The Pacific Crest Trail, Benson State Park, and several trails in the Mark O. Hatfield Wilderness east of Cascade Locks reopened to hikers Thursday for the first time since the Eagle Creek Fire.
Rachel Pawlitz, Public Information Officer with the Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area, says trail crews worked very hard to clear out large rocks and downed trees and patch up holes and washouts in the walking trails to make sure the walking surface is safe.
To protect public safety, it is illegal for hikers to venture off the newly reopened trails. The newly reopened trails are inside areas that burned during Eagle Creek Fire, so the ground may be unstable, particularly in areas where understory plants burned away. Anyone traversing legally closed areas, even if they are cutting between open trails, can be cited and fined.
Burned areas now have burned and downed trees as well as loose rocks and boulders. Hikers should watch for overhead and underfoot hazards such as fire-weakened trees, rockslides, landslides, stumpholes, and washouts. If heavy winds pick up, hikers are advised to leave the area to avoid tree fall.
Staying on the trail is not only important for safety, it helps protect the ecosystem’s ability to recover after a fire. Bare soil is susceptible to invasive species, and those traveling off trail could create soil compaction that causes lasting damage.
Benson State Recreation Area has also reopened, a 290 acre state park one mile west of Multnomah Falls. It’s popular with picnickers and anglers who use Benson Lake, but also features a small disc golf course and reservable shelter. The lake is seasonally stocked by the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife, and is suitable for small, non-motorized boats; there is no boat ramp. The park has space for 200 cars, and there’s a $5 daily parking fee. There’s no maintained trail connection from the park to Multnomah Falls or other Columbia Gorge trails.
Most of Wyeth Trail #411, although it is east of Cascade Locks, remains closed indefinitely due to heavy damage from Eagle Creek Fire.
All National Forest System Trails between Angels Rest and the Pacific Crest Trail remain closed due to heavy damage sustained from the fire. Many of these trails are still being assessed and repaired, and in many cases have continued to sustain ongoing damage due to rockfall, falling trees, and landslides. Hikers are advised to respect closure signs and remain only on open trails. Violators that enter closed areas are subject to citations and fines.
Six miles of the Historic Columbia River Highway between Ainsworth and Bridal Veil have been closed since last September 4 because of the fire. ODOT has no timeline for re-opening.
Please check the closure map before heading out, and respect all closure signs and barriers. In these newly opened areas and in any backcountry environment, hikers should wear sturdy footwear and bring sufficient supplies to survive overnight (food, water, headlamps, extra clothing and shelter).
For more tips on safe recreation and ideas for more hiking and biking destinations in the Columbia River Gorge, visit ReadySetGorge.com.