Exploring wonders of the Gorge

Spring hikes offer a long-awaited opportunity to play outdoors

Hiking in the Gorge
  • Shuttle buses are available on weekends through June 18 for those who want to view the wildflowers on Dog Mountain. The bus leaves from the Skamania County Fairgrounds from 8:30 a.m. to 4:15 p.m. For a complete bus schedule, visit www.skamaniacounty.org or call 509-427-3990.
  • There are three “free” days at Washington State Parks this summer, which are National Trails Day on June 3, National Get Outdoors Day on June 10 and National Park Services 101st Birthday on Aug. 25. This means a Discover Pass will not be required.
  • To learn more about the “Preserve the Wonder” hiking challenge, visit gorgefriends.org/hike-the-gorge/explore-the-wonders.html.

The first outlook at Dog Mountain is approximately one mile up.

Visitors flock to the Columbia River Gorge in the spring to hike various trails filled with wildflowers. Due to the harsh winter, the flowers are blooming later than usual.

Wildflowers are beginning to bloom in the gorge.

The final mile to the top of Dog Mountain features single track trails with steep downward slopes.

A steep, rocky trail winds down along the side of Dog Mountain. Although careful footing is needed in areas to avoid falling, hikers and runners are rewarded with majestic views on a clear day.

Those who need to rest on the 3.7 mile trek up to the top will find this bench waiting a few miles up.

Those who call the Pacific Northwest home are used to the rainy winter weather.

But this year — with stretches of snow, ice, sleet, wind and bitter temperatures that literally trapped people inside for days at a time — put even the hardiest of cold-weather lovers to the test.

Thankfully, it’s warming up, and with that comes the opportunity to explore the numerous trails that line the majestic Columbia River Gorge.

On a recent sunny Friday, the parking lot at Dog Mountain, considered by many to be one of the most challenging hikes in the Gorge, was at capacity. Luckily, anyone patient enough to wait for a spot was treated to the sounds of nature, breathtaking views and spring wildflowers just beginning to emerge.

The hike, however, was even more challenging given the winter weather. Trails were extremely slick and muddy in areas, rocky in others, and snow still lined the ground in patches.

But for those who pushed through the 3,000 feet of elevation gain in 3.7 miles, views from the top were nothing short of incredible. Mount Hood and Mount Adams could be seen in the distance, as well as snowcapped hills, blue sky and various wildflowers. The Columbia River cut through the Gorge, and bees buzzed about.

Weary hikers sat down and refueled themselves with the views and food they had packed for their hike. Some even fell asleep.

For those who would like to avoid crowds and clear their head of distractions, weekdays seem to be the best option, according to Maegan Jossy, outreach manager for Friends of the Columbia Gorge.

“One of the unique characteristics and draw to the Gorge is its long wildflower season, generally from March through June,” she said. “That timeframe corresponds with when many people are eager to get out hiking again and see spring come to life in the Gorge. That’s why I’d recommend going on a weekday to avoid crowds.”

She continued, “It’s worth taking the day off work to have a quieter hiking experience so one can feel more connected to nature.”

Recommended trail etiquette includes not picking the flowers and remembering to “know before you go,” as the trails are wetter and muddier than normal.

“A traditionally ‘easy’ rated trail may be moderate or even difficult with the current conditions,” Jossy said.

Hikers can visit www.gorgefriends.org/trails before heading out, for more specific trail information.

Another potential issue hikers deal with is what to wear while on the trail. At Dog Mountain, one could see hikers wearing everything from shorts to snow pants.

Jossy noted that light-colored clothing is best during the spring in order to see ticks, which may drop onto clothing.

“Long sleeves and long pants made of quick-drying fabric are best, with sturdy hiking shoes or boots,” she said.

And jeans? Well, best to remember the phrase, “cotton is rotten.”

“Cotton clothing is highly discouraged and should not be worn,” Jossy said. “And it’s always good to have a rain jacket. It’s the Pacific Northwest; it can always rain.”

Through June 30, hikers are invited to join the Friends “Preserve the Wonder,” challenge, which explores the culture, geology, recreation, scenic beauty, waterfalls, wildflowers and wildlife. Custom searches of hikes and corresponding difficulty levels are listed on www.gorgefriends.org/trails.

Recommended easy spring hikes include Rowena Plateau, Mosier Plateau, Klickitat Trail and Deschutes River Trail. Intermediate hikes include Tom McCall Point, Lyle Cherry Orchard and Weldon Wagon Road. For those who want some serious lung and leg burn, check out Dog Mountain, Hamilton Mountain or the Cape Horn Loop.

Earlier this month, the Friends launched the Preserve the Wonder campaign to acquire 420 acres that span across seven properties in Washington. Jossy noted that the $5.5 million fundraising campaign will help create new hiking opportunities while protecting wildlife.

“The name itself was selected because this is an opportunity to protect the unique and wonderful characteristics of the Gorge,” Jossy said.

There are 22 challenges throughout the 83-mile long National Scenic Area. Some are listed hikes such as Beacon Rock, Rowena Plateau and Cape Horn. Otherwise, participants find the challenge listed wherever they can.

“The reason we organize these hike challenges each year is to recognize and highlight the incredible resources of the Gorge,” Jossy said. “From the highest concentration of waterfalls in North America, to 15 wildflowers found nowhere else on the planet, to its geological history, there is so much information to share and teach.”

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