Kiosk at the Fort Cascades Trailhead ©Jesse Brownlee
Kiosk at the Fort Cascades Trailhead ©Jesse Brownlee

Fort Cascades

Western Gorge, washington

This is a short stroll through a historic area just west of Bonneville Dam. A lot of history is crammed into this narrow area of the Columbia River Gorge. When the Table Mountain Slide occurred in late prehistoric times, it created the cascades of the Columbia River and ensured that people frequented this area. Native Americans used the cascades as a fishing area and became trading partners with travelers. Lewis and Clark mention an Indian Village on this site.

In later years, when Europeans began to settle the area, the cascades became a natural transportation bottleneck. The first road was built by the U.S. military in the 1850s. In 1855, the military established Fort Cascades to protect the portage from Native American raids. Peace soon returned to the area, and the military abandoned the fort in 1861 when the soldiers were called back to fight the Civil War. Settlers soon claimed the fort and outlying buildings creating the town of Cascades. Cascades became the first county seat of Skamania County, with the old Quartermaster’s Office functioning as the first courthouse. By 1893, Cascades had been eclipsed by Stevenson as the county seat and social center of the area.

In 1894, a large flood swept through the area destroying the town site. It was never rebuilt. Today, there are no visible remains of the town itself. Extensive archaeological work has found many relics, and some of the larger items are displayed on the hike.

Be sure to pick up a brochure detailing the self-guided hike before beginning the hike at the Fort Cascades Trailhead. You’ll first pass the site of an old fish wheel, then angle left when you come to a fork. When another trail crosses yours, take a quick trip left to a viewpoint of the dam, Wauna Point and Wauna Viewpoint. Return to your trail and continue west. Soon, you’ll pass the Fort Cascades Petroglyph, a replica of a stone found in this location.

 

Dogs are welcome on a leash. There are large amounts of poison oak nearly everywhere once you step immediately off the trail, so please stay on the trail.

This hike is part of our 2014 Histories & Mysteries Challenge. Let us lead you to some of the geologic and historic features that make the Gorge unique!

Trail Map

Driving Directions

Fort Cascades Trailhead: From Portland, take I-84 east and exit at Cascade Locks. Cross the Columbia River to Washington State over the Bridge of the Gods (toll required). Take a left on Rt 14 and go about 2 miles. Turn left on to the Dam Access Road. Take an immediate right and then a quick left signed for the Fort Cascades Historical Site.

From Vancouver, take Rt 14 35 miles east. Past Beacon Rock and the town of North Bonneville, you'll see Bonneville Dam on your right. Just before the dam on the right side of the highway is the Dam Access Road. Turn right on to the Dam Access Road, the take an immediate right and then a quick left signed for the Fort Cascades Historical Site.

Hike Information:

  • Type of Hike: Loop
  • Length: 1.5 miles
  • Elevation Gain: 0 feet
  • Difficulty: easy
  • Restroom Facilities: Yes
  • Fees and Regulations: None

Features:

  • Beautiful Views
  • Cultural History
  • Ice-Age Floods
  • Family Friendly

Difficulty Levels

Gorge Walk/Easy: Up to 3 miles, less than 700 ft. elevation gain
Moderate: Up to 5 miles, less than 1,200 ft. elevation gain
Strenuous/Difficult: Up to 10 miles, up to 2,500 ft. elevation gain
Rugged: Over 10 miles, steep trail, over 2,500 feet elevation gain

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Contact Information

Credits

Trail maps are courtesy of NWHiker.org. Hike descriptions were collaboratively written with the generous support of Portlandhikers.org.