• Activities:

    Camping, Photography, Running, Backpacking, Hiking, Fitness

  • Skill Level:

    Advanced

  • Season:

    Spring, Summer, Autumn

  • Trail Type:

    Loop

  • RT Distance:

    12 Miles

  • Elevation Gain:

    4870 Feet

Forest
Lake
Scenic
Waterfall
Wildflowers

Mount Defiance is the most difficult hike in the Columbia River Gorge. This hike, only 60 minutes from Portland, is great for training for endurance runs and ultra-marathons.

This hike starts at the Starvation Creek Rest Area. After parking, head west back along the shoulder of the freeway, where you’ll see a wooden sign stating “Mt. Defiance Trail.” Continue heading west along the abandoned Columbia River Highway. Keep going west as you pass the junction with the Starvation Cutoff Trail (which is what you’ll return on), and you’ll arrive at Cabin Creek Falls. Soon the trail crosses Warren Creek at another waterfall, Hole in the Wall Falls (a.k.a. Warren Falls). The trail will begin to slowly climb up to a junction with the Mt. Defiance Trail. Turn right on this trail and follow it as it goes past Lancaster Falls and continues on upwards.

The trail will gain 3000 feet over the next 3 miles, and at 4,100 feet you will arrive at a scree field looking toward the northwest and west. Keep heading up the path as it becomes more alpine with dwarf trees and rocks everywhere. Eventually the elevation gain dwindles and you’ll arrive at the junction with the Warren Lake Trail. You’ll take the left trail here at the junction on the way back, but for now you’ll keep climbing up the trail for 700 more feet of elevation gain. Soon you’ll come to another trail junction with two rock cairns marking the Defiance Cutoff Trail that branches to the right.

Follow this Defiance Cutoff Trail right as it loops around boulder and scree fields, and you'll be rewarded with marvelous views of the area. Get out your camera and take as many photos are you can here, because once you reach the actual summit, the view is a bit dismal – surrounded by trees and a large radio tower. As the trail winds around the west side before the summit, you should have some rad views of Mount Hood.

For the return trip, go across the summit area and find the somewhat hidden main trail located at the northeast side of the summit. Follow it straight as it goes downhill through the trees until you reach the Warren Lake trail. Follow the Warren Lake trail as it goes near the lake. Warren Lake is the only water source on the upper part of the hike during the summer, and it has several camping spots if you need to spend the night. Keep going along the trail for about 3 miles, pass by the rock field and viewpoints of the Columbia River, and go right at the Starvation Cutoff Trail junction. Descend 0.4 miles of the steep (think knee-jarring, head-over-heels steep) Starvation Cutoff Trail until you reach the old highway near Cabin Creek Falls. Head east along it until you reach the parking lot. Then sit down and bask in the glory of climbing the highest mountain in the Columbia River Gorge.

Pack List

  • Water and a snack/meal for the summit
  • Cellphone
  • Camera
  • First Aid Kit
  • Food
  • Flashlight
  • Sturdy shoes
  • Map of the trail
  • Compass
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A perfect hike for training, would not climb unless you are training. We are climbing St. Helens next weekend and this is a great hike to get used to the elevation gain and the length! While it IS VERY LONG, it's a perfect taste of what St. Helens will be like (time wise). Going down was tough on the knees, definitely, need poles. We hiked in snow for about a mile near the summit

9 months ago
9 months ago

I am planning a trip to the PNW soon and just added this to my list of things to do! Nice photos!

about 2 years ago
about 2 years ago

John Chau Explorer

W-EMT at Whiskeytown, soccer coach, and adventurer - making the most of every opportunity that comes my way. Check out my blog at: theruggedtrail.com and keep on adventuring! If you need a guide or an adventuring partner, shoot me an email at: johnachau@gmail.com!

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