attack coming on. It’s an unmistakable, alarming feeling, especially when it presents with derealization, like it did that day.

A lot of resources describe derealization as feeling like “a dream.” To me, derealization feels less like living in a dream (“dream” has too positive of a connotation to me for what the actual experience feels like) and more like being stuck or suspended in a liminal space. When it’s happening, the more aware of it I become, the worse it gets—the further away from reality and outside of myself I feel, which freaks me the fuck out, and the more I begin to worry (panic) that I’m going to break with reality and that if I do, I might not ever make it back.

But wait, there’s more!

As the psychological pieces of the panic attack become more pronounced, the physical aspects of it kick in. Often, I start shaking uncontrollably, as adrenaline and cortisol start pumping through my body. My field of vision narrows, and can become unclear and spotty. Sometimes, my hearing becomes impaired—voices and other noises around me can sound diffuse and garbled, my ears might start ringing with a piercing sound.

On this particular day, my Raynaud’s decided to join the party, too. Raynaud’s is a condition in which certain areas of the body—often the fingers and the toes—become cold and go numb. The affected area usually turns white or blue. Cold temps and stress both activate and exacerbate it. Here’s what it looks like on/for me.

Photo of my left hand, showing the effects of Raynaud's. The top 2/3 of my fingers is white, while the color in the rest of my hand is normal.

My Raynaud’s joining the party that day is significant because it meant that on top of intrusive thoughts, uncontrollable shaking, and impaired vision, my grip was shot, too. On their own and even though I was wearing very warm, waterproof gloves, the cold made closing my fingers challenging, and the rain made it difficult to get a grip on the scramble and tree roots, which I’d been trying to hold onto for stability. The numbness from the Raynaud’s meant I couldn’t feel my fingers.

So there I was, on the precipice of a mountain, about 3,000 feet above the ground in inclement weather, having intrusive thoughts, shaking uncontrollably, with literal tunnel vision, and unable to get a decent grip on the steep terrain around me thanks to (1) wet and cold weather that made gripping the scramble and tree roots I’d been gripping for stability up to this point incredibly difficult, and (2) my numb fingers that I couldn’t feel or properly close around the slippery scramble and roots. Also: wind. AND THEN: my trash-ass proprioception.

Proprioception refers to our ability to sense our body’s movement and location in space. It also plays a role in balance and coordination. I talk more about my proprioceptive differences in this post. Basically: Even in the best of times when there are no complicating factors, I have difficulty knowing where my body is in space, coordinating my movements, and balancing.

On top of all the regular panic attack-y things I was experiencing, I was trying to literally navigate this particular section of trail with proprioception that’s Not Great even when I’m not having a small personal crisis on top of a mountain in the wind and rain. At one point, I had three points of contact at all times, and eventually began scooting around the trail on my ass, trying to grip whatever I could—when there was something-ish to grip. Problem was, most of what was available to grip was roots, and because it was currently, and had for days prior been, raining, the roots weren’t exactly sturdy.

I knew that I needed my full attention on the trail. I also knew that wasn’t going to happen. I was putting so much of my energy and attention into trying to mitigate my panic attack. Ultimately, given all the variables—the panic attack + the Raynaud’s + my trash-ass proprioception + the elevation + the narrowness of the trail + the low visibility/density of the fog + the rain (the slipperiness of the trail and the scramble)—I didn’t trust myself to not accidentally fuck up in a situation that allowed zero room for error.

So I removed myself from the situation.

I looked back at my hiking partner and said, “I need to turn back.” With no questions asked and no shade thrown, she agreed. Which: THANK FUCK for a hiking buddy who isn’t a dick. Also, I’m proud of myself for making the decision I did. It wasn’t easy. It was the right call.

Learning I’m autistic has been such a game-changer (for the better) in so many ways. For example, it’s given me context for understanding my experiences, and more self-knowledge about how my brain and body do (and don’t) work together. And that context for my experiences and better understanding of myself has empowered me to make better decisions. Had this situation happened and I didn’t know I was autistic and how being autistic affects my proprioception (a word I didn’t even know before I learned I’m autistic), I almost certainly wouldn’t have made the same decision. I would’ve believed that turning back was weak and unforgivable—I would’ve tried to power through, and honestly, who the fuck knows what might’ve happened (autistic people are significantly more likely to die from injuries and accidents, and I’ve already passed the average life expectancy for autistic people, which is a whopping 36 years old).

I know that a lot of people think an autism diagnosis is a tragic thing. That it’s the end of the world. That’s because they’re uninformed. An autism diagnosis isn’t either of those things. In many, many ways, it’s life-changing (in a good way), and even life-saving, both directly and in-.

Anyway.

The panic attack was an all-around 0/10 experience—hard pass, return to sender, do not recommend. It taught me a lot about myself, though, and that’s 10/10 valuable information to have.

*

If something like this happens to you on the trail (or anywhere, really), you’re not crazy for it happening and you’re not stupid or weak if you decide to turn around and go back instead of trying to push through.

If this happens to someone you’re with (on the trail or not), don’t be a dick about it. Don’t push them to “face their fear” or “get over it” or “just finish” because y’all “came all this way” or “made it this far.” Be kind. Be willing to turn back/leave with them. Don’t make any shitty, judgmental comments. You don’t have to “agree with” or understand it, you absolutely should respect it. I promise you, a person having a panic attack doesn’t want to be having a panic attack (especially in public), and isn’t “acting crazy” “on purpose” “for attention.”

