Friday, August 6, 2021

A Pacific Crest Trail Day Hike: Herman Creek Pinnacles

At some hazy point in history, a landslide dragged some pieces of the Columbia River Gorge's famous cliffs downhill and left them sitting nearly upright on a hillside below. The resulting odd formations now lie beside the PCT above Cascade Locks. The Pinnacles may be easily visited on a day hike of about seven-and-a-half miles round trip, including a side path to Dry Creek Falls, which isn't dry but does fall.

During the hike to Herman Creek Pinnacles, you will see unique rock formations, imposing basalt cliffs, a variety of wildflowers, two waterfalls, and a great deal of poison oak. One thing you will NOT see, however, is Herman Creek, which runs somewhat east of this route. Carry water and wear sturdy boots; the trail is a bit rocky in places and climbs fairly steadily, though never steeply.

The usual starting point for this hike is the Bridge of the Gods Trailhead in Cascade Locks. To find the trailhead, drive as if you were going to cross over into Washington and look for a modest parking lot just before the bridge. This is a popular spot, and you may have to arrive early in the day to find a parking place or else leave your car in Cascade Locks and walk over. A Northwest Forest Pass is required at the parking lot.

Cross the road and begin walking on the PCT. When you come to a street, turn right under the overpass and walk to a small parking area. From here take the trail on the left, which is marked as the PCT (the trail on the right is the Gorge Trail).

You will soon see traces of the 2017 Eagle Creek Fire; this massively destructive conflagration appears to have hurried through here, merely scorching tree trunks and wiping out the undergrowth. Unlike many nearby areas, this part of the forest remains lush and alive despite its scars. Wildflowers flourish alongside bigleaf and vine maple saplings; the understory seems eager to refill the void. The trail travels in the shade of tall, resilient Douglas firs as it gradually climbs. After about a mile, turn right to briefly walk on a powerline access road and rejoin the trail where it re-enters the forest. This is a beautiful, rugged area of steep slopes and rock falls. Listen for the squeak-toy cry of pikas as you approach the rocky stretches; these chubby little mammals live in rock crevices, munching on vegetation and making hay to store for winter.

Cross the footbridge over Dry Creek (more on that later) at about two miles in. Continue on the PCT over gently rolling terrain. Watch for a view of the Columbia River and Stevenson, Washington with Table Mountain and Greenleaf Peak standing nearby. A bit further on you will see a small creekbed; watch on your right in this area to see the impressive basalt cliffs that make up the edge of the Benson Plateau. Continue until the Pinnacles come into view. A short side trail explores the three largest outcroppings, and a bit of scrambling offers outstanding views of the gorge, as well. Looking up at the nearby cliffs, it's easy to see where the Pinnacles came from. Continue briefly on the PCT to find several smaller formations tucked into the woods. Then walk for a few more minutes to see Pacific Crest Falls, where a slender creek spouts through a slit in a sheer rock face, then tumbles in a long cascade on its way to find the Columbia.

Turn back here and retrace your steps, watching for views and wildflowers you may have missed on your way up. When you recross Dry Creek on the footbridge, leave the trail and turn left on an old roadbed. Walk along near the lovely little creek, which is anything but dry, to find a 74-foot waterfall in a basalt amphitheater. Here in this lush, beautiful place you will find a clue to the creek's baffling name: at the base of the falls stand the remains of an old waterworks. In the 1930s, when Bonneville Dam was being built, this creek was rerouted to provide water for the town of Cascade Locks. Part of the long-disused structure is now a convenient bridge over the creek for those wishing to photograph the falls (or stand underneath).

Return to the PCT and walk back to your car, perhaps taking time to explore the 1,856-foot-long steel cantilever Bridge of the Gods. Back in town, if you need an excuse to indulge in a generous cone of extra-creamy soft serve, stop by our favorite drive-in (look for the line out front) and relax after your hike. Maybe we'll see you there!

Distant mountains visible on the Washington side

Not Herman Creek. Bridge over Dry Creek.

Look for views and listen for pikas along this stretch of trail

Table Mountain and Stevenson, Washington
Not Herman Creek. This one's unnamed. Feel free to name it.
First view of the pinnacles

The pinnacles and Benson Plateau
Small pinnacle on the far side of a nearby rocky hill. Please exercise caution if you climb
the hill, as the rocks are steep and loose. This photographer didn't make it to the top. No
one is questioning your bravery. People love you.
Small pinnacles along the PCT
Not Herman Creek. Pacific Crest Falls.
Near the falls
Inside Out Flower and a candid ant
Back over the Dry Creek Bridge

Old roadbed near the falls

Dry Creek. Not to the falls yet. Still not Herman Creek.

Dry Creek Falls and old waterworks