Looming over the Columbia River at an impressive 4,960 feet, the summit of the aptly named Mt. Defiance is the highest point in the Gorge. The 11.6-mile, 4800-foot elevation gain loop hike to the top is viewed as a conditioning jaunt to some, an enticing challenge to others, and an imposing, potential nightmare to most. For those keeping score, that's a few hundred feet shy of a mile's worth of elevation gain.
What Makes It Great
For the loop, the hiker starts at the Starvation Creek Rest Area. There is a pave trail in front of the parking area that leads to Viento Park. Do not take that trail. Instead head up the highway on a paved trail to the right on a path that is right next to the freeway shoulder. You will soon pass a sign that says “Mt. Defiance Trail.” Follow the freeway for only about .1-miles and continue on the main trail to Cabin Creek Falls as you pass Starvation Cutoff Trail #414B. You will pass Hole in the Wall Falls and climb slightly up to the Mt Defiance Trail #413, which you should take a right on. Soon after this, you will encounter what this trail is known for. You head straight up through a series of switchbacks. When you get to about 4000 feet, the views open up a bit and you get to see some incredible views. Continue on the trail past the sign for the Warren Lake Trail #417 as it levels out a little bit at about 5 miles and soon you will come to the last 700 vertical feet to the summit.
To catch the best views, you should take the unmarked trail to the right that is about .3 miles from the Warren Lake Trail intersection and is marked with 2 rock cairns on each side. It is totally worth it for the views, but be prepared for boulder fields. You can either take the same trail you came up to get back to the car or cross the summit area to the trail that goes off the NE side of the summit. This trail will cross the road a couple of times and then you will turn right on the Warren Lake Trail. Continue on this trail until you get to the Starvation Cutoff Trail Junction where you will go right and go .4 miles to Starvation Cutoff Trail #414B. This will take you to the old highway near Cabin Creek Falls and back to your car.
This is a challenging hike that is perfect for those looking to train to summit larger mountains, like Hood or Adams, or is a great goal to shoot for if you are getting into shape.
Who is Going to Love It
Some may choose this hike for other reasons, but for most, Mt. Defiance is a test. It is a test of conditioning, will, and whatever else you might need to have measured. This is not a good choice for casual hikers or families. Hiking Mt. Defiance requires a high level of physical fitness and mental fortitude.
Directions, Parking, & Regulations
To get to the Starvation Creek Trailhead from Portland, take I-84 east to exit 55 and the parking area is right off the highway. There is no entrance for I-84 west from this location, so you will have to continue east on 84 for Viento exit about a mile up.