A peek inside my “Hike Passport”

A fact about me is that I’m a documenter at heart (as if having a personal blog didn’t give that away), and an absolute sucker for a fun on-paper memorykeeping project (once upon a time, I spent five years running a memorykeeping blog, and working on the creative teams of the biggest brands in the business). I love a well-designed and well-crafted paper product, and all the cute little shit that can go along with it. Like my adorable mini stapler that looks like a whale.

LOOK AT HER! SHE’S SO CUTE! 🐳

An overhead view of a light pink stapler, neon green mini date stamp, small stack of 3x4 color photos, and a sage green "Hike Passport" book arranged atop a wood surface.

Memorykeeping was a big part of my life for a long time. I’ve been out of the habit and the business for a few years now, and I miss it. I keep trying to get back in the groove with it, and I keep missing the mark, taking on ambitious projects that overwhelm me into freezing and walking away. So. I decided to try this very simple, low-stakes project instead.

I used a Hike Passport from Letterfolk. Letterfolk has a whole series of these “passports” covering a bunch of different activities, not just hiking. In the “Hike” one, there’s room to document 20 hikes, with some extra pages of fluff in the back. Each of the 20 documenting spreads has a templated page on the left and a dot-grid page on the right.

The templated page on the left has space to document details like the date, trail, location, distance, who you hiked with, the gear you brought, the weather you encountered, types of terrain, snacks you ate, how busy the trail was, how difficult the trail was, how long it took you to complete, and a few more. You can do whatever you want on the dot-grid page. I used it to include a photo from and the date of each hike. You could use it to sketch a scene from the hike, or journal about it. Or to preserve a pass, or piece of the trail map, or some other ephemera (wrapper from a snack?). Or a combination of those things, the sky’s the limit!

A close-up of the inside of Letterfolk's "Hike Passport," open to a blank spread. 

On the left, a templated page to record the hike's details. The fields are titled: Hike #, Date, Trail, Location, Distance, I Hike With..., Season, Gear Brought, Elevation, Nature Observed, Terrain, Weather Encountered, Trail Traffic, Hiking Snacks, Difficulty Level, Favorite Moment, Duration, When I Finished I Felt..., [blank]/10, Hike it Again? 

On the right, a blank dot-grid page.

Usually, I print my photos at home (I use an Epson PM-400. I’ve had it for almost a decade. I love it. Definitely recommend). For this project, I printed my photos through Persnickety Prints. Their website is a little janky, but their quality and service is unmatched. I’ve used them for select memorykeeping projects for almost a decade.

Here’s a look at a few of my completed (“completed”) pages. I don’t fill out each field every time, just the details that I kept track of and that feel relevant to me for that particular hike. And I never use the “When I Finished I Felt…” field the way it’s intended to be used. I always put extra notes about the hike there.

Hike #2 this year, Wahkeena Falls Loop/Multnomah Falls:

A close-up of the inside of Letterfolk's "Hike Passport," open to a spread documenting my second hike of the year.

On the left, I've recorded the following details about the hike:

Trail: Wahkeena Falls Loops (started @ Multnomah Falls); 

Location: The Gorge (OR); 

Distance: 6.1 mi; 

I Hiked With: myself; Season: (I circled the tulip to indicate "spring"); 

Gear Brought: standard day pack; 

Elevation: 1,751 feet of gain; 

Nature Observed: So. Many. Waterfalls. Views of the Gorge; 

Terrain: dirt, water, mud; 

Weather Encountered: Sun; 

Trail Traffic: 2/6; 

Hiking Snacks: None; 

Difficulty Level: 1/6; 

When I Finished I Felt...: impromptu hike. didn't know the loop existed till I arrived. pizza afterward.

On the right, a color 3x4 photo of Multnomah Falls stapled to the page, and the date of the hike (April 24, 2022) stamped in black ink beneath the photo.

Hike #7, Dog Mountain:

A close-up of the inside of Letterfolk's "Hike Passport," open to a spread documenting my seventh hike of the year.

On the left, I've recorded the following details about the hike:

Trail: Dog Mountain; 

Location: The Gorge (OR); 

Distance: 6.1 mi; 

I Hiked With: myself; 

Season: (I circled the tulip to indicate "spring"); 

Gear Brought: standard day pack; 

Elevation: 2,837 feet of gain; 

Nature Observed: Wildflowers, trees, views of the Gorge.; 

Terrain: dirt, rocks; 

Weather Encountered: Sun, partly cloudy; 

Trail Traffic: 6/6; 

Hiking Snacks: Welch's (fruit snacks); 

Difficulty Level: 3/6; 

Duration: 2:58;

When I Finished I Felt...: way too fucking crowded. lungs and legs the whole way. brutal. loved.

On the right, a color 3x4 photo of me standing facing the camera, with views of the Columbia River and tree-lined mountains in the background, stapled to the page, and the date of the hike (May 20, 2022) stamped in black ink beneath the photo.

And hike #9, Elk Mountain/King’s Mountain Loop:

A close-up of the inside of Letterfolk's "Hike Passport," open to a spread documenting my ninth hike of the year.

