Columbia Hills State Park

Spring came early to the Pacific Northwest and many of the flowers are running a week or two ahead of schedule so I’d been keeping my eye on the wildflower situation in the Columbia Gorge. Recent trip reports from the east end of the gorge showing the flowers out in force, a promising forecast, and a free day at Washington State Parks made for a combination that I just couldn’t pass up. Due to Heather training for the upcoming Corvallis half-marathon she was unable to accompany me this time, but my parents were able to join me for three short hikes in Columbia Hills State Park.

The park is located in Washington just across the Columbia River from The Dalles, OR and encompasses 3,338 acres offering rock climbing, fishing, sailboarding, and many other activities in addition to the hiking trails. We started our day off at Horsethief Butte, a rocky outcrop left over from an ancient basalt flow popular with rock climbers.

Basalt cliffs on the opposite side of Highway 14 from the trailhead.
IMG_0561_stitch

The trail starts off with a nice view of Mt. Hood over The Dalles.
IMG_0554

IMG_0580

The trail crosses a short section of flat grassland before splitting with the left fork heading up into a canyon of Horsethief Butte and the right fork leading around the mesa to rejoin the left fork on the far end of the canyon. There were a variety of flowers to be seen along this portion of the trail.

Manroot
IMG_0616

Bugloss fiddleneck
IMG_0617

Death camas
IMG_0623

Prarie star
IMG_0631

Large-flower triteleia
IMG_0578

Western stoneseed
IMG_0581

Larkspur
IMG_0584

Desert parsley
IMG_0619

When the trail split we took the left hand fork and headed for the canyon. At Horsethief Butte the dirt trail gave way to a short rock scramble up to the canyon entrance. At the top of the scramble the canyon opened up to reveal a good sized slot dotted with yellow balsamroot flowers.
IMG_0586

IMG_0589

Members of the Mazamas, an outdoor group based out of Portland, were busy setting up and climbing among the rocks.
IMG_0597

At the far end of the canyon the view opened to the Columbia River and Mt. Hood.
IMG_0596

IMG_0598

Here the trail dropped out of the canyon (without a rock scramble) to rejoin the right-hand fork. Before heading back we turned left and continued another quarter mile behind the butte to a viewpoint where poison oak patches were growing.

Poison Oak
IMG_0615

We headed back and completed the loop with Mt. Hood looming to our left.
IMG_0626

Next we headed to the Dalles Mountain Ranch, a short 4.5 mile drive away. To get there we drove 1.8 miles west on Hwy 14 and turned right on Dalles Mountain Road for another 2.5 miles to a fork. The trailhead for the ranch was to the right about .2 miles. Here an abandoned farmhouse and other buildings sat amid fields of balsamroot and lupine.
IMG_0634

We explored the area around the farmhouse first where several pieces of old equipment were on display along with the flowers and views of Mt. Hood and distant Mt. Jefferson.
IMG_0635

IMG_0653

IMG_0665

IMG_0666

There were also a couple of trail options. I wandered down to Eight Mile Creek through a spectacular field of balsamroot and lupine.
IMG_0668

IMG_0684

IMG_0681

IMG_0688

Our final stop was another short 1.4 mile drive up Dalles Mountain Road where a gate marked the end of the drive and the start of the Columbia Natural Area Preserve.
IMG_0693

We set off on the 2.5 mile hike up the closed road that would led us to the summit of Stacker Butte. Entire hillsides were covered in yellow from the balsamroot with a smattering of other flowers thrown in.
IMG_0713

IMG_0704

IMG_0716

IMG_0718

The total climb was a little over 1100′ but it was never too steep and the sweeping views drew attention away from the climb.
IMG_0720

IMG_0719

It was interesting to note the change in the mix of flowers as we climbed. Along the lower portion balsamroot and lupine dominated with a few prairie stars mixed in. A little higher up we ran into paintbrush and phlox.
IMG_0751

IMG_0767

IMG_0776

Next came larkspur and big-head clover.
IMG_0778

IMG_0797

Flowers weren’t the only things we spotted. There were numerous birds and a few deer in the area.
IMG_0783

IMG_0855

IMG_0844

We had lost our views of Mt. Jefferson and Mt. Hood to the clouds, but when we reached the summit of Stacker Butte new views opened up. To the NW Mt. Adams was mostly obscured by a line of clouds, but Mt. Rainier and Goat Rocks were virtually cloud free.
IMG_0879

IