Natural Bridges of Gifford Pinchot National Forest
An easy day trip from Portland is a visit to the natural bridges of Trout Lake Valley in the Gifford Pinchot National Forest. Natural bridges were created when tubes of lava from ancient volcanic eruptions created tunnels. The ceilings of those tunnels have long since collapsed, leaving gulleys partially filled with volcanic rock. A few sections of the roof still remain, forming natural bridges across the gulley. At this trailhead, there is an easy hike with little-to-no elevation change circling one of these gulleys. You can still cross the natural bridge in places.
The trail is easy – but not even. There are rocks and roots sticking up that would be an issue for people with mobility issues. The hike is an easy 1.5 mile loop with beautiful scenery, wildflowers, and fascinating geologic history, but you do not have to do the full loop. There are no sign posts with information – you need to read the history on the Forest Service’s website before arriving to fully appreciate what you are looking at. No Discovery Pass is required. There are no restrooms and no benches. It is considered a “Point of Interest” and not a park. It is a paved road up to the point of entry into the parking area. To get there from Camas, it takes about 1.5 hours.
On your way, stop at the Cape Horn Lookout to get a grand view of the Columbia River Gorge.
If there is a bit of wind out, you will probably see windsurfers and kite board surfers out on the Columbia River – especially around the Hood River area.
Once you reach the Trout Lake Valley area, you will come across terrific views of both Mt. Hood and Mt. Adams. Often overlooked with its big sisters Mt. St. Helens and Mt. Hood nearby, Mt. Adams is spectacular in its own right and at 12,280 feet, is actually taller than Mt. Hood by about 1,000 feet.
The trail around the Natural Bridges area follows the edges of the collapsed lava tubes. There are a couple of places you can climb down to go under the bridges if you choose. Some have collapsed to form more of a small cave. A flashlight would be helpful if you want to explore the small cave.
The collapsed walls and roof of the lava tubes line the “gulley” with volcanic rock, despite Mother Nature’s attempts to reclaim the site.
How to get there
From Portland, cross the Columbia River into Washington and get on SR14 Eastbound towards Camas. Stay on SR 14 about 50 miles, passing by Bonneville Dam, Stevenson, and Drano Lake until you see signs for Hwy 141 Alternate. Head North. Once in Trout Lake, the road splits – follow signs to the left. Take Hwy 141 for four miles past the Mt. Adams Ranger Station to the end of Hwy 141. Continue west on the paved forest service road #24 . Turn left on Forest Road #041 and go half a mile. Turn right into the parking area.
Along the way you will pass Guler Ice Caves just off the road. It is worth a quick stop if only to feel the cold air coming from the top of the steps that take you down into the caves. You will want a flashlight if you want to adventure there. On your way home, stop by the bridge in Husum and watch white water rafters coming down the White Salmon River.
Click for detailed Forest Service Information
Options for eating on the trip include picnic tables at the nearby Ice Caves picnic area. There is a sit down restaurant in Trout Lake and Husom, several options for restaurants in Stevenson, or further down the SR14 at Skamania Lodge.