Hike of the Week: St Cloud Trail

Explore a homestead apple orchard in the Gorge

September 29, 2010

Having a 16-mos old son in tow for my hiking trips these days, means I don’t always get out to the places I’d like to.

That quad-crushing, 10-mile trip to Paradise Park on Hood? Forget it. Ben gets antsy after about mile three. A stellar trail with backpacking options near Jefferson. Are you kidding? It’s two hours in the car just to get within sight of it. And with a boy who has recently decided that life is a constant 100-yard dash, clearly there’d be hell to pay after such a lengthy internment.

Besides, I’m not game for packing out all the diapers we’d go through.

Of course, we’ll attempt these things in due time. But right now, I’m in no hurry. Instead, I’m busy searching out destinations that I previously would have overlooked. Places that require precious little commitment to enjoy, yet still pack in loads of scenery. Smaller summits if you will.

That is, if they involve hills at all.

On Saturday, my wife and I sought out just such a spot, the St Cloud Day Use Area just off highway 14 on the Washington side of the Gorge.

Set right up against the lapping waters of the Columbia River, it’s the site of an old homestead apple orchard.

It might take 10 minutes to see it all. A flat, half-mile barrier-free gravel path rings the open meadows and few dozen trees here. And a collection of picnic tables invite lingering. In other words, this is not the kind of place you’re going to break a sweat.

Not exactly the kind of challenge I crave when I head to the Gorge. But it only took about 30 minutes to get there. Barely enough time for anyone to poop their britches. Though, if we had really wanted to, we could have headed to Beacon Rock State Park just down the road, or stopped by the new trailhead extension of the Cape Horn Trail nearby.

But at St Cloud, we had the run of the place. It was Ben’s very own Fruit Loops-size sprint track.

Plus, it’s gorgeous.

The orchard abuts what is, according to the Forest Service, one of the largest remaining natural wetlands in the Gorge, so birds and assorted smallish mammals are frequent visitors. Our mid-day visit didn’t net any wildlife encounters, but there were plenty of other diversions to keep our eyes busy.

Just across the river, the sandy, fir-framed Oneonta Bluffs looked like stony fortress walls. And on clear days, you can even spot Multnomah Falls crashing down. The breeze was perfumed with a sweet fresh-squeezed cider scent, and beneath our feet the green grass was dotted red by ripened apples that had fallen to the ground.

Mind you, the apples that do grow here aren’t of the variety that you’d want to (or should) eat. Smallish and a bit buggy, they’re a better treat for resident critters. And on this day, my son.

He had finally found something worth slowing down for: the challenge of trying to figure out how many apples he could carry—four small ones as it turns out, if he used his shirt.

And the number of diapers we had to carry out? Another nice round number: 0.

Directions: Off of Highway 14 look for the entrance on the right side of the road, 0.1 mile west of milepost 30 near Skamania. NW Forest Pass required

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