Munra Point has become one of the places I head to when I’ve got some time before the sun goes down and I want exercise and also a chance at a good photo. It lies in the Columbia River Gorge, not far east of my home in Portland. It’s a steep and strenuous hike but relatively short. You can make it to the top in about an hour if you’re in decent hiking condition and don’t stop for anything but a drink of water. The view down over the Columbia is hawk’s eye, and with the right timing great sunset photographs are possible.
Munra Point lies about a half hour’s drive from Portland. Heading out Interstate 84 into the Columbia River Gorge, you will pass Multnomah Falls. Not too far beyond this tourist hotspot, but before you come to Bonneville Dam, you will cross over Moffet Creek. It is marked by a small sign so keep a lookout. At the exit for Bonneville Dam get off and turn around, heading back west on the freeway. As you approach Moffet Creek, get in the left lane, make sure nobody is on your tail, and turn off onto the shoulder. A guardrail marks the approach to the bridge, and you will drive as far down the left side of this guardrail as you care to, putting it between yourself and the road. Park and walk down to the creek, where you’ll cross under the bridge formed by the (higher) eastbound lanes.
This sounds like unofficial parking for a trailhead because it is. It’s also why you’ll probably have this hike to yourself. You will see a small trail heading into the woods near the east bridge abutment. Head up here and travel a short distance parallel to the freeway, heading east. Then you’ll see a trail heading up to the right; take it. An old weathered sign at this junction states “this trail not maintained”. If you see the sign, you know you’re on the right track. Start climbing.
The trail offers a few switchbacks, but mainly gets right down to the business of climbing a steep ridge. Watch for poison oak in season (spring and early summer). Near the top you will have to do a little scrambling, but there is nothing that will really scare you unless you have a great fear of heights. As you approach the summit, you will break out into meadows filled with flowers in springtime. The last quarter to half-mile offers a great chance to get pictures looking down and westward along the length of the Columbia River. If you plan to take pictures at sunset, bring a flashlight for the final stretch back down to your car.
The summit, called Munra Point, is very rocky and offers a 360-degree view. You can keep hiking the ridge-line to the south from Munra Point. There is even a trail to follow, at least for a mile or so. Eventually you will enter thick timber and begin climbing again. Turn around or plot a loop using GPS or compass and map. There are adjacent trails which will take you back north to the river, where you can use Gorge Trail 400 (which parallels the highway) to return to your car.
I have hiked here with friends before, but usually it is one of those hikes that I do on the spur of the moment, when it is late in the day and I think the light might just be right for an epic photo. Also, often near the end of the afternoon I feel the need for exercise, and this hike provides that in abundance.
The sun sets in a position aligned with the river in late winter and again in very early autumn. In other times it is either south or north of the course of the river. The flowers bloom starting in mid- to late-March, at a time when the sun sets well north of the river. It would be nice if things would line up perfectly, but that isn’t the case. Still, any time of year offers great photo opportunities. And as a bonus you will get a natural stair-climber workout. Who needs the gym when you have this?
Hope you enjoyed this little look at an off-the-beaten-track hiking destination in Oregon’s Columbia River Gorge. Pssst! It’s a secret, so only tell your closest hiking buddies.