Monday, April 18, 2016

Water and Wildflowers: Hiking to Triple Falls

Ponytail Falls
Horsetail Falls
It must be spring in the Columbia River Gorge; the Multnomah Falls exit is frequently closed now due to the parking lot being filled to capacity. The classic waterfall is certainly a must-see, and its surrounding hikes are beautiful, but the Gorge has much more to offer. This wide, rocky slot through the Cascade Mountains drains high, snowy slopes through countless waterways, from large torrents to tiny trickles. Hikes here can be as short as a few steps from the car or as long as dozens of miles. A wide network of interconnecting trails makes hikes of any length easy to plan.

Ponytail Falls
The trail from Horsetail Falls to Triple Falls is just a little over two miles one way, but it is a true Gorge hike, complete with wildflowers, ferns, basalt cliffs, and amazing views. This hike makes an excellent spring warm-up and it is highly recommended for families. Small children will need to be closely watched, of course, and they will doubtless want to be carried in the steeper parts, but this moderate hike is a perfect introduction to the Gorge.

Park as close as you can to Horsetail Falls, which is right next to the old Scenic Highway, or head out I-84 to Exit 35 (Ainsworth) and go west about two miles on the old highway. From the falls head up Trail # 438, climbing gradually through lush western Oregon forest. Watch along the trail for a wide variety of wildflowers. Note the jumbled rocky slopes which make excellent habitat for pikas; you will probably never see one, but you may hear their squeak-toy calls. Fairly soon you will come upon Ponytail Falls, which plummets over a basalt cliff and over the trail, as well. The cavern behind the falls is a delightfully cool haven on a warm spring day.

Triple Falls
Continuing along the trail, you will find yourself close to the edge of the Gorge walls. Watch for small side trails to find beautiful views over the Columbia River; be careful, though, and don't get too close to the edge. Keep children and pets well in hand. Soon you will reach a footbridge over Oneonta Gorge (at this writing, the bridge is restricted to one hiker at a time, so be patient). This verdant canyon is a good place to turn around if you have weary children; the next falls is almost a mile further, but well worth the effort.

After crossing the footbridge, turn left on Trail 424 and begin climbing toward Triple Falls. The trail is rocky in places, but never obscure or precarious. This part of the trail is tucked into a fold of the gorge wall, far from the freeway and its noise. You will hear Triple Falls before you come upon the three streams of water pouring into the pool far below. This is the perfect spot for a long picnic and photo session.

From here, you may return the way you came for more photos of the falls, or continue on 424 and eventually drop down to the old highway. The latter route provides additional views over the gorge, but you will have to walk a bit on the Scenic Highway to get back to your car.

While this hike is short enough for a stop along the way to somewhere else, it is a worthwhile destination on its own. Few trails offer so many waterfalls and views over so manageable a distance. Take a couple of hours to experience the gorge. Bring your camera.

Historic railing along the Scenic Highway

Oneonta Gorge

Top of Triple Falls
Historic tunnel near Horsetail Falls
The following are a few examples of the many species of wildflowers blooming in the Columbia Gorge this time of year. We start with Solomon's Seal.
Fringe Cups
Woodland Star
Chickweed Monkeyflower
Calypso Orchid

Wild Ginger. Look for wide, heart-shaped leaves close to the ground. Gently lift them to see these small but elegant purple flowers.

Friday, April 8, 2016

Honeyman's Dunes and Lakes

Lying south of Florence on the central Oregon coast, Honeyman State Park is a beautiful forested area bounded by rolling dunes and graced with two freshwater lakes. This is a great vacation destination, offering something for every member of the family.

Driving into the park, you will be immediately confronted with a small, simple boat ramp into Cleawox Lake. This is a perfect spot to launch kayaks, canoes, and rowboats. While motorboats aren't prohibited here, they are uncommon, possibly due to the uneven lake bottom and many snags. This part of the lake is bounded by dunes to the south and forest to the north. It is frequently stocked with rainbow trout, and two small eastern arms are home to largemouth bass. When you have finished exploring this wide, windy part of the lake, look for a small channel next to a private wooden dock. Paddle through this narrow slot and you will find the rest of the lake. Somewhat sheltered by dunes, this long, thin arm is a wonderful spot for birdwatching; on my last trip, I watched an osprey fighting with a bald eagle for quite some time. I don't know what the squabble was about, but the comparatively small osprey seemed to be winning. Perhaps they were arguing over fishing rights; this part of the lake is known for its bass and panfish, so be sure to check it out if you brought your pole.

Back on the park road, a right turn near the boat ramp leads to a day use area with a single-story lodge built in the 1930s by the CCC. The lodge is closed for most of the year, but from Memorial Day through Labor Day it is open to the public and kayaks and canoes are offered for rent. The small swimming beach is available year-round, though, and picnic tables are liberally scattered among the trees. Be aware that, while dogs are welcome in the park, they are not allowed on the swimming beach.

Take a left at that same intersection to find another day-use area. This one has a large, accessible fishing dock, as well as restrooms and a short path to the dunes that tumble into Cleawox Lake. This is a great spot to learn sandboarding; in fact, the park rents boards during the summer season. If the park's rentals aren't available, boards are available from several retailers along Highway 101.

From here the park road leads to the campground, passing tiny Lily Lake, a pretty but snag-filled pond. Honeyman Campground is a full-service state campground, with RV and tent sites, yurts, showers, a playground, an amphitheater, and an RV dump. There is also a nice, private hiker-biker camp. The Welcome Center is staffed with friendly and knowledgeable volunteers who will even serve you coffee or tea. Look for a trail into the dunes near the Center if you would like to get a taste of dune hiking. Honeyman can fill up quickly in the summer months, but sites are often available even on the weekends during the rest of the year. Campers can use either of the day-use areas without charge, while day-trippers pay a $5 parking fee.

For direct ATV access to the dunes, be sure to reserve a site in the popular "H" Loop. The gate here is only available to campers in that loop; ATV riders camping elsewhere in the park must trailer their rides to the South Jetty or Siltcoos areas. The dune gate will be closed for the summer season after April 30, but pedestrians can still use it to access the dunes. If you don't have an ATV but would like to try exploring the dunes by motor, there are several rental businesses along Highway 101 that will gladly outfit you for an adventure.

One of the many views from the Woahink hiking trail.
Look near the campground's amphitheater for a wide, paved path leading through the woods. This trail leads over Highway 101 toward beautiful Woahink Lake, 800 acres of deep, clear water. The paved trail ends at a group camping center with nearby lake access. Along the way, watch for a small trail near the maintenance office. This is a real hiking trail, scattered with roots, springy underfoot, and winding along the lakeshore. Birds do their best to drown out the highway sounds and the air smells of forest and ocean. This trail is popular with mountain bikers looking for a bit of singletrack. The trail ends in a loop on a scantily-treed hilltop; bikers will enjoy the climb, but hikers may want to turn back where the loop begins.

The north end of Woahink Lake is easily accessed from Canary Road, directly across 101 from the Honeyman entrance. There is plenty of roadside parking, including a spot near a tiny boat ramp. Drive a little further to find a lovely park on the right. This park is free and offers a paved boat ramp with dock, a swimming beach, and picnicking. Motorboats are easily launched here, and there is plenty of trailer parking. Paddlers can savor a peaceful morning exploring the lake's northern arms, and sailors will enjoy the brisk afternoon breezes.

Our family has taken several coastal trips with the intention of covering most of the coast, only to end up staying around Honeyman the whole time. There is just so much to do, the area is so pretty, and the people are so friendly. It's a perfect spring destination.

Arm of Woahink

Arm of Cleawox