Hike of the Month: Catherine Creek Arch Loop

white flowers bloom along a slope with a river and mountains in the background under stormy spring skies

Large-flowered triteleia sway in the wind. | Photo by PDXtoday staff

Springtime is showtime in the Columbia River Gorge for one big reason — wildflowers. The best way to see the blooms is by foot along one of the area’s many hiking trails — but you’ll want to plan ahead before making the drive. Allow us to present one of our fav candidates for consideration: Catherine Creek Loop Trail.

Quick facts

  • Starting point: Catherine Creek Recreation Area
  • Difficulty: Easy
  • Distance: 1.9 miles
  • Route type: Loop
  • Elevation gain: 383 ft
  • Trail surface: Dirt, rocks, bridges
  • Wheelchair accessible: Only on the paved south loop
  • Open: Year round
  • Dog friendly: Yes, on leash
pink-tufted flowers bloom en mass in a meadow as the sun sets

Seablush provides a spring nectar source for native bees + butterflies. | Photo by PDXtoday staff

Brief overview

After parking in a small pull out area at the trailhead, you’ll walk a few hundred feet to a split, where you can choose to take the trail clockwise or counterclockwise. You’ll cross bridges spanning seasonal streams, crest bluffs with sweeping views of the Gorge + pass through a canyon with a natural rock arch.

The land was a ranch before the US Forest Service acquired it in 1987 to protect its scenic, cultural, natural + recreational resources. Parts of the original path are still being decommissioned and rerouted, so staying on the right trail can be tricky without a map or GPS.

purple-blue lupine flowers grow on long vertical stalks

When a bumblebee lands on a Columbia Gorge lupine flower, its weight pushes down the fused lower petals, exposing nectar. | Photo by PDXtoday staff

Why you should try it

Over 90 native species of wildflowers grow here, having adapted to the thin, dry soils created by Ice Age-era floods and seasonal wetlands. Some start blooming in February, while others prefer to sleep in + wait until June and July — you can time your visit depending on what flowers you hope to spot.

On a late April evening, we saw lupine, balsamroot, pungent desert parsley, camas, saskatoon, death camas, triteleia, larkspur, fiddleneck, and even a few plucky bitterroot blooms. Parts of the trail wind past swaths of seablush with powder-pink puffs. We also spotted a pair of mountain bluebirds + Lewis’ woodpeckers.

large yellow sunflower-like flowers bloom in a protected grove

Some people say balsamroot flowers smell like chocolate. | Photo by PDXtoday staff

Pro tips

You can avoid paying the toll at the Bridge of the Gods by driving north to Vancouver, then following SR-14 east. Download an app with satellite maps like AllTrails to keep from wandering off on the main path. If you bring your dog, be sure to keep it on a leash + check for ticks afterward. We had the trail almost to ourselves on a stormy evening mid-week.

Let us know

Did you try this hike? Do you know of one we should check out? Send us your thoughts + recommendations.

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