I finally had a chance to get out to the Gorge yesterday, on the last nice day we're likely to have in a while. I started at Multnomah Falls, which was quiet at 8:30 in the morning, and just past the bridge, I stopped to watch a great blue heron in the pool below the falls. I don't think he was having any luck.
The trail is paved up to the top of the falls, then it changes to a slightly rocky path leading gently uphill along the creek. There were two at the overlook, but from here on, I didn't see anyone else until the last mile of the hike. The creek above the overlook here is peaceful, and it winds around mossy boulders and drops over a few nice waterfalls (Wisendanger and Ecola) before the trail catches 420 around the ridge to the Wahkeena drainage.
I love this stretch of forest. It receives a decent amount of sun, even in early morning, and the trees change from the moss and lichen-clad cedars, big-leaf maples, and cottonwoods near the creek to straight douglas firs. The understory burned a few years ago, and many of the firs are still blackened. The ground-cover consists mainly of fern broken by patches of yellow vine maple. The trail continues to climb gradually as it loops around to a great lunch spot at an intersection with several other trails.
From here, you can hike up to Devil's Point, and from there, on to Angel's Rest. Both are worthy destinations if you have time, and they can be loop or shuttle hiked as well as hiked point-to-point. Either way, a quick side trip to Wahkeena Spring is a short, pleasant diversion. I took the uppermost of the two trails that parallel Wahkeena creek at it rushes downhill in a pretty cascade through incredibly verdant mossy rocks, around banks of cedar roots, and through a narrow chute before spilling out over Wahkeena Falls. Incidentally, Wahkeena means "Most Beautiful" in a local Native American language (possible Yakima). I agree with the sentiment. The stretch of trail from Fairy Falls to the main falls, and the view from the trailhead, are some of the most gorgeous scenery in the Gorge, whatever the season.
From Wahkeena Trailhead, I hiked a connecting trail back to Multnomah Falls, which by this time was swarming with people taking photographs of the falls and watching spawning salmon splash in the pools and ripples below the parking lot. I recommend starting this hike from Multnomah just to avoid the crowds, but also to avoid starting with the paved switchbacks at the Wahkeena trailhead. They can seem endless, even coming down.
I had enough time to drive up to Sherrard Point on Larch Mountain and spy on the volcanoes. The sky was clear to Mt. Hood, which had a little steam or cloud rising from the peak. In the distance, St. Helens, Adams, and Jefferson were all out, if a little cloud-covered, but the thick forests and rolling cascade mountains stretching as far as the horizon made up for it.
I can't believe I waited so long to get back to the Gorge. Despite having missed most of the fall colors, it was a great way to spend a few hours. Good for the lungs to breathe piney air, good for the heart to climb the trails, and good for the head to get out of town, find some solitude, and be able, even if just for a little while, to be lost in your own head, under your own power, and with no real plans but to walk, walk, walk.