Popular hiking trails on the Washington side of the Columbia River Gorge are being flooded with hikers hopping the river because so many Oregon trails are closed following last year’s devastating Eagle Creek Fire. Employees at Beacon Rock State Park have reported an unprecedented 40-percent increase in hikers from May 2017 to May 2018. Conservation and hiking groups are now urging hikers to spread their wings and discover new trails.
“We are loving our (popular) trails to death,” Sharon Ross with the Cape Horn Conservancy said.
Fortunately, we live in hiking trail nirvana with a multitude of breathtaking, crowd-free trails to enjoy, you just have to know where to go.
A local hiking secret
The Hardy Ridge Trail is a great example. This hiking gem is actually very close to the crowded and beautiful Hamilton Mountain trail that starts in the Beacon Rock State Park. Hardy Ridge is just one ridge to the west of Hamilton Mountain and offers a stunning panoramic 360 degree view of Mt. Hood, Mt. St. Helens and Mt. Adams from the rocky, wildflower packed summit. “This is our secret hike,” Young Linn from Vancouver said. Linn and her hiking partner Linda Williams have noticed a lot more hikers on Washington trails recently, but not on the Hardy Ridge Trail.
“This has always been one of our favorite hikes and the views from the top are amazing and the wildflowers are spectacular, we hike this trail year round,” Williams said.
The trail begins about a mile up Kueffler Road, which is right next to the ranger station at Beacon Rock State Park. Follow the equestrian trail signs which will take you to the trailhead. The journey begins on a wide equestrian trial which takes you to the Hardy Ridge trail, which turns into a well established single track trail that takes you to the top of the ridge. It’s rocky and steep, but the remarkable views and brilliant wildflowers along the way make it well worth the effort.
Alisha Delaney, Alex Kaye and their dogs, Goose and Duke made it to the top.
“It’s a bit dicey at the top with the rocks and skree fields so you should really have good sturdy hiking shoes,” Kaye who spends most of his weekends fly fishing said.
“I did this trail back in 2016 and really enjoy it because it is not heavily travelled and the views are spectacular,” said Delaney. You will climb about 2,500 feet to the top and for most hikers the trip up and back to the equestrian parking lot will take about three to four hours. The difficulty level of the Hardy Ridge Trail is considered strenuous because of the steep rocky sections that will test your fitness.
“It’s beautiful, but not for the faint of heart,” Delaney said. Hiking poles are recommended to stay balanced on the steeper sections.
Hardy Ridge Trail to Hamilton Mountain
For hard-core hikers, the Hardy Ridge Trail system actually connects with the busy Hamilton Mountain trail. From the top of Hamilton Mountain you can walk along the ridge and take a trail down to Hardy Creek and then up to the top of Hardy Ridge. It’s about a 15-mile loop.
“We started early in the morning and haven’t seen many people, especially here on the Hardy Ridge trail,” said Barry Jahn from Salem as he was nearing the end of the day long trek with his friend Winston Pagliaro from Portland.
“The valley in between Hamilton and Hardy is extremely nice, there’s a lot of woodland cover and an amazing creek where we didn’t see a single other person in there,” Pagliaro said.