What’s to Love: Since moving here to Portland in 1999, my wife and I have hiked Angel’s Rest too many times to count. To this day, it remains one or our favorite hikes in the Columbia River Gorge, and it’s one of the first hikes when entering the Gorge from Portland. While we carried our oldest son up the hike when he was younger, this was our first visit to hike the entire 4.8 miles (round trip) with both kids.
We moved to Portland from the mountain town of Durango, Colorado. When we got here, we were in good hiking shape. I remember scoffing at the moderate/difficult rating given to Angel’s Rest by various guides. While a short 2.4 miles to the top, it has some serious elevation gain (1450 ft.) in that 2.4 miles! It’s definitely hard on the knees, especially coming down, and there are some really stiff sections covered with tree roots and rocks.
You might be wondering if my kids were able to hike all the way up and down. I’m happy to report that our 8-year old hiked the entire route to the top and summitted with me in 50+ mile per hour winds. We were only able to stay for about 30 seconds due to the high winds. He then ran down the entire 2.4 miles with me an my younger son who is 3-years old. The 3-year old managed to hike up about 1/3 of the distance. I pushed him in Bob Stroller the other 2/3 (NOT recommended!).
So many things to love about this hike! You MUST do it with your family – it’s an area classic. On the way up, you’ll notice Coopey Falls and Upper Coopey Falls. It’s definitely worth it to wander over to take a closer look. The trail is definitely steep hiking at times, but the stunning views of the Columbia River Gorge will certainly distract you from any agony you may be experiencing. The trail is easy to follow and takes you over an exposed rock-field and culminates with a nice 4th class scramble through a rock band (big picture in this article), which looks harder than it actually is. Enjoy the incredible view from the top with plenty of spots for hanging out and relaxing or eating some snacks.
Caveats: Due to the close proximity to Portland and the fact that it is a stellar hike, the parking area will most likely be overcrowded. You will almost always see people on the trail and at the top of the hike.
While the trail is in good condition, the grade can be a bit steep at times, which makes child-carrying-options limited (see Family Tips below). Make sure you’ve come prepared to carry your kids!
Keep a close eye on your kids when on top of Angel’s Rest! With no guard-rails, there certainly is death-fall potential near the edges.
Website: Portland Hikers.org has a reference to the hike.
Distance from Portland: A quick 28 miles from downtown Portland. Here is a Google Map.
Recommended Ages: Best for older kids (8 and up), especially if you want to make it all the way to the top and down. If you take younger kids, be prepared to carry them (see Family Tips below) at least part of the way.
Parental Stress Factor: If you don’t pack enough food or water and the conditions are bad, this can feel like an epic ordeal. If you’re prepared, especially for whining from kids who are too tired to hike, then you should be fine. Make sure you take lots of breaks and encourage your kids to eat and drink at each stop.
Physical Difficulty: As a family-hike, especially with younger children, I would rate this as difficult. Almost 1500 ft. of elevation gain in 2.4 miles is nothing to scoff at, even though I once did just that!
Family Fun Factor: Highly pleasant to a potential disaster, which one will it be? One way to make this a much more enjoyable experience is to bring your kids’ friends along for the hike. This is an excellent strategy for hiking. When kids are in a group of friends, the hiking goes much better for everyone. We like to play games going up like hide-n-seek. Kids love to run downhill, which we often act-out as “riding our motorcycles”.
Pet Friendly: This is an awesome hike for dogs! Your dog will love this hike. I’ve seen every type of dog on this hike from big to small, and they were all smiling.
Weather Considerations: Save this one for a sunny day. This hike can be miserable in rainy/windy conditions. You want to be able to enjoy the views after all that uphill hiking! Even in good weather, make sure you’re prepared for sudden changes. The top of Angel’s Rest is exposed and gets pelted by high winds frequently. When there are clouds, make sure you have rain gear. If you hike during the winter months, traction devices for shoes are a good idea. I have encountered ice on this hike.
Insider Info: I’ve consulted various sources on the Internet and hiking books, the elevation gain and distance both vary depending on the source. I think the elevation gain cited in this article (1450 ft) is a bit conservative. I have seen it as high as 1773 feet! The overall hiking distance varies from 4.2 to 4.8. Regardless the elevation gain is high when considering the mileage.
No parking passes required at the trailhead! If your family consists of some extreme hikers, you may want to try the Angel’s Rest/Devil’s Rest loop, which is 10.9 miles. Since we have never done the loop, I’m attaching a link for more information.
The first picture under the “Family Tips” heading is looking away from the Columbia River while on the summit of Angel’s Rest. There is a nice ridge of rocks to explore with older kids. When it’s crowded on the summit, just head over to these rocks for a bit more privacy.
Family Tips: Either going up or coming down, most kids 5 and younger are going to need assistance on this hike. Make sure you’re prepared with either a backpack carrier or wrap. You certainly do not want to be carrying a child in your arms or on your shoulders on this hike. We did take a Bob jogging stroller up 90% of the trail, but it’s not a good idea. It was very hard to push it uphill over all the rocks and roots. Definitely would NOT do that again!
The trail is rugged with exposed rocks and roots all over the place. I’m not into hiking shoes myself and prefer to wear barefoot-style athletic shoes, certainly hiking shoes or a sturdier shoes are a good idea for most people.