Water, water everywhere but not for me

On a hot Saturday afternoon, my family and I went for a hike at the Lewis River with the payoff of a gorgeous waterfall and a beautiful blue swimming hole. Negatives to this hike are the descent to the swimming hole and on that day, the crowds.

Lower Falls Trail

Rating: Easy if you just want to view the falls; tougher to difficult to get to the swimming hole

Panting stops: 0 (but I did not go down the last bit to the water)

Distance: 3 miles out and back

Elevation changes: 659 feet

The path to lower falls, briefly without people

From the parking lot, the well-travelled path ascends gently before heading down to the river and the falls. The view of the waterfall is impressive, and the swimming hole just below it looks lovely on a hot day. The swimming hole has stone ledges immersed in a couple of inches of water, allowing those who don’t want to swim to enjoy the water.

Lower Falls

To get to the swimming hole, hike further down the path, where you will find a couple of descents to the river. However, I found that the climb down a cliff to get to the swimming hole was too steep. I was mostly worried about getting back up, so I did not try to go down. Instead, my niece and I walked further down the trail and eventually found access to the water down just a slight slope. It was well below the swimming hole, however, with no good way to get back up to it. The water was shallow there and rocky, so bring your swimming shoes.

Also, on that particular day, it was crammed with people, which we found surprising for such a remote area. You had to wait in line to go down to the water, and people were trying to climb up and down at the same narrow spot. It’s steep enough that the climb up involves using tree roots as a ladder. When we left, more people were arriving with rolling coolers, boom boxes, and umbrellas. So, not a quiet retreat from everyday cares. We actually encountered a traffic jam in this remote area when we were leaving.

Later: We found out after we returned home that this particular falls had been featured on the cover of a Portland magazine and in an article about alternatives to the Gorge, since many trails there are closed because of fires and damage from last year’s fires.

How to get there

Gifford Pinchot National Forest, Mount Adams Ranger District

From Vancouver

Take Washington 503 north past Cougar. It becomes Lewis River Road and then NF-90. A mile or so before you get to the falls, you will encounter a wash where some cars were getting stuck on their way out. You will turn right off NF-90 into the Lower Falls Recreation Area. After that, you’ll see the entrance to the parking area on your right. On the day we were there, the parking lot was full and people were parked way down the road. We were lucky enough to get a spot in the lot anyway.

Parking and facilities

There is a large parking area by the falls. Nearby there is also a campground. There are also a pit restroom and some picnic tables at the trailhead.






Stroll out to a waterfall

The Lewis River Trail runs 5.9 miles along the Lewis River. At this point, I don’t have the stamina or strength to hike the whole thing, but it provides opportunities for quite a few gorgeous shorter hikes. Curly Creek Falls trail is an example. My family, including me and two children, hiked this trail on a hot summer day, but it was leafy and cool.

Curly Creek Falls Trail

Rating: easy peasy

Panting stops: 0

Length: 0.8 miles out and back

Elevation changes: 141 feet

The path to Curly Creek Falls. The only people we saw that morning were my family.

We parked in a small lot before a bridge that looked like it was usually used by people fishing and walked across the footbridge to find the trail head on the left side, a continuation of Lewis River 31 that was on the other side of the road. The trail was in good shape, and it runs right along the river, affording some lovely views.

The payoff is the falls, which at that time of year are delicate looking but long. They are fairly far in the distance and were not that spectacular compared to some of the other falls in the area (you can barely see them in my photo), but earlier in the year, they are probably much more impressive, falling as they do through a stone arch. In any case, this hike provides a bit of exercise and a pleasant walk on a well-kept trail.

How to get there

Gifford Pinchot National Forest near Stevenson, Washington

From Portland or Vancouver

Curly Creek Falls. On this day, the falls were very light. You can see them faintly in the dark spot on the right.

Take Washington 503 north past Cougar. It becomes Lewis River Road and then NF-90. Turn left on Lava Canyon Road, which is also NF-83. Turn left on NF-9039. Look for a small parking lot just before the bridge.

Park at the lot and take the footbridge across the creek. The trail head is on your left. Across the road is the trail head for Lewis River 31.

A short jaunt way back into history

The boardwalk through the newer forest of old growth trees. That’s my brother.

I actually took four hikes with my family on Saturday while my brother was visiting from Madison, Wisconsin. Here is the first one, not really a hike in distance but really interesting. It takes you into two forests. One forest is old growth fir and cedar, and the other is a young forest that was engulfed by lava over two thousand years ago from an eruption by Mt. St. Helens.

On this hike, you must stay on the trail, because the mosses and landscape are fragile.

Here is one of the holes left in the rock by a disintegrated tree trunk.

