Oregon Blooming Sites
The Columbia River dividing Washington and Oregon cuts through a steep gorge of high plateaus and sweeping meadows that bloom with carpets of wildflowers from March to July.
The 85-mile Columbia River Gorge, running to 4,000 feet deep, was carved by ice age floods. River tributaries cut off high above the gorge floor form the largest concentration of waterfalls in North America. Today the gorge is a designated National Scenic Area and is a favorite Pacific Northwest recreational area.
Spring gives rise to hundreds of different species of wildflowers including Chocolate Lilies, Wild Irises, Blue-eyed Grass, Grass Widow, Camas, Glacier Lilies, Shooting Stars, Desert Parsley, Bitter Root, Balsam Root, Lupines, and Paintbrushes.
Following are two of the best sites offering easy hikes for viewing wildflowers. Both lie in the transition zone between the damp western end of the Gorge and the drier eastern side. Their location contributes to a diversity of wildflowers that runs to more than 200 different species, some unique to the Columbia River Gorge.
Catherine Creek, on the Washington side of the Gorge, is about 60 miles east of Portland. It’s reached by following Interstate 84 from Portland to Exit 64 at the town of Hood River. Turn left and cross the toll bridge (75 cents) toward White Salmon, WA. Turn right onto WA Highway 14 and travel about 5.8 miles to Old Highway 8 and turn left. Another 1.4 miles brings you to the parking area. From here, trails lead along with easy hikes through fields of flowers with an array of different species that change from early to late spring.
The north side of the road rises in a gentle slope with a trail following the creek. Several spur trails branch off for further exploration. In all, trails run to about 3 miles. On the south side of the road, a short trail leads through a damper flower habitat, tiny seasonal pools, and a small waterfall. This trail has a paved section. The peak season for blooming here runs from late March to late June.
Tom McCall Nature Preserve
This preserve, just east of Hood River on the Oregon side of the Columbia River, offers spectacular vistas of the river, the surrounding cliff formations, and Mt. Adams in Washington. It’s the entrance to the drier, eastern side of the Gorge where stands of oak and Ponderosa pine mix with sweeping fields of wildflowers. The McCall Nature Preserve is about 65 miles from Portland heading east on I-84. Take Exit 69/Mosier and turn right onto US 30 (Historic Columbia River Highway). Continue uphill for 6.5 miles to the parking areas at the Rowena Crest Viewpoint and the trailheads.
The trail starting on the north side of the road goes through a flat plateau covered in wildflowers and dotted with seasonal pools. Viewpoints look across the river. Beware of sheer cliffs along the edge of the plateau, especially if you are hiking with children. The trail on the south side of the road leads uphill for about 3 miles, passing through fields of flowers and stands of oaks and pines to vistas across surrounding valleys and Cascade peaks. Poison oak is abundant at both these sites, so be sure to stay on the trails and wear long pants. Ticks and rattlesnakes also inhabit the area.
To find more Columbia Gorge and wildflower hikes see the related article Oregon Hiking Guide Books.
Wildflowers of the Columbia Gorge by Russ Jolley (Oregon Historical Society Press) is an excellent field guide with information about more than 700 gorge wildflowers, including where and when they can be viewed.
60 Hikes within 60 Miles of Portland by Paul Gerald (Menasha Ridge Press) outlines many Gorge hikes, including the two listed here, with directions and maps.
Friends of the Columbia River Gorge offers information and leads wildflower hikes throughout the season.
The Nature Conservancy manages the McCall Nature Preserve. Spring wildflowers carpet the Washington and Oregon sides of the Columbia River Gorge beginning in March. See Wild Irises, Rein Orchids, Shooting Stars, Camas, and more.