Field Notes

Hike of the Month: Cathedral Tree Trail in Astoria

Boardwalks, tree-root stairs, and a Sitka spruce with a tunnel in it line the way to the Astoria Column.

By Margaret Seiler May 20, 2022

Portlanders often think of Astoria as the most urban of North Coast destinations, its walkable downtown and waterfront packed with coffee shops, restaurants, bars, breweries, and stores, and its natural wonders viewed from a distance, or through the glass floor in an old cannery that's now Buoy Beer Co. But stray just a bit from downtown and find a bevy of neighborhood parks and short but rewarding urban trails.

One of them, the Cathedral Tree Trail, is just shy of a mile long and offers an alternate walking route to the Astoria Column, the vertical monument atop Coxcomb Hill built in 1926 and painted with historical scenes. Along the way, ogle the namesake tree, a Sitka spruce with a hollowed-out tunnel in its trunk.

Find the Richard Fencsak Cathedral Tree Trailhead (named for a longtime local character, bike shop owner, outdoor enthusiast, and food critic and columnist for the Daily Astorian who died in 2008) partway up the hill on Irving Avenue. Parking in this residential neighborhood is very limited, so consider having a nonhiker in your party drop you off and meet you later in the Astoria Column parking lot ($5 annual parking pass required, available on site). 

The trunk of the Sitka spruce known as the Cathedral Tree

Near the trailhead, gravel offers some secure footing for a spell, and then just as things get muddy you'll come to some wooden steps and a system of boardwalks. Going left at a junction takes you to the Cathedral Tree itself, with a bench opposite for a mid-trail rest. The spruce is over 200 feet tall and eight and a half feet in diameter.

Return to the curving boardwalk and continue up, past skunk cabbage and salal beneath the tall Sitka spruce and western hemlock trees. Wooden staircases take hikers up some steeper parts of the trail, and where they don't there are often exposed tree roots that can serve the same purpose. If it's rained recently, the steps will be slippery, and the flatter sections of the trail will have large puddles to negotiate.

A steep slope in the forest with exposed tree roots

Exposed tree roots form staircases on the steep trail, elevated hikers from the mud.

As the trail climbs in elevation, hikers might start seeing balsa-wood airplanes people have thrown from the top of the Astoria Column. Children scamper down from the parking lot to gather them up and go throw them again, followed by parents shouting at them to stay on the trail. If you don't happen on a plane yourself, you can buy some at the gift shop at the top of the hill. There are also restrooms and trash cans. 

The back of a wooden Adirondack chair and a view of a sloping hill and the Columbia River

A seat with a view awaits at the top of Coxcomb Hill.

Once you reach the top, take a break in an Adirondack chair and take in the view of the city, the river, the Astoria-Megler Bridge, and Cape Disappointment in the distance. Once your legs have had a rest, see if they're ready for the 164 steps to the observation deck of the Astoria Column—another steep climb, yes, but far less muddy than the first. 

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