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Balsamroot & Buttercups - Lyle Cherry Orchard Trail, Columbia River Gorge


In mid April I hiked up to Lyle Cherry Orchard, knowing that the balsamroot would be at its peak. I’ve never managed to get the timing right before, so needless to say I was quite eager to be surrounded by bunches of bright yellow flowers. 


The Lyle Cherry Orchard trail is only a 1.5 hour drive from Portland, so it's just far enough to break through the rainy corridor of the Cascade Range, to the sunny oak savannas of the Columbia Plateau.

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(And just far enough to wean out some of the crowds from the city searching for spring blooms). The hike did not disappoint. I did this hike a few years back, sometime in winter on a misty, overcast day. Since then, the Friends of the Columbia River Gorge has done some amazing work adding a new western loop to the trail, new signage, and interpretive information. This made it much easier to navigate at the top and left me itching to return and hike the new loop.


Oregon White Oaks with new, green leaves greeted me at the parking lot. The hike began with a switchbacking trudge up the hill through the trees, past basalt scree, and bunches of purple lupine flowers waving in the wind. About one third of the way up, the Oak trees opened up into a vast, grassy expanse dotted with flowers and your first views back across the river. The more I ascended this hike, the more enchanting it became. My dreams of balsamroot were exceeded with walls of the bright yellow flowers surrounding me at certain points along the way.



I love taking a moment to really soak things in when I’m on a hike. Soak in the sun.. the quiet.. the view… maybe eat an orange. So I sat and did some sketching at the top. With the gusty winds, I didn’t feel much

like pulling out my watercolors and gouache… but the shapes of the landscape were so striking that I figured I should really make the effort. But upon discovering that I’d forgotten to bring any kind of container to hold water for painting, I decided it just wasn’t meant to be. Another return journey to add to the list… next time, with all the gear. 



The beauty of taking more time to soak things in means that sometimes an experience will find another way to flow out… I wrote this the next day.


Wind through cascades of basalt and lupin as you ascend up the steep slope to the old Lyle Cherry Orchard ~ 

Mid-way up the basalt takes on fantastical formations amid an open plateau of green.

Views spread in all directions.

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High above, quilts of yellow balsamroot flowers beckon you on.

Through their waving yellow petals, around the hill’s open face.

Enchanted oak forests blanketed with bright yellow buttercups guide you across the rounded slopping hilltops on a narrow trail to a rolling field of bright, green grass rippling in the wind.

Directly across the Columbia River, a great landmass divides East from West.

Rounded ridges fold and crease downwards towards the water in triangular patterns, flowing into broad plateaus on either side. 

Patterns of White Oak and Douglas Fir trees speckle the ridges according to the daily balance of sun and shadow. 

To the east, trees thin from swaths of White Oak and shaded patches of Douglas Fir, to the occasional Ponderosa Pine.

Beyond, golden brown hills stretch up from the river into swirling grassy plateaus, 

The horizon fading into desolate desert mountains.

The Columbia River bends Northeast, out of sight, to its remote mountain source in the Canadian Rockies.

To the west, the river finds its way out to sea - through the clouded drama of the cascade mountain range that fades into distant shades of blue.

Past the mountains, through islands of Cottonwood trees, the river winds through the forested Coastal Range, dissolving out into the blue horizon of the Pacific Ocean.


Try this Hike!

Lyle Cherry Orchard - Cherry Loop

(I love using Oregon Hikers as a detailed reference)

Distance: 5 miles

Elevation Gain: 1340 feet

Trail Type: Two connected loops (I did the Eastern loop)

Trailhead & Parking: Free parking located off of HWY 14, WA Directions HERE

Season: All seasons (I went in mid April)

Musings along the trail.



Video Musing HERE


Post-Hike Musings... Adding color



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