On the left, I've recorded the following details about the hike:

Trail: Elk Mountain/King's Mountain Loop - DNF; 

Location: Tillamook State Forest; 

Distance: 12.0 mi; 

Season: (I circled the tulip to indicate "spring"); 

Gear Brought: Osprey daypack, waterproof gloves, trekking poles, rain jacket.; 

Elevation: 2,920 feet of gain; 

Nature Observed: Trees, baby waterfalls, a river (creek?), so many slugs.; 

Terrain: dirt, rocks; 

Weather Encountered: cloudy, partly cloudy, rain; 

Trail Traffic: 1/6; 

Hiking Snacks: granola bars, applesauce, dried apples, gum;

Duration: 5:26;

When I Finished I Felt...: turned back just before 2nd summit. inclement weather and OCD episode. took wrong trail up. LOL oops.

On the right, a color 3x4 photo of me squatting and facing the camera, with views of the tree-lined mountains in the background, stapled to the page, and the date of the hike (May 28, 2022) stamped in black ink beneath the photo.

This little book is not a practical thing to bring with you on the trail. It *is* a fun and creative thing to do to commemorate your time on the trail. I think it’s a particularly great project for people who are new to memorykeeping, or returning after a break. Memorykeeping can be super overwhelming. This is a great project because it’s formulaic and simple. And because it doesn’t require a ton of supplies (date stamp and stapler not required), it’s a relatively affordable one, too.

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Supplies:

Hike Passport: Letterfolk, $14.95 total. $10 for the “Passport” and $4.95 for shipping.

Stapler: Ellepi Klivia 97, $25-ish. You can find this on Amazon, but please consider supporting your local paper goods shop or craft store. If your local shop doesn’t carry Ellepi, try Little Otsu or Porchlight. Fun fact: Ellepi is a four-person Italy-based team, and they make all of their products by hand.

Date stamp: Miseyo, $11.99 plus shipping. I don’t remember what I paid for this total. I’ve had it for a while. Soz!

Photos: Persnickety Prints, prices vary. I paid $13.85 for these nine 3×4 photos—$4.86 for the photos (which included an up-charge because I went with the white border) and $8.99 for shipping, which: kind of yikes, I know. But also, the total cost was within my budget and I wanted to, so I did. For what it’s worth, their standard shipping (the default option) is incredibly fast and has never taken anywhere near 7-10 days to arrive, which makes that $8.99 feel like a better value than if the photos took forever to arrive.

Hiking Angel’s Rest with my kids

Last weekend, which was the final weekend that my two youngest kids (10 and 11) were in town, we hiked Angel’s Rest. I hiked this trail back in May. It was still pretty cold then—I was in leggings, long sleeves, and gloves that day—and not much was in bloom yet. Still, it was gorgeous. I was unprepared for how gorgeous it’d be once everything was in bloom. So many wildflowers. So much green. Such lush. Much wow.

Photo of my 10-year-old son and I atop a large rock at a bend in the trail. I'm sitting, with my knees bent and one arm resting on a knee. My head is angled slightly to the side and I'm smiling widely. My son is standing next to me, shirtless, smiling, and dancing. One arm is extended in front of him and the other is bent, which his hand close to his body. His hips are pushed out to one side. Above us, the sky is blue with wispy white clouds. Behind us, dark green fir trees in the distance. Directly around us lining the dirt trail, bright green bushes and white wildflowers in full bloom.
Photo of my 10-year-old son and I atop a large rock at a bend in the trail. We're both standing and facing the camera. My son is shirtless and flexing, his mouth wide open in a yell/scream. I'm standing behind him and looking down at him, smiling. Above us, the sky is blue with wispy white clouds. Behind us, dark green fir trees and a river in the distance. Directly around us lining the dirt trail, bright green bushes and white wildflowers in full bloom.

The day we hiked this trail was the final day of a long stretch of way too many days above 90 degrees (historically unusual for Portland and the surrounding area, and quickly becoming the new normal, brought to you by climate change). We started early early—we woke up at 5:15 am, were on the road before 6:00 am, and at the trailhead before 6:30 am—to beat both the heat and potential trail traffic. It worked. On both fronts. We encountered very, very few people (just a few at the top), and no shit-ass weather. Praise be to our lord and savior, Jesus H. Styles Christ.

Photo of bright green overgrowth lining the narrow dirt trail, which is ascending at a mild grade. My son is in the distance, running up the trail.

My older kiddo didn’t enjoy the hike (which surprised me, tbh), and mostly avoided being in photos. My youngest kiddo had a blast—he monologued at length for hours afterward that it was one of his most favorite days of his life and he wished he could live it again (MY WHOLE HEART!!!)—and was happy to be in photos (and gave me permission to share the ones he’s in that I’ve shared here).

Overhead view of a small patch of bright yellow wildflowers lining the trail.
Photo of wildflowers, bushes, and trees lining the trail. In the background, the Columbia River.

The kids brought a disposable camera with them to Oregon, to document their summer stay out west. My youngest had fun using it on the trail, and I had fun witnessing his childhood curiosity and joy. I’m excited to get the photos back—once I figure out where we can have them developed. Do places still develop film??? Does one hour photo service still exist? (Remember how much of a thrill it was to get your photos back from the neighborhood Walgreens or Rite-Aid (or wherever)?)

Photo of my son sitting atop talus at the false summit. Behind him, dark green fir trees lining hills and mountains in the distance. He has a disposable camera up to his eye, as he frames a shot of the trees in the distance.
Photo of my son standing at the edge of the trail, disposable camera up to his eye as he frames a shot of the river in the distance. Directly in front of him are patches of tall wildflowers and forest foliage.