Trail of Two Forests

Rating: Easy peasy

Panting stops: 0

Length: 0.4 miles

Elevation changes: 19 feet

There probably isn’t an easier little walk you could take than this one, but it takes you through some impressive sights. Particularly impressive is the remnants of the ancient forest. Around 2000 years ago, lava engulfed the area, turning the trees to charcoal. As the years went by, the charcoal disintegrated, leaving perfect circles in the rock where the trees stood.

My great niece and nephew emerging from the tunnel

The walk is on a boardwalk surface, raised to keep feet off of delicate mosses and a ground riddled with unexpected holes.

Bring your flashlights, because a fun feature for kids is a tunnel created when two fallen trees that crossed each other were engulfed in lava. The kids can climb down a ladder to crawl into it and come out a little farther down the boardwalk. The insides of the tunnels have the texture of the old tree bark. This tunnel is for hands and knees, so keep that in mind if you want to try it.

How to get there

Gifford Pinchot National Forest, near Stevenson, Washington

From Portland or Vancouver

Take Washington 503 north past Cougar. It becomes Lewis River Road and then NF-90. Turn left on Lava Canyon Road, which is also NF-83. At that point, you should see a sign for the Trail of Two Forests. Take another left on Cinnamon Peak Road or NF-8303. Again, there should be another sign. The trail head is almost immediately on your left after that turn.

Parking and Facilities

There is a parking lot for about 10 or 15 cars. When we were there, a day when some of the forest recreational areas were packed with people, we were completely alone on the trail. There is a little restroom facility at the trail head.

Urban grit or lost: a hike unfinished

On Sunday, my friend Deb and I attempted to do a hike in Oregon City. I say attempted, because we couldn’t actually find the location for part of the hike. It’s hard to know how to break this one down as a result. I think I’ll start with a general description of our experience and then describe the hike as I normally would.

The top of the elevator from the promenade

We wanted to hike the McLoughlin Promenade in Oregon City. The first part of the hike, as described in an article on Oregon Live, is easy to find and easy to do. It begins with the city’s famous elevator, and then there are two directions in which you can go. Our mistake was in not bringing along the article, which we had in the car, and forgetting that it included directions for that part of the hike.

The hike begins in a lovely walk above the downtown, where you have views of the Willamette River, the Willamette Falls, and an interesting old area of factories perched above the river. It’s when you go down that the urban grit comes in and we got lost. We were unable to find the part of the hike that goes to Canemah Park. We went back, got our car, and tried to drive there, but we saw no sign of access to the park except for areas where we couldn’t park. We even asked a resident, who had no idea what we were talking about. If we had taken the article along with us on the walk, we might have found it, but there seems to be no access to the park for a car. We also missed the waterfalls, because we ran out of time looking for the park. Hint: whatever you do, don’t try to find the park using the Heritage Trail brochure, available at the elevator.

There are also several ways to do this hike, only a few of which we took, which makes it more difficult to describe.

McLoughlin Promenade

Rating: Easy if you just go down the stairs and don’t have mobility issues (or you can stop at the stairs), Moderate if you decide to go back up the stairs instead of taking the elevator

Panting stops: 0 if you take the elevator up; otherwise, 1. Panting Dog from AnimateIt.net

Length: 1.3 miles if you go as far as the pullout viewpoint of the falls; 2.5 miles if you can find the park and take the hike in both directions from the elevator

Elevation changes: 190 feet down the stairs; I don’t know about parts of the hikes we didn’t do.

You can park in downtown Oregon City and go up the elevator or do what we did, park near the elevator and take it back up at the end of the hike.

The hike we took

A view of the river from the promenade. You can see the quality of the path and get an idea of the scenery from up above

From the elevator, we turned right and walked along the promenade above the city to the southwest. From there, you can see a bit of the city but mostly the river and the Willamette Falls. At the falls, there is a collection of disused factories and docks that the city plans to make its centerpiece in years to come. The walk is pleasant. Even though it was hot, there was plenty of shade, and people came along the path with strollers. The path is paved and lined with a stone parapet built by the WPA in 1937.

The Willamette Falls from above

At the end of the upper part of the promenade you get a beautiful view of the Willamette Falls. At that point, you will see an old green metal stairway going down to the lower level. Take that stairway down. Here’s where the urban grit comes in. You will be walking alongside a busy highway (Hwy 99). When we were there, construction was going on. The sidewalk is right against the highway with no buffer, so just beware that there is lots of traffic.

When we got to the turnout, we saw another nice view of the falls, but we couldn’t figure out where to go from there to get to the park. We spent so much time after that trying to find the park that we didn’t see the other end of the promenade with the waterfalls.

