Silver Star, Washington
Silver Star Mountain is a sprawling mountain mass about 25 miles northeast of Portland. It is easily visible from Interstate 84 near Troutdale and equally well seen from Interstate 5 just north of Vancouver. The area is surprisingly alpine for its low elevation because of forest fires in the 1920s. Its wildflower displays are second to none. It was used by hang pilots in the 1980s and was one of the original sites for the fledgling Cascade Paragliding Club in 1992. Many of us learned much of what we know about mountain flying there.
It is a very complex site. Launches are generally straightforward, but landing zones are more challenging, though there are many options. It is rather poorly explored. There are many launch directions that have never been tried. Both because of the complexity of the flying, and also the arcane details of the driving approaches, Silver Star is usually best appreciated in the company of a knowledgeable local pilot.
There is an enormous amount of recent logging, which changes approaches, landing options, even wind patterns to some extent. The area will continue to evolve as tall trees are taken out and clear cuts grow back in.
The heart of the Silver Star flying area is a north south oriented ridge about 1.5 miles long. The summit of the mountain at 4393 feet is at the southern end of this ridge. North of the summit is a high saddle. North of that is about a mile of open ridge with a steep but generally meadow-like western face. Our two launch areas are approximately at the northern and southern ends of this ridge. the higher, southern launch is the friendlier of the two but they are both reasonably comfortable.
The meadow-like slopes west of this ridge are the bail out landing zones and in the early days, countless side hill landings were made here. Nowadays better performing pilots and gliders are often reaching LZs that are closer to where we park. (but just yesterday between 3 experienced pilots we had 5 bailout side hills on an otherwise really nice soaring day)
Like many of our Cascade Range sites Silver Star works best in relatively light W or NW winds. Since the launches are at 4000 feet, there are many otherwise perfectly delightful summer days when the inversion is too low to allow soaring above these launches and sled rides at Silver Star are not entertaining. This is because the hike up the steep bailout meadow is more exhausting than one would expect, through slippery bunch grass and some brambly shrubs.
This is a west facing afternoon thermal site. On a good day the flying will not turn on until about 3PM at the earliest. All of the commonly used LZs are more like top landings than the fields we are otherwise used to. This means that there is often a lot of lift around them. On a good Silver Star flying day it is much easier to get into an LZ in the evening as things are calming down.
There is some limited XC potential, as yet very poorly explored. Main usable directions would be northwest and possibly south. Flying more than a few miles west is curtailed by the PDX landing pattern, and flying east involves miles of tortuous variably wooded and steep sided mountains. The longest XC flight to date was to Yacolt, Washington by Mike Steed.
Silver Star Mountain is on Gifford Pinchot National Forest. No contact has ever been made with the Forest Service about flying there, though they are certainly aware of our usage. Be friendly to them.
There are two main parking areas used by paraglider pilots. Just beyond the more northerly of the launch sites the ridge forks with one branch continuing straight north and the second running WNW toward a hill called Squaw Butte (unless the non-PC geographic name has been recently changed).there is a trail atop this ridge that the forest calls the Chinook Trail.
The north lot is the main hiking access to Silver Star and the spot that Googleing the hike will direct you to. The access to the west ridge is the top of a logging road that is more informal. It is a gated road and has been closed for seasons at a time, though for the last two years it has been open and in very good shape. Both are accessed from the 1100 road. The west lot is accessed by turning, right, uphill, about 4 miles after leaving Dole Valley, soon after a bridge in a canyon. The north lot is a right turn from the 1100 road, two miles further on.
If an area looks like it has LZ potential, it has been used. It is important to note a particularly dangerous flat area on the ridge fairly close to the north parking access. This has a vertical cliff on its west side and rotor is bad whenever flying conditions are reasonably inspiring. (although in very light winds this spot is a nice sledder destination from launch)
The north access is 1: 200 feet higher, 2: standard hiker access and therefore always open and maintained albeit with frequent drainage features barely permitting the use of street sedans, 3: 10 minutes more driving 4: with tree growth nowadays getting very difficult to land in with very few bailouts if you miss.
The west access as of 2012 is an easier drive, an easier landing, and has several alternative landing options both below and above it. Though these LZs all have their quirks they add up to a much more reassuring situation.
Both parking lots are reached from the 1100 logging road, which branches off Dole Valley Road about 2 miles after it starts at Sunset Falls Rd. The road to the W parking area branches R uphill fairly soon after one has driven in and back out of a deep draw. Drive as high as possible up this road. (bearing first right and then left, I think) There are tire tracks leading steeply up from near the west end of the parking area, walking up these leads to an informal trail. The hike leads quickly to a meadow (good LZ) and after you cross the meadow you find the Chinook Trail heading up the ridge. This switchbacks uphill, repeatedly crossing an old logging road, and reaches the N-S ridge near the lower launch area. Once on the ridge you also have a choice of trail or road on which to go uphill and south; either can be used.
I think the easiest way to describe access to Dole Valley Road is to recommend going to Moulton Falls State Park. This is a landmark easily found by internet and is about 3 miles before Yacolt on the Lucia Falls Road. From Moulton Falls, watch for a right turn onto Sunset Falls Road. 2 miles over a big hill and all the way down the other side bring you to a right turn onto Dole Valley Road. In about 2 miles or so watch for a left turn uphill onto the 1100 road. Currently the road is marked by a big 1100 painted vertically on a fir trunk, and is just before a large clear cut.
There are many options for reaching Moulton Falls. From Portland we most commonly drive to Battleground, either via I205 and Padden Parkway then left on SR 503 OR else follow signs from exit 11 on interstate 5. From Battleground, Grace Lane, near the east end of Main Street just before the railroad crossing leads to an inconspicuous power substation and a left turn down to a bridge across the Lewis River, then a right turn onto Lucia Falls Road.
There is a reason why Silver Star is under utilized by outdoors people of every stripe. The navigation is intricate. If you don't have a guide, study this one very carefully on maps and media. MANY hikers, bikers, equestrians, mushroom hunters, and pilots fail to find the parking lots. You may not have cell phone access along the 1100 road when you most want your maps app to work.
Total Revision Submitted by Pete Reagan 7/6/12
More site photos:
Photo©2003 Pete Reagan
Looking southeast at the summit and then the Columbia River Gorge.
Photo©2003 Pete Reagan
The parking lot, showing what you hope will be the landing pattern.
Photo©2003 Pete Reagan
The foreground shows a flat are with cliffs on the west that are
Then, in the center is a lower launch area that has been launched and soared in light to moderate northwest winds.
A trail follows the ridge on the east side and a road goes up the west side.
The flat area at bottom center is the rotor zone that has been mentioned.
Photo©2003 Pete Reagan
Launches have been made all along this ridge starting from about
the middle of the photo.
The hike to the 4100' launch area at the top of the main ridge is usually a good choice.
Landings have also been made in many places along this ridge. The northeast facing bowl (lower center)
has been used as a late evening LZ after departing the east side of the 4100' launch.
Updated on July 2014 by Pete Reagan