When I hiked this trail back in May, I didn’t think the view was much different between the false summit (at the talus) and the actual summit (a few minutes past the talus). This time, I felt like there was a bit of a difference. Kind of. I still think the views beyond the talus and beyond the actual summit are pretty similar. The immediate surrounding areas at each location look (and feel) a bit different now that everything’s in bloom.

View from the false summit in May:

Photo of me from my Angel's Rest hike in May. I'm standing on talus (large rocks that you must traverse as part of the trail) at the false summit, facing the camera and smiling. Behind me: the Columbia River, and tree-lined mountains. The sky is clear and blue.

And from the same spot this time (late July):

Photo of my son and I posing for the camera atop talus at the false summit. In the background, the Columbia River, with dark green fir trees lining both sides. Immediately surrounding us and the scree, in-bloom wildflowers and bright green foliage. My son and I are standing and facing the camera and smiling.

So, like. Not a huge difference yonder. Definitely a difference in the immediate surrounding area. The fuller foliage and blooming wildflowers for sure make it feel and look so much more lush and lively. Honestly, the vibes at both the false summit and the actual summit were immaculate. Both are great spots to picnic or read or draw/sketch or journal/write or watch the sun rise or set.

Photo of dense and bright green foliage lining either side of the dirt trail. In the distance, through the foliage, large rock formations are visible.

Once we reached it, the kids and I explored the actual summit, which I apparently didn’t do last time. I actually didn’t know last time that there was more to explore last time? I guess maybe there wasn’t much to explore without all the growth to wade through? Back in May it was all just kind of…bleh at the top. This time, it was a small adventure to weave through the very narrow and overgrown trail. So many small pops of color all over the place!

Photo of a patch of wildflowers and forest foliage lining the trail. Pops of white, orange, and yellow among the bright green leaves.
Photo of tall bushes and short trees lining the trail at the summit of Angel's Rest. There are small purple and pink berries growing on some of the flora. In the background, the Columbia River.

I spy with my little eye a tiny and shirtless child through the greenery.

Photo of lush, dense green overgrowth nearly blocks my son from view. He's standing several meters away on the trail, his upper body barely visible through the thick foliage.

We found this bench, which the kids tried to carve their names into. We didn’t know this bench was there (I didn’t see it last time), and had no bench-carving implements on us. Sad! The kids tried using rocks, which didn’t work. They had fun with it anyway.

Photo of my kids attempting to carve their names into a wooden bench at the top of Angel's Rest using rocks they found nearby.

I’m so happy that one of my kids still wants to take photos with me, and I’m grateful that my other kiddo is willing to take photos of us. I know they won’t always want to do either. I appreciate that they were each willing to do one of those things on this day.

My son and I pose at the summit of Angel's Rest. We're both squatting low to the ground, each with one knee bent. The Columbia River is behind us, lined by dark green trees. Immediately behind us, white wildflowers and green foliage.

On our way back after wandering around the summit, my youngest ran ahead and climbed up these rocks. I stayed behind atop a different pile o’ rocks and took a bunch of photos of him. This one, with him flexing and making a face, is my favorite.

Photo of my son standing atop large rock formations in the distance. He's shirtless and posing, flexing. Around and behind him are other large rock formations, bright green bushes and shrubs, and dark green fir trees. The early morning sun is high in the sky behind him, casting a golden light.

Our most exciting finds on this day: A bird egg, which I want to say is a robin’s egg but won’t definitively declare because I’m not a bird scientist or even knowledgable about birds and their eggs in the slightest, and which was already cracked/hatched when we encountered it. And a rabbit, which hopped away before I could get a photo. Also: several small chipmunks, all too fast to be photo-ed.

Close-up photo of a small eggshell. It's turquoise, and already cracked open. My son is holding it for the camera on one of his fingers.

A few personal wins for me on this hike. One: My knees felt great. This time last year my knees were so fucked, I couldn’t even go up and down stairs. Two: I could actually feel my posterior chain working during this hike. Huge accomplishment for me to move properly and be able to sense it. Three: My pelvic floor held like a goddamn champ. My youngest and I ran for several hundred meters a few different times on our way back to the trailhead, and not a single drop of pee leaked out of me. A true Christmas miracle.

Photo showing the Columbia River in the background, lined by dark trees on either side. In the foreground, green foliage and scree. Golden morning sunlight is falling on the talus. My son is facing away from the camera, hiking down the talus with his shirt draped over his shoulder.

I’m really glad that my kids and I were able to get this hike in. It was SO FUCKING HOT for most of their month with me. So hot that it wasn’t enjoyable (or safe) to be outside most of the time, which was a big giant bummer for a whole bunch of reasons. I’m hoping to have them out earlier next summer, before the weather ruins the experience of being outside. Fingers crossed that the climate disaster we’re living through doesn’t start accelerating faster than it has in recent years.

Hiking Elk Mountain/King’s Mountain Loop

A week after meeting a new friend at the start of the Angel’s Rest out-and-back, we attempted to hike the Elk Mountain/King’s Mountain Loop together. This trail is an 11.6-mile hike out near the Oregon coast, in Tillamook State Forest, about an hour west of Portland.

Kelsey, a white woman, kneels at the edge of a steep drop-off. She's wearing dark hiking boots, clothing, and gloves, a red day pack, and sunglasses. Her hair is up and she's smiling. The ground she's kneeling on is a packed-dirt trail. there are small patches of small wildflowers scattered about. Behind her are hills and mountains covered in trees in various shades of green. The sky is covered in gray, low clouds.

