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Washington State Parks Brace for Crowds at Gorge Facilities

Washington State Parks staff are expecting heavy use of the Columbia Hills State Park near Dallesport this spring and summer.

Photo by Sverre Bakke
Washington State Parks staff are expecting heavy use of the Columbia Hills State Park near Dallesport this spring and summer.



Washington State Parks anticipate heavy use of Beacon Rock and Columbia Hills state parks this spring and summer and advises visitors to the area to plan accordingly.

The Eagle Creek Fire of 2017 damaged most of the Oregon trails in the Columbia River Gorge, and State Parks and U.S. Forest Service trails are experiencing a significant increase in hikers and crowded parking on the Washington side.

The park’s most popular trail up the side of 848-foot Beacon Rock celebrates its 100-year anniversary this April. The park is also home to the challenging 7.5-mile Hamilton Mountain trail, a hike known for waterfalls and views.

Dalles Mountain Ranch, in Columbia Hills Historical State Park, is a favorite wildflower hike in spring. The 8-mile hike features fields of lupine, balsamroot, and Indian paintbrush.

Rangers at the two parks want to remind visitors that parking on State Route 14 is illegal. Safety issues caused by parking on the highway’s shoulder have prompted the Forest Service to require limited weekend use permits and offer shuttles for the well-trodden Dog Mountain trail.

Parks staff encourages hikers to plan visits for midweek, early morning or late afternoon to avoid the high-volume weekend, holiday and mid-morning to mid-afternoon hours.

Beacon Rock staff reminds visitors that parking at the Doetsch day use area is available 1.5 miles from the Beacon Rock trailhead and 2 miles from the Hamilton Mountain trailhead, on the River to Rock Trail. Experienced hikers can use the Hardy Ridge Trail as an alternative to Hamilton Mountain, as the lesser-known trail offers slightly more elevation gain.

Additionally, technical rock climbing on Beacon Rock is closed, except for the west face and the route “Stone Soup” on the northwest face, and is expected to reopen in mid-July. The closure protects the nesting habitat of the peregrine falcon. The east face is permanently closed to protect rare species and cultural and historical resources.

Columbia Hills staff asks visitors to consider such lesser-known trails as Crawford Oaks and Horsethief Butte as alternatives to the Dalles Mountain Ranch or to hike in nearby Brooks Memorial State Park and the Klickitat State Park Trail. Ample parking is available at Horsethief Lake inside Columbia Hills, but parking is minimal at most trailheads in the area.

More information about Oregon trail closures, updates, and available hikes is available through Friends of the Columbia River Gorge, Oregon State Parks, and USFS.



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