Trail Guide: Hiking Oregon’s Angel’s Rest in the Columbia River Gorge (4.6 miles / 1500′ / 2-3 hours)

Trail Guides

Trail details last updated 4/20/2016.

Taking a page right of Zion National Park’s Angel’s Landing, Angel’s Rest in the Columbia River Gorge is a moderate trail which races along the river edge going up almost 1,500′ over dirt switchbacks, a boulder field, and a two-move rock scramble before arriving at a fully exposed rocky vista point with countless trails leading right up to the edge of the nearly 360-degree view. While you won’t find the harrowing chain climb of Zion’s version, pretty much everything else feels the same, the elevation gain, the distance and the feeling of being able to look right down or out for miles in any direction. For a hike that takes 60 – 90 minutes (one way), the Vista House just can’t compare.

Sunrise on Angel's Rest

Catching the end of sunrise from the top of Angel’s Rest. This obviously requires a night hike, good headlamp and ideally a prior visit to the trail.

Caution: There have been at least two fatalities and several major injuries from hikers falling off Angel’s Rest in the past few years. The summit is totally exposed and slab rocks making it particularly nasty after rain, snow or ice though a coating of dirt can have just as bad of a result. While the rocks around the edge are big and feel solid, there’s no rule that they can’t move… even if someone else has been there before.

Getting to the trail and all that logistic stuff

Besides being fairly short, Angel’s Rest has the distinct advantage of being one of the first stops in the Gorge and is located just 26 miles from Portland’s City Center or close enough to squeeze in before work if you get up nice and early. To get to the trailhead simply head east on highway 84 and look for exit 28, E Bridal Veil Road until you reach a fork in the road with the parking lot off to your hard right. Map apps do get a little confused with the routing so if you find yourself at a stop sign, you’ve gone a few feet too far.

Trailhead marker

Be warned however, with it’s moderate status, short drive, decent workout and killer views, Angel’s Rest is an incredibly popular hike and the starting point for far longer adventures as well. Plan to arrive early on a weekend or even a summer weekday or you’ll be parking well up the road and adding to the hike. The closest facilities are up the road (further right from the parking lot) about 1/2 mile behind Bridal Veil Falls.

What do expect on your hike

Whoever built the route up to Angel’s Rest did not cut any corners as the entire trail, save for the final summit scramble, is by far one of the most maintained and well built I’ve seen anywhere in the gorge. After crossing the road to the well marked trailhead, head to your left to reach the main trail, stay straight at the next fork and then relax on your navigating skills — aside from view points and cut trails, you’ve got no where to go but up until just before the summit.

Angels' Rest trail view

Early in the trail, you’ll find a few exposed sections of the trail with views down to the Columbia River and even into a few amazingly located homes. The forest will close in around as you move higher.

There’s very little flat in the trail but the first stretch does start out pretty mild as you ascend a few hundred feet over perhaps a half mile stepping back and forth between open views and the cover of the forest. As you make your way past a rocky stretch, the sound of water should be unmissable, provided it’s a wet part of the year, and you’ll soon pass right by a waterfall, over a bridge and onto the start of the switchbacks.

For the most part you won’t really notice yourself winding around, almost all of the switches are long and gradual but you will notice the gain as you consistently push at a 600-800′ / mile clip for the remainder of the journey. After winding up a few hundred more feet, the trail reaches a large turn with a break point off to the left, there use to be more of a view here and further up but the forest is reclaiming that and you’ll likely want to push quickly to get out and above the trees on this climb.

Trail boulder field

The boulder field is one of the most iconic parts of the trail in my book and I always stop for a few photos on the way up. Good news is that when you get here, you’re just moments from the top as well.

The transition out of the trees is a stark change and whatever weather is around will come rushing in quickly, a sign of what’s ahead as the summit can get very, very windy. After a few short, rocky but still dirt switchbacks, you’ll walk out to an open hillside covered in large boulders. In stark contract to Table Mountain, the route across this section is completely straight forward, worn down and short enough to need to no markers though it does make for one of the best photo stops along the hike.

Storms over Angel's Rest

With nothing to protect the summit, weather can rip in across Angel’s Rest. This photo was taken after a nice hike up and just before a rainy hike down.

Follow the trail back to dirt as it turns sharply left and climb just a few more yards to reach the ridgeline between Angel’s Rest and the peaks that lie further into the forest. Follow the junction to your left for Angel’s Rest or continue right for Devil’s Rest (sounds far cooler than it is) and connections to other local trails. As you make your way over the last few hundred yards of dirt you’ll be heading downhill with a good view of just how far up and exposed you are; if this makes you nervous you should know it will only get worse.

River view on the trail

The giant gap may be one of the best views of the gorge between the giant, PNW style boulders, river view and gorge hills across the way.

Passing by two large rocks with an opening that looks out over the gorge, you’re just a quick double step and two-move scramble from the summit. Push on up, being careful to stay on the trail and not walk off the side as you move up. Clearing the second boulder, you’ll find yourself looking down over the rocky plateau that makes up the summit with views out to the gorge in every direction as you head towards it.

Angel's rest scramble

Looking down at the scramble to the summit. As of April, 2016, climbing this is about two full moves or basically nothing hard.

Once you reach what seems to be the front of the plateau , head to your left and down a couple decent sized rocks to find the memorial bench and several more clearnings offering good break spots and different photo vantage points. It’s a huge summit and I seem to find another favorite place on every visit so don’t feel the need to cram in with the crowds.

Angel's Rest Summit View

View from the top. Looking over the Columbia River and greater Gorge Area to the west in early fall.

Take advantage of the east / west view with an early or late hike

For the more adventurous (and headlamp equipped), Angel’s Rest offers killer sunrise and sunset views. It’s not totally on axis for the east view but enough to enjoy while the west seems endlessly unobstructed. Even in busy times, you’ll likely have the place nearly to yourself starting out that early or sticking around that late which is pretty awesome, as are the stars above the summit. Just be sure you have a good light source, your cellphone is not going to cut it to get back and onto the main trail.

Storms over Angel's Rest

Looking west towards Portland and the coast with the glow of sunrise covering the gorge.

After making the descent down the same trail, walk up to Bridal Veil for a completely different experience right off the highway (plus restrooms and running water).

Quick facts about the trail:

  • Official Rating: Moderate
  • My Rating: It’s going on Facebook
  • Start point: Angel’s Rest Trailhead Lot
  • Distance: 4.6 miles R/T
  • Duration: 2-3 hours
  • Climb: <1500′
  • Crowds: Extremely crowded at peak, moderate on off days
  • Recommended time: Early mornings
  • Facilities: 1/2 mile to nearest bathroom & water
  • Parking: Small paved lot, some overflow street
  • Permits / fees: None required

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