You can start the loop at either the Elk Mountain Trailhead or the King’s Mountain Trailhead, and hike it in either direction—clockwise or counter-. We started at the Elk Mountain Trailhead, and, in the millennial tradition of taking the advice of internet strangers, hiked it counterclockwise.

Kind of.

While we started at the Elk Mountain Trailhead, we accidentally took a different trail. What had happened was, I didn’t read the sign closely enough and confidently directed us onto the wrong trail—Elk Creek instead of Elk Mountain. OOPS.

Neither of us realized until a few miles—yes miles, not minutes—in, when we hit the sign in the photo below and were unsure which way to go. Obviously the sign says to go left. When we checked our location on AllTrails, it didn’t match up and we were confused, okay!!! It took us a few minutes to realize we weren’t on the trail we thought we were on. We were on a Forest Service road instead. 🤡

A wooden sign in the forest. The sign lists four different trails or points of interest, and their distances from the current location.

We went left, and, just as the sign predicted, hit King’s Mountain Trail about a mile later. This spot is actually a juncture where Elk Creek, Elk Mountain, and King’s Mountain trails meet.

Another wooden sign along the route, where three different trails converge. Behind the sign are tall, green trees, and a large natural rock formation stretching toward the sky. The packed-dirt ground has a large patch of bright yellow-green growth.

We hung out here for a few minutes, oohing and ahhing over the cutie baby wildflowers, and the view.

A patch of small wildflowers grows on rocks. The flowers are purple, white, orange, and yellow.

It was a chilly, overcast morning, but the views were still incredible. My iPhone camera really doesn’t do it justice. And it’s difficult to get a sense through the photos for how intense the drop-off felt in person. In the photo below I think the trees make it look like it might be a graded decline. In reality, it was…not. The first photo in this post was taken at the same spot, and offers a more accurate perspective, imo.

A view of the Tillamook State Forest from a lookout along the trail. There are hills and mountains covered in various shades of green trees. The sky is grey and cloudy. Small patches of small orange and yellow wildflowers line the edge of the trail where it meets a drop-off to the forest floor below.

Going in, we knew this hike was going to be “hard.” The problem is, there’s no real way to easily discern what “hard” (or “easy” or “moderate”) actually means on AllTrails. Is it “hard” because it’s a long distance? Has technical terrain? A steep grade? Exposed trail? Some of those things? All of those things? A mystery.

We read through a number of comments before attempting this one, so we knew to expect some scramble and some steep trail. We were *not* surprised when we hit the portion of the trail that has a secured rope to help you down (or up, if you hike it the other way). Looking down:

Kelsey descends a portion of the hiking path that is steep enough to require the assistance of a built-in rope. This portion of the trail also requires navigating around large rocks and roots.

And looking up (this photo gives a better idea of the steepness/grade):

A shot of the portion of the trail requiring the assistance of a built-in rope, taken from below to illustrate how steep this portion of the path is. In the photo, it appears near-vertical.

We *were* surprised to encounter the degree of steepness and exposure we did just before and after “the rope.” (In hiking, “exposure” is defined as “precipitous drops of anywhere from 30 feet to over 300 feet or more…“) I, for one, was not prepared.

I don’t have any photos to share from these portions of the trail—the trail was too narrow and the drop-off too steep for me to even think about fucking around with my phone. I spent most of these parts of the trail with three points of contact at all times.

As if on cue, right as we hit what we felt were the hardest parts of the trail, the fog rolled in and visibility dropped, and the rain started coming down, making the near-vertical scramble incredibly slippery and the very narrow and very exposed trail very muddy. Ultimately, we decided to turn back just before King’s summit. I’ve more to say about this in a separate post.

A photo of tall trees with bare branches. Between and behind the trees, dense fog. The view is completed obscured.

When we got back to the juncture of Elk Creek, Elk Mountain, and King’s Mountain trails, we thought about taking the correct one—Elk Mountain—back to the trailhead. But because (1) our nerves and confidence had just been tested on tough-to-us terrain in less-than-ideal weather conditions, and (2) our navigation skills are obviously shit (lol, brb adding “skills include getting lost while hiking” to my Tinder), we decided to go back the way we came (Elk Creek/the Forest Service road). It added distance and time, but it was a familiar route with familiar terrain and felt like the safer and smarter option.

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I bought a new pack and trekking poles for this hike. The pack is an Osprey Jet 18. I liked it well enough. Tbh, I wanted a different pack (don’t remember which now, I think a Gregory day pack) but this one was the only option that came in a bright color, and something inside me said that having a brightly colored pack could come in handy one day, considering I often hike alone and, as my last couple of hiking-related posts have established, I’m particularly skilled at taking the wrong trail/getting lost-ish (we all have to be good at something!).

A photo of Kelsey taking a photo of the view of the Tillamook State Forest from the edge of the trail. The trail is packed dirt and rock. The view is of trees of various shades of green, on hills and mountains in the distance. Grey clouds hang low in the sky.

After Dog Mountain, I decided to invest in trekking poles. Given my cranky and janky knees, they seemed like a good move, especially for steep descents. I bought the Wilderness Technology Carbon Tri-Fold Trekking Poles ($100). They’re kind of pricey, but they collapse down enough to fit in the side of my pack without falling out or hitting me in the leg or the head every other step.

Kelsey holds two trekking poles in her gloved hand. The poles are orange and black.

