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Three hikes provide good family fare

A FOOTBRIDGE passes over Oneonta Creek in one of three family-friendly hikes recommended for Memorial Day Weekend.

A FOOTBRIDGE passes over Oneonta Creek in one of three family-friendly hikes recommended for Memorial Day Weekend. Skip Tschanz photo

It looks like we have fairly nice weather for Memorial Day for a change. The weatherman is calling for a partly sunny day with a high near 70 degrees.

In the past it seems like every Memorial Day was wet, windy and more or less miserable to be outside. With that nice thought in mind here are three of my favorite family hikes that also feature fine places to have a picnic lunch.

STARVATION CREEK

The trailhead is located just a few miles west of Hood River. This compact area features four waterfalls, local history, restrooms, picnic tables and an old segment of the Columbia River Highway. To find the original highway walk west from the parking lot towards the trail that is located on the south side of the cement interstate highway barriers. You will soon lose the pavement and will travel on a wide forest path.

One of the waterfalls on this route is Warren Creek’s Hole in the Wall Falls. This is the only man-made waterfall in the gorge. Here also is a good place to turn around and head back to the parking and Starvation Creek Falls. This grand water feature plunges over 186 feet of basalt before it makes its last short journey to the Columbia River.

You may wonder why I left the waterfall that was closest to the parking lot for last. I wondered about that too, but it just seemed to be the right way to finish this hike. There are three picnic tables near the bottom of the falls for an end-of-day lunch. Nearby paved paths give over- active children a safe place to run off energy.

To reach Starvation Creek State Park from The Dalles, take I-84 west to the Wyeth exit near milepost 51 and return east about 4 miles to the parking area.

LATOURELL FALLS

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LATOURELL FALLS in the Columbia Gorge.

Of all of the high waterfalls in the Columbia River Gorge, Latourell Falls is the easiest to walk to. The parking lot is just east of the bridge that spans Latourell Creek and the walk to the base of the falls is on a gentle paved path. Latourell is the third-highest waterfall in the gorge: less than half the height of 625 foot Multnomah Falls, and just a tad shorter than 289 foot Elowah Falls.

This 2.5-mile loop hike starts in the parking area, climbs steeply for the first 200 feet and then levels out to a much more moderate hike. To really enjoy this walk you need to be aware of all of your surroundings: the lichen-covered basalt cliffs, robust Latourell Creek and the entire rich ecosystem that this area supports.

Soon, the trail tops the basalt cliff and gently threads its way up a canyon choked with vegetation. Continue up the canyon until you reach the second waterfall on this route. The trail will cross the creek here and head back down the canyon.

Continue walking down the trail and at the fork in the trail stay to the left and you will climb out of the Latourell Creek drainage. The trail soon levels out and makes a long downhill run to the Columbia River Scenic highway; only 100 yards from your car.

Cross the highway and watch for a paved path that will lead you to a park in the old town of Latourell. This is a well-kept park, with picnic benches, a clean bathroom and few people. Here is our picnic spot.

Be sure to remember to take cheese, crackers and something extra to drink. After lunch, find the paved path at the west end of the park and follow it under the highway bridge, to the base of Latourell Falls and then back to your car.

To find Latourell Falls, take I-84 to Exit 35 and follow the Scenic Highway about 10 miles to the Latourell parking area.

HORSETAIL FALLS-ONEONTA GORGE

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PONYTAIL FALLS is the only falls in the Columbia Gorge where the trail passes behind the falls.

This loop hike is one of the easiest hikes in the gorge. It starts in the eternal spray of Horsetail Falls and with five quick switchbacks levels off and does an easy lope to where the trail cuts under Ponytail Falls. This is the only trail the gorge that goes under, rather than around a waterfall. It’s amazing to just stand behind this high energy water cannon and listen to a roar that has overpowered this canyon for millions of years.

The trail climbs out of the Horsetail Creek canyon and then wanders to Oneonta Gorge. This spectacular gorge has been designated by the U.S. Forest Service as a botanical area because of the unique plants that call it home. There are four waterfalls on this creek. The upper falls are on the upstream side of a wonderful metal bridge that spans the gorge. Just downstream is Middle Falls and the Lower Falls are not far from the Old Scenic Highway. Continue following the trail to the west where it will intersect with another trail that heads south to Triple Falls.

Today our hike will continue west and back to the highway where we follow it for .5 miles back to our car. The best picnic spot for this hike is back at the trailhead where you can find a nice place to sit and ponder the day.

To find Horsetail Falls trailhead, take I-84 to Exit 35 and follow the Scenic Highway for a couple of miles to the Horsetail Falls parking area.

As always, don’t forget your camera, lots of munchies and water to drink. Never leave valuables in your car at any gorge trailhead. Have lots of fun.

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