Hikes: Cherry Orchard Trail

The “Lyle Cherry Orchard Trail,” as it is named, starts at the east end of the parking area, and meanders up a steep slope to a set of layer-cake basalt ridges. The trail climbs immediately for about 1/8 of a mile up, before hikers see the trailhead sign. There is no longer a sign-in box, but the sign indicates that this is private land held in trust by Friends of the Columbia Gorge. The Land Trust is conscious of invasive plants and seeds, so hikers are encouraged to use the boot brush to clean shoes, at the beginning, middle and end of the hike.

The trail continues to climb up a small draw. After about a mile, the trail splits: the westward trail takes hikers to a beautiful bench overlooking the Columbia, and the eastward trail leads you up a steep climb with switchbacks to the old and decrepit cherry orchard and summit.

This east-bound trail passes a seasonal pond, then comes to a dirt road. Turning right the path passes an old homestead site and enters grassy area. Not many cherry trees have survived in the orchard, we only found one, but some can be found at the eastern edge of the property. The flowers on the route, particularly the Balsam Root, were spectacular. One hiker said, “This is Dog Mountain beautiful with Balsam Root today,” which is high praise indeed.

We did not see any rattlesnakes, but we did see and hear Canyon Wren, Western Meadowlark, Audubon Warbler, Red-Breasted Nuthatch, Black-Capped Chickadee, Crow, Turkey Vulture, Bald Eagle, Violet-Green Swallow, Robin, immature seagull (of unknown species), and lots of other birds. It was a beautiful way to spend Easter mid-day in SW Washington.

The only blooming cherry in the orchard?

History of the Cherry Orchard Property

  • This 540-acre property in the eastern Gorge showcases the cake-layered basalt walls carved by the Ice Age Floods.
  • Friends’ of the Columbia Gorge founder, Nancy Russell, was drawn to the land’s natural beauty and purchased several properties that today comprise the entire Cherry Orchard trail.
  • Nancy Russell named the property for an old abandoned cherry orchard located at the top of the eastern boundary.
  • The land is also home to remnants of Convict Road, a demonstration road built by Sam Hill in 1910-1911 to convince Washington legislators to fund a Columbia River Highway. When Washington’s legislators showed no interest in Hill’s project, in frustration he invited the entire Oregon legislature to his Maryhill estate to see his “Good Roads” work. The marketing ploy worked and Oregon quickly agreed to build the now Historic Columbia River Highway on their side of the river.
  • The property is also home to the “Lyle” sign that sits above the community.
  • Nancy Russell’s estate bequeathed the Cherry Orchard property to Friends of the Columbia Gorge Land Trust in 2009 to preserve this trail and scenic landscape in perpetuity.