Mount Defiance, Starvation Creek Trailhead, Portland - Columbia River Gorge, Oregon

Mount Defiance - 11.2 miles

Starvation Creek Trailhead

View of Mount Adams (12,776') on the approach to Mount Defiance

View of Mount Adams (12,776') on the approach to Mount Defiance

Round-Trip Length: 11.2 miles (distance can vary by route)
Start-End Elevation: 139' - 4,959' (4,959' on summit)
Elevation Change: +4,820' net elevation gain (+5,115' total roundtrip elevation gain)
Skill Level: Strenuous
Dogs Allowed: Yes
Bikes Allowed: No
Horses Allowed: No
Related Trails:

Mount Defiance - 11.2 Miles Round-Trip

Mount Defiance (4,959') is generally considered the highest point in the Columbia River Gorge, and accordingly one of the toughest local hikes. There are two main routes (with additional approach options just below the summit), but whichever you follow, there's no sugar-coating the nearly 5,000' climb from Starvation Creek. See GPS and elevation notes below to track this rapid elevation gain.

Trail Map | Photo Gallery

This description follows the Mount Defiance Trail #413 all the way to the loop just below the summit, then turns right (west) on the loop to the summit. 

No matter your route views are simply stunning, which include Mount Rainier, Mount Adams, Mount St Helens, Mount Hood and Mount Jefferson. Pick a clear day to enjoy these panoramas, as well optimal conditions on the descent, which can also be challenging.

Other highlights include Starvation Creek Falls, Cabin Creek Falls, Hole in the Wall Falls and Cabin Creek Falls, all of which you'll see before climbing really begins. Note that the summit houses a large Telecomm installation, which is maddeningly anticlimactic given the effort. Still, some of the best views are had along the way and the overall experience is not diminished:

From Starvation Creek State Park Trailhead, head west on Columbia River Highway past Starvation Cutoff Trail 414B (.2 miles) and Cabin Creek Falls (.25 miles) to Hole-in-the-Wall Falls (.65 miles : 165'). Turn left to the bridge across the base, where you'll leave pavement for singletrack.

The trail continues west across open slopes lined by power lines to the Starvation Ridge Trail split (.85 miles : 295') and base of Lancaster Falls (.95 miles). The fall drops right onto the trail, but requires some deft scrambling to see its impressive upper tiers. Keep straight (west) to a switchback, where the real climb begins (1.35 miles : 475').

The Mount Defiance Trail steepens considerably on methodical switchbacks under a tall fir canopy and vine maple understory.

It moderates some from 2.65 miles (2,220') - 3.15 miles (2,505') before resuming a blistering pace to the Mark O Hatfield Wilderness Boundary (4.25 miles : 3,890'). It rises to a sudden break across open scree with great NW views (4.4 miles : 4,170'). Step out with care across these loose rocks for a look at Helens.

Travel moderates in a shrinking forest to the Mitchell Point - Warren Lake Trail split (4.6 miles : 4,275'); keep right to a yellow sign that marks the loop option to the summit (4.85 miles : 4,490'). Turn right for a more moderate approach with better views.

The trail arcs around then crosses sections of talus that can be tricky with ice/snow (5.25 miles : 4,800'). It passes two consecutive, ill-defined splits (the first goes down to the right, the second up to the left) - keep straight past both to the summit of Mount Defiance (5.6 miles : 4,959').

Vary the return by taking the east leg of the summit loop, or down the Mitchell Point Trail via Warren Lake.

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Interactive GPS Topo Map

Key GPS Coordinates - DATUM WGS84

  • N45 41.303 W121 41.403 — 0.0 miles : Starvation Creek Trailhead (139')
  • N45 41.245 W121 41.733 — .2 miles : Starvation Cutoff Trail split
  • N45 41.217 W121 42.189 — .65 miles : Hole in the Wall Falls
  • N45 41.118 W121 42.291 — .85 miles : Starvation Ridge Trail split
  • N45 41.172 W121 42.826 — 1.35 miles : Begin steep switchbacks (475')
  • N45 41.026 W121 42.692 — 1.65 miles : Steep, steady switchbacks (860')
  • N45 40.926 W121 42.824 — 2.15 miles : Steep, steady switchbacks (1,530')
  • N45 40.655 W121 42.743 — 2.65 miles : Begin brief reprieve (2,220')
  • N45 40.263 W121 42.630 — 3.15 miles : Grade steepens again (2,500')
  • N45 39.913 W121 42.727 — 3.65 miles : Steep, deep woods travel (3,140')
  • N45 39.567 W121 43.084 — 4.25 miles : Hatfield Wilderness Boundary (3,890')
  • N45 39.460 W121 43.100 — 4.4 miles : Forest opens to scree field with views (4,180')
  • N45 39.322 W121 42.937 — 4.6 miles : Mitchell Point - Warren Lake Trail split (4,270')
  • N45 39.146 W121 43.038 — 4.85 miles : Loop split - go right (4,490')
  • N45 39.014 W121 43.431 — 5.25 miles : Rugged, uneven path (4,760')
  • N45 38.860 W121 43.465 — 5.45 miles : Exit Hatfield Wilderness (4,800')
  • N45 38.820 W121 43.461 — 5.5 miles : Trail splits - keep left (4,830')
  • N45 38.815 W121 43.429 — 5.52 miles : Trail splits - keep right (4,860')
  • N45 38.912 W121 43.358 — 5.6 miles : Mount Defiance Summit (4,959')

Worth Noting

  • Weather can change very rapidly on this mountain, and vary considerably between the river gorge and summit. Carry versatile layers.

Camping and Backpacking Information

Camping is permitted in the Mark O Hatfield Wilderness, but there is minimal (if any) suitable camping along the Mount Defiance Trail (#413) to Mount Defiance.

General Camping Rules and Regulations for the Hatfield Wilderness.

  • An overnight fee is required (see rules and regulations).
  • Group size is limited to 12 individuals or any combination of people and stock.
  • Camp in established sites whenever possible. Sites are first come, first served. Some may be closed for restoration
  • Bury human waste 6-8" deep, at least 100' from any trail or water source.
  • Campfires - Columbia River Gorge NSA: Campfires are permitted in the CRGNSA, with potential seasonal and area-specific restrictions. Up-to-date rules are posted at the trailhead and along the trail. 
  • Campfires are permitted in the Mark O. Hatfield Wilderness, but with location and seasonal-specific restrictions. Up-to-date rules are posted at the trailhead and along the trail.

Rules and Regulations

  • A Recreation Pass is not required to access the Starvation Creek Trailhead.
  • Dogs must be leashed at all times.

Directions to Trailhead

Directions to Starvation Creek Trailhead:

From Portland (and points west):

Travel east on I-84 to Exit #55 / Starvation Creek State Park. Park in the large cul de sac.

From Hood River (and points east):

Travel west on I-84 to Exit #51 / Wyeth. Turn left under the highway and get back on I-84 East. Take Exit #55 / Starvation Creek State Park.

Contact Information

Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area
902 Wasco Ave | Suite 200
Hood River, OR 97031

Hood River Ranger District
6780 Highway 35
Parkdale, OR 97041

Mt. Hood National Forest Headquarters
16400 Champion Way
Sandy, OR 97055

Hours: Monday – Friday, 7:30a – 4:30p (closed 11:30 – 12:30)

Trip Reports

There are no trip reports on this trail.


"This trail is STEEP! Probably the steepest in the gorge as this article suggests. The views are worth it - especially of Helens and Adams, which really pop to the north once you reach treeline. The summit is a little anti-climatic with all the radio antennas and whatnot, but the views of Hood and feeling of accomplishment outweigh that slight disappointment. The way down is of course much easier but still difficult, as you have to 'keep the breaks on' so you don't tumble down the mountain. Overall a great day and I'd recommend it to anyone - just be prepared for a long tough climb!"
David Drummond  -  Portland  -  Date Posted: August 15, 2017


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