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As you drive out Interstate 84, you can actually see Angels Rest, a flat-topped rock outcropping sticking out over the road at the end of a ridge. What looks like a building on top is actually a clump of trees. And if it looks like its way up there, just remember that if you take your time on the way up you’ll have plenty of breath left to be taken away by the view up top.
The trail starts with a moderate climb through the woods and has an early reward: a rare view down at a waterfall, in this case 100-foot Coopey Falls. Soon thereafter, the trail crosses Coopey Creek on a wooden bridge and then starts climbing just a little more steeply.
After about a mile, you’ll start switching back through an area that burned in 1991; note the blackened trunks of some of the bigger trees. It was mostly just the underbrush and smaller trees that burned, opening up the forest floor to the sun and letting wildflowers come in to take your mind off the climb. When the trail traverses a rockslide for 100 yards, you’re almost done.
Just past the slide, the trail goes back into the woods briefly, and you turn left out onto the final ridge. This last stretch of the trail is why you might think twice about bringing small children: It gets a little narrow, with cliffs to the east falling away a few hundred feet, and in one spot you’ll have to scramble up about ten feet of rocks. When a trail goes off to the right on the ridge top, stay straight.
The reward for this small effort is a view to rival any other in the Gorge. To the east, you can see Beacon Rock and the high walls on either side of the river. To the west you can see the Vista House and the hills falling away toward Portland and the Willamette Valley. The Columbia River, right below you, seems so close that you could get a running start and jump into it. You might see some windsurfers out there; on one trip, I watched a floatplane practicing touch-and-go landings on this stretch of the river. All in all, it’s hard to imagine a better place to have lunch.