The downtown area from next to the elevator with a view of the bridge over the Willamette

To get back you can return on the staircase or walk up the ramp to a pedestrian tunnel that goes above the traffic tunnel. This is a little creepy. The tunnel takes you out at the back of a parking lot. If you walk along the backs of the parking lots and around a corner, you can take the elevator back up. It might be more fun to explore the streets of the downtown area before going back, as it looks like a vibrant, interesting downtown with lots of shops and restaurants.

The hikes we didn’t take

South beyond the viewpoint: If you take the hike as described down the staircase ending with the viewpoint, cross the street at the viewpoint. I will warn you that at the time we went, a Sunday afternoon, this would have been difficult to do without being killed. There is no crosswalk, and there was construction. Walk down the highway until you see a power station on your left. Enter the parking lot and go to the back of the fenced-in station. There should be a path that takes you through a small field to the Old Canemah Park.

North to the left of the elevator: I’m now disappointed we didn’t go that way, because if we had, we would have gone down a set of concrete steps, followed a fence down the hill, and ended at a waterfall along Singer Creek and the Dr. John McLoughlin House. I can’t say anything about this end of the path, as we didn’t go this way.

How to get there

From Portland, take I-205 South. Take Exit 9 and turn left onto McLoughlin Boulevard. Turn left on 10th Street. Go up Sugar Hill and turn left onto 7th Street. The elevator is at the end of 7th Street, if you want to start at the bottom.

If you want to start at the top like we did, 7th Street veers right onto Mollala Avenue. That takes you to the elevator at the top.


You can park in one of several parking lots near the elevator, on the streets downtown, or in a very small parking lot at the top of the elevator.

Never trust the ranger

I have said this before and I said it a few weeks ago when I was panting on a path in Beacon Rock State Park figuring out that I wasn’t having any fun (although the views were beautiful). Never trust the ranger or the guide book when you want to know how easy a hike is. Guides are written by people who are in good shape and hike regularly. But what if, like me, you would like to enjoy the outdoors and get into better shape but just aren’t right now? I’ve been told a hike was easy and ended up feeling as if they were going to have to fly me out with a helicopter.

So, I decided to do something about it, and what I am doing is publishing this site, a guide for beginning hikers or people who are just out of shape for hiking in Southern Washington and Northern Oregon.

And here’s my rating system:

Easy peasy: this hike is mostly flat and footing is not too rough; anyone should be able to do it.

Easy: this hike has some ups and downs or may be a little rough, but is easy for most hikers.

Middling: this hike is rough or has some elevation changes, but you can do it.

Moderate: this hike may have more elevation changes or be more rough; if you have mobility or stamina problems, you might want to work up to this one.

I probably won’t being going on any more difficult hikes at this time, so I will add levels to the rating system accordingly.

And now, let’s get on to the first hike.

Salmon-Morgan Creek Natural Area

salmon-morganRating: Easy peasy

Panting stops: 0

Length: 1.3 miles

Elevation changes: 65 feet

This trail takes you into a beautiful forest of old-growth cedars. It begins in a residential area, but once you walk into the forest, there is almost no hint that you are so close to a neighborhood. It has nicely kept trails.

There are two loops, the Fir Loop Trail and the Alder Loop Trail. If you walk them both, they total 1.3 miles. There are a few offshoots that go to views of the river and one unofficial trail that takes you to the railroad. The path is mostly well-marked, but you may end up at the railroad by mistake. At the junction, look for the path marker to figure out which trail is the “official” one. The area is peaceful with moderate traffic by other hikers.

I was first here in the late winter/early spring, and at that point it was very muddy in places. I recommend this trail anytime after it has had time to dry out a little. I was just there this week, and it is perfect. It is very wooded so provides lots of shade during hot weather.

How to get there

NE 161st Ave., Brush Prairie, Washington

This particular park does not show up on my car’s GPS. It does show up on the All Trails app.

From Vancouver

Take SE 164th Avenue north until it turns into NE 162nd Avenue. Continue until the end of the road and then turn left onto Ward Road. Keep right to turn onto Padden Parkway. Turn right on 152nd Avenue and follow for a few miles, then turn right onto NE 181st Street. Turn left on NE 159th Avenue, and then right or left onto NE 183rd.

From Battle Ground

From Main Street, go south on SE Grace Avenue, which becomes NE 142nd Avenue. Turn left on NE 159th Street, where 142nd ends. Turn left on NE 152nd Avenue and then turn right onto NE 181st Street. Turn left on NE 159th Avenue, and then right or left onto NE 183rd.


There is parking at the west end of NE 183rd or at the end of NE 161st. Please be aware that you are parking in a neighborhood. If there are several cars parked there already, go down one of the other streets to find a parking spot.