TRIP REPORT: LITTLE BEACON ROCK
Cool and damp, like a Columbia River Gorge hike should be, with spots of sun to warm things up and illuminate the moss electric green. With views of the river from rocky outcrops, the monolith of Beacon Rock, waterfalls, the deep green woods, and wildflowers galore leaping out of the mossy forest duff, the hike to Rodney Falls and Little Beacon Rock makes for a perfect March hike in the CRG.
The trails on the Oregon side of the Columbia River are mostly shadowed by towering cliffs. Across the broad expanse of the gorge, the Washington side is better situated to take advantage of sunbreaks between showers on a Spring day.
Beacon Rock juts out of the from the edge of the Columbia River off of Highway 14. First named when Lewis and Clark paddled by, it has a curious history leading to its current status as a Washington State Park. Well known to climbers for its columnar basalt, it is also popular with hikers willing to hike a trail that is occasionally cantilevered out over a cliff face. Either way you reach the top, Beacon Rock offers spectacular views of the Columbia River Gorge.
It can get pretty breezy in the Gorge, so it is good to know that there are some other hiking options that dip into the woods on more blustery days. The Hamilton Mountain Trailhead is up a spur road across from Beacon Rock. There are many different loop routes available for every hiking need. The adventurous can hike to the summit of Hamilton Mountain and select from a variety of return routes.
One of the easier loops, easily doable in just a few hours, involves hiking the Hamilton Mountain trail to Rodney Falls and the Pool of the Winds, and then returning via the Little Crater Rock trail and back through the campground.
It was past the Equinox, so the days were getting longer, and Daylight Saving Time had already kicked in, so there was an extra hour of light at the end of the day, but it was still 3 p.m. before we reached the trailhead. Rain had been falling on our drive across I-205 and along Hwy 14, but the clouds parted and the sun made an appearance. We purchased the annual Washington Discover Pass and displayed it on the dashboard. The wind was strong, so Beacon Rock was out. Into the woods and to the waterfalls.
The trail starts at a picnic area built by the CCC, and climbs steadily into the woods, crosses a powerline clearing with grand views of Bonneville Dam, and climbs some more before leveling out.
A spur road leads down to a platformed viewpoint of Hardy Falls, and the next juncture to the right continues on to Hamilton Mountain. Keeping straight leads to the churning bowl of the Pool of the Winds, a unique punchbowl falls that then pours out to create Rodney Falls. Hike back down the switchbacks of the main trail to see the full fan of the falls from a bridge over the creek.
Spots of color leapt out from the side of the trail. The earliest Spring blooms wer already in full swing: Coltsfoot, Trillium, Indian Plum, Toothwort, Violets, Oregon Grape, Salmonberry, Red-flowering Currant, Deer-head Orchid, and of course, Pacific Bleeding Heart. Pictured here are trillium, calypso orchid, and yellow violet.
Taking the campground trail to the right on the return to the powerline clearing leads to the lesser-known Little Beacon Rock with views of the big one through the trees. Moss, rock and tree blend together in this magical green place.
The road to the Hamilton Mountain trailhead is closed in winter (reopens 4/3/2015), so park at the Beacon Rock trailhead and hike the extra half-mile up the closed road. Washington Discover Passes are required to park at these trailheads: $10 for a day pass, $30 for an annual pass.