Spring wildflowers are nothing short of magical and miraculous in the Columbia River Gorge. One of the premier areas for early wildflower viewing is the Catherine Creek Recreation Area in Southwest Washington. The most popular trails are south-facing, so their slopes get lots of sun by mid-summer, so the flowers get dry as tinder. Their are several approaches to the trailhead and early birds find open parking spots on weekends just north of Old Highway 8. The trails are shared spaces for bikers, hikers, and the occasional horse riders.
The original Catherine Creek site was once a working ranch with cows and horses. After the creation of the National Scenic Area of the Columbia Gorge, the USDA Forest Service acquired the farm to protect native plants, the unique arch formation, and other sensitive natural resources.
There are various routes through the Recreation Area and all are scenic in their own way. If you bear right at the start of the Catherine Creek Loop Trail, the paths wind gradually up the basalt terrain to some great vistas of the Columbia Gorge and Mount Hood. The Forest Service is gradually improving the area around the original farm area, with roads, trails and designated vistas.
The Arch is directly in view of all hikers on the loop trail, but many pass right by it, not noticing the indentation in the basalt cliffs and the cut out arch. The area is cordoned off to climbers and pedestrians, to preserve the area and maintain the beauty of the arch itself. If hikers and bikers take a slight left past the arch, they can connect with the Old Atwood Road, which is a popular mountain biking and trail running route in the meadows.
A trail that is much harder-to-follow is known as the Bitterroot Trail or trail #4422. It is scenic and challenging, as is winds its way west through the ridges and hills. It eventually leads to the Coyote Wall Area and the trails that traverse the syncline in magical ways.
This route was created years ago as a user-created trail, and it has never been officially “built” by the Forest Service, so it is easy to lose your way enroute. Still as long as you can see the river, you know you will not be thoroughly lost.
One notice we saw is that the western meadowlark is endangered in the Western States. We have always found the call of the meadowlark to be so distinctive and beautiful, especially around Catherine Creek. We hope that the habitat will be preserved so that this majestic caller with the black chevron on his bright yellow breast will thrive in the future.