They’re fine. They do the job they’re supposed to do. I just…don’t like using trekking poles, turns out. You live and you learn. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

Overall, this was an okay hike. Not my favorite, and not my least favorite. I found it to be more mentally/psychologically challenging than physically challenging (I thought Dog Mountain was more physically challenging). To be fair, though, I might feel differently had we taken the correct trail, and/or if we finished the loop.

Would I attempt this one again? In drier and warmer weather, and with a hiker who’s had experience with this specific trail *and* other technical and exposed trails, probably.

Our stats: 12.0 miles, 2,929′ of elevation gain, 5h 26m.

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A few more details:

Permit: None required.

Fees: None.

Trailhead: There are multiple places to begin this hike. We started it at Elk Creek Campground.

Bathrooms: One porta potty at the second (larger/upper) trailhead lot, two vault toilets (non-flushing outhouse) at the campground.

Parking: Two lots, both just past the campground parking lot. The first/lower lot is on the right. Drive past it and you’ll drive into the larger/upper lot.

Cell service: Mostly none. I have Verizon and I lost service just past the Shell station on Route 6/Wilson River Highway. Heading west on 6, the Shell is on your left, just after a pond, which is also on the left. I had no service for most of the hike. I briefly regained service just before we reached the rope, and lost it again almost immediately.

Because of the lack of cell service, and the exposure and terrain, I suggest not hiking this one alone if you’re not an expert hiker, especially in inclement weather and/or with limited visibility.

Water source: If you take Elk Creek Trail and go counterclockwise, you’re parallel to the river for a bit in the beginning (and again at the end if you turn around and go back the way you came instead of finishing the loop). Probably best to bring your own.

Summit: There are two along this loop, and we missed them both! Oops! I imagine the views are amazing though, because the few we got at lower elevation along the way were.

Dogs: Lol, no? I wouldn’t call this one kid-friendly, either.

Hiking Angel’s Rest

The day after I hiked Dog Mountain (three entire weeks ago???? what is time?), I hiked Angel’s Rest. Angel’s Rest is another hike in the Gorge, on the Oregon side. It’s a short and easy trail—only 5-ish miles out and back, and just under 1,500 feet of elevation gain.

I'm seated on a large rock on the side of a hiking trail. My body is facing the camera. I'm looking over my right shoulder, at the view. Behind me: the Columbia River, tree-lined mountains in the distance, and a clear blue sky.

My original plan was to hike the 10-mile Angel’s Rest to Devil’s Rest Loop, but what had happened was, one of my heels began to blister shortly before the summit. Because this hike was so short, I didn’t wear liners or bring moleskin (dumb). I knew I was hiking again the next weekend and didn’t want my heel to be raw, so when I felt it blistering I decided to cut it short and just do the out-and-back. Look at me, adapting in the moment to the consequences of my own dumb decisions. That’s what we call ✨growth✨, bb.

The trail was pretty, and pretty straightforward. No obstacles or danger zones. Well-maintained and wide. The weather was great—clear and crisp—and because I started early (before 7 am), the trail was pretty empty.

A small waterfall surrounded by dense forest.

I met a fellow hiker a few minutes in, right before the waterfall (Coopey Falls). We offered to take photos of each other, and then finished the hike together—and then made plans to hike together the following weekend. A new fitness friend! Neat!

Shortly before you reach the actual summit, you hit a false summit. There’s plenty of space here to take photos, or eat a snack, or just take a break. And if you hike it early, it’ll (probably) be empty and you’ll (probably) have it all to yourself. I think that the false summit had a similar view as the actual summit, and made for a better photo.

I'm standing on talus (large rocks that you must traverse as part of the trail) at the false summit, facing the camera and smiling. Behind me: the Columbia River, and tree-lined mountains. The sky is clear and blue.

Ten-ish minutes past the false summit, you reach the actual summit and its 360-degree views. My hiking buddy and I almost missed it because we accidentally started on the trail to Devil’s Loop. OOPS. Thank god for AllTrails and its navigation feature. Truly.

Hint: As you leave the false summit, take the trail to the left (toward the river) to summit Angel’s Rest. The trail to the right leads you to the loop. Which: Take that too if you want, after you summit Angel’s Rest. Or not. I don’t know! I’m not the boss of you!

I'm standing at the summit of Angel's Rest with my back to the camera, looking out at the Columbia River and tree-lined mountains in the distance. The sky is clear and blue.

Overall, an okay hike. It wasn’t challenging, which I didn’t like. The views are stunning, which I did like. I’d do this one again, but I’d make it the loop, to add in some distance and, hopefully, some intensity and/or difficulty.

*

A few other details:

Permit: None required.

Parking: Two lots. I parked in the “lower” lot, pretty immediately off I-84 (if coming from Portland) and right across from the trailhead. I pulled in around 6:45 am and got the last of about ?????? 20-ish spots. There’s an “upper” lot just west of the trailhead, on the left. I didn’t park there or pass by it so I don’t know how big it is. Soz.

Fees: None.

Bathrooms: None. Probably a few spots to pee off-trail but, tbh, this was such a short and quick hike that I didn’t pay attention because I wasn’t worried about needing to pee.

Cell phone service: I have Verizon and I had service the whole hike.

Water source: If you want to slip-slide down to the waterfall and you have a filtering system, there’s water along the way. Probably just bring your own though.

Summit: Very pretty near-360-degree views (according to Gorge Friends dot com you get 270-degree views). Not crowded if you go early.

Dogs: Yes, must be leashed.

Hiking Dog Mountain

On Friday, May 20, I celebrated the release of Harry Styles’s new album, which he released that day, by taking the day off work and hiking Dog Mountain—and listening to the album on repeat for the entire 7-ish miles (I didn’t use GPS to track this hike and the mileage I’ve found online is inconsistent so—oops/oh well—I don’t know exactly how long I hiked, distance-wise). The album is all bops, no skips. Every track is my favorite. And now, every track can be your favorite too! YWFMS.

The hike is mostly bops, a few skips.

Dog Mountain is a very popular—and very (VERY) crowded—trail on the Washington side of the Gorge, about an hour from Portland. I’ve hiked popular trails. I have never in my life hiked a trail this crowded. Ever. And certainly not on a weekday morning. It was…not for me. I am not a social or leisurely hiker/person. Skip number one.

I got to the lot just before 9:00 am and it was already full. I got one of the last makeshift parking spots, fully in the treeline. Admittedly, 9:00 am isn’t that early. In fact, it’s the latest I’ve ever started a hike. Usually I’m well on my way back, sometimes even finished, by 9:00 am.

Still, I was surprised that it was so busy already on a weekday morning. Friday is almost the weekend, sure. But it’s not actually summer yet, and it was pretty windy and chilly the day I went. I really didn’t expect it to be quite as busy as it was. You live and you learn!

This 2017 blog post from Paul Gerald has a photo of the parking lot on a Friday at noon. Had I found his post before I did this hike, I would’ve adjusted my start time. You live and you learn—again!

A brown and green wooden sign marking a trailhead. It reads "DOG MOUNTAIN TRAIL. TOP OF MOUNTAIN 3.8 MI". There are tall green trees and a bright blue sky in the background. On the right of the photo, a dirt trail leads into the forest.

Originally, I’d planned to hike this trail the following day, Saturday. On Thursday I found out that you need a permit to hike Dog Mountain on the weekend during peak wildflower bloom, which is…now. Permits are limited (200 per weekend day), each hiker needs their own permit ($1 each), and all the permits for that weekend were already gone. So Friday it was.

There are three basic ways to summit Dog Mountain. A western route, a central route, and an eastern route. The map below is taken from NW Hiker’s Dog Mountain page. I did a mash-up of the central and eastern routes, which are listed on AllTrails as, respectively, Dog Mountain Trail loop and Dog Mountain out-and-back.

A topographic map annotated with the three main routes to hike Dog Mountain.
Source

I started at the Dog Mountain trailhead, went right at the choose-your-own-adventure “difficult/more difficult” junction (a little more than two miles in), took a left at Puppy Dog Lookout, kept going straight up to the summit, then accidentally started on the western route (Augspurger Mountain Trail on AllTrails) on my way back down. Which: extremely on brand. I realized my mistake about 10 minutes in, and turned around and got my ass back on track.

The Augspurger trail would’ve taken me back to the parking lot. I just wasn’t prepared/hadn’t planned to hike it. So I didn’t.

A small wooden sign is nailed to a tree in the forest at a point of divergence in the path. The sign reads "DOG MT. DIFFICULT [arrow points to the right] MORE DIFFICULT [arrow points to the left]". Tall trees stretch upward. The blue sky is visible in patches through the canopy of the trees.

This hike is all lungs and legs. It’s like being on an Assault or Echo bike—for centuries, and under load. The ascent is immediate and relentless, which means it’s also a steep descent. I thought it was easier to run down much of the trail on my way back than it was to try to walk/hike it.

I tried to get a photo or video that captured the steepness of the canopy-covered part of the trail. My iPhone camera simply doesn’t do it justice. Please accept this photo of these cute lil blooming wildflowers instead.

Small purple and white wildflowers in tall green grass on a hillside. The forest is visible in the background.

The trail is completely covered by tree canopy for the first 2.3-ish miles. Once you hit the hills of wildflowers (you’ll know), you lose cover and the trail narrows the rest of the way to the summit. This is also where the best views begin.

Yellow and purple wildflowers on a hill. The dirt hiking path is on the right, and tall trees are in the distance.

Before you hit the wildflowers, most of the trail looks like this, except way steeper:

A dirt hiking path cuts through the forest. Tall trees and shorter plants line both sides of the path. Patches of the partly cloudy sky are visible through the canopy of the trees.

You hit Puppy Dog Lookout pretty quickly after emerging from the forest. The views here are amazing, and there’s space to pose for photos, eat a snack, or sit down and chill out for a bit.

I'm standing on a steep portion of the dirt trail, looking to my left and smiling. To my left is a hillside covered in yellow and purple wildflowers. Tree-covered mountains are in the distance. The sky is bright blue and partly cloudy.

I didn’t take any photos of/at Puppy Dog Lookout. I did take photos just before and after though. For reference, the lookout is where the trail fades from view in the photo above and the one below. The photo above was taken before I hit the lookout. The photo below was taken after I passed it and was on my way to the summit.

Views of the Columbia River and the Oregon side of the Gorge from halfway between Puppy Dog Lookout and the summit of Dog Mountain. The narrow dirt path is on the left in the photo, a steep hillside, covered in grass and, lower, fir trees, is to the right. The Columbia River and the Oregon side of the Gorge are in the distance. The sky is bright blue and partly cloudy.

The rest of the way to the summit is steep and narrow, but relatively straightforward. There are a few sections with *some* loose rocks, but I personally didn’t think it was technical or rugged.

View toward the summit of Dog Mountain from halfway between Puppy Dog Lookout and the summit. The steep and narrow trail is partially rocky, and on the right on the photo. To the left is a steep hillside, covered in grass and purple and yellow wildflowers. Views of the Gorge are in the distance. The sky is blue and partly cloudy.

The next two photos were taken about midway between Puppy Dog Lookout and the summit. I think this stretch of the trail had the best views, and I was kind of underwhelmed when I reached the summit. Not that it wasn’t a great view. It was. It just wasn’t much different from the view at the lookout, or anywhere along the trail between the lookout and the summit.

Also, it wasn’t a great vibe (for me). There were A TON of people at the summit. It felt crowded and busy, it was loud, and there were a couple of people—I shit you not—smoking cigarettes. Which: free country, sure. But also: read the room? Skip number two.

View from halfway between Puppy Dog Lookout and the summit of Dog Mountain. In the background, the Columbia River and tree-lined mountains of the Oregon side of the Gorge. In the foreground, a peek of the hillside, the upper portion covered in grass and yellow wildflowers, the lower portion covered in fir trees.
View from halfway between Puppy Dog Lookout and the summit of Dog Mountain. In the background, the Columbia River and tree-lined mountains of the Oregon side of the Gorge. In the foreground, forested area of the Washington side of the Gorge.

One more gripe: Several people hiking this extremely crowded trail with large and/or high-energy dogs that were not leashed, despite it being clearly posted that dogs must be leashed. Skip number three.

Overall, a good hike. My total time was 2 hours, 58 minutes. That includes several stops to take in the view and take photos, 10-ish minutes of hanging out at the summit, and a solid 20 minutes of accidentally taking Augspurger Mountain Trail back and then turning around and making my way back to the trail I meant to be on: Dog Mountain Trail.

I would do this one again with two changes—start early in the morning on an earlier-in-the-week weekday, and take the “more difficult” trail up and Augspurger trail down.

A view of the Columbia River and tree-covered mountains on the Oregon side of the Gorge, framed by tall trees in the foreground. The sky is bright blue with some clouds.

I recommend this hike with caveats:

  • If you’re not a social person/hiker, this might not be the trail for you, especially on a weekend day. If you hike it on the weekend, start early. If you have the flexibility in your schedule, avoid hiking it on a weekend day—try it early or mid-week, and start early. Like, well before 9:00 am.
  • If you have cranky and/or janky knees, this might not be the trail for you. Trekking poles might help. Lots of people were using them, and seemed to find them helpful.
  • If cardio isn’t your jam, this might not be the trail for you. If you choose to try it, factor in extra time for rest and water breaks, bring electrolytes and snacks, and carb up the night before and morning of.

And fucking please, people: If you’re hiking with your dog—especially a large and/or high-energy one, especially when hiking a very crowded trail, especially when hiking a trail that explicitly states dogs must be kept on leashes—keep them on a leash.

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A few more details, for those who are interested:

Permit: Required on weekends during peak wildflower bloom. Reserve online. $1 each, nonrefundable.

Parking: Gravel lot. There are a lot of marked parking spaces—far more than I’ve ever seen at a hiking trailhead, but nowhere near enough to hold 200 vehicles on the weekend. (Not that everyone who hikes this trail drives alone or hikes at the same time. I trust you get what I mean.)

There’s an overflow parking area just west of the main lot. If you’re coming from Portland, this overflow parking area is just before the main lot. It might be marked, but I don’t recall seeing any signs for it on my way in. I only noticed it on my way out because a small clusterfuck of vehicles were crammed in there.

If you’re hiking on the weekend, consider taking the Columbia Area Transit shuttle. Find that schedule here.

Fees: If you drive, $5 day-use recreation fee per vehicle. Cash. Seal your cash in the paper envelope, tear off the piece that goes on your dash (and put it on your dash), and deposit the sealed envelope in the secure box at the trailhead. If the box is full, put your sealed envelope on the top of the box, find a heavy rock, and put the rock on top of your envelope. That’s what everyone did the morning I was there. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

If your directions take you over the Bridge of the Gods in Cascade Locks, you’ll need $2 toll each direction (cash or card), or $1.25 if you have a BreezeBy pass.

So: Up to $9 per vehicle if you drive. Plus $1 per permit if you hike on a weekend during peak wildflower season.

Bathrooms: There are two vault toilets at the trailhead, about 100 yards from the parking lot. Neither had toilet paper the morning I was there. Bring your own. Just in case.

There are some places along the covered part of the trail that you can pull off to pee, but there are SO MANY people on this trail that you don’t really have many options that afford any privacy. Especially if you’re someone who needs to pull their pants all the way down and crouch/squat to pee.

Once you hit the wildflowers (you’ll know) there’s nowhere to pee with privacy for the rest of the ascent.

There’s some overgrowth (or whatever??? I don’t know all the correct hiking terms yet, OKAY?) at the summit that you can probably sneak off to, to pee. Maybe give a quick shout to see if anyone else is back there first though.

Cell phone service: I have Verizon and had enough service on this trail to receive a couple texts while I was hiking. There are so many people on this trail, though, that if something went wrong and you needed help and your phone didn’t have service (or was dead (or you forgot it in your car (or you don’t own one (or whatever)))), you’re not totally shit out of luck.

Water source: None. Bring your own.

Summit: Crowded. Noisy. Windy. Cold. Gorgeous. Beautiful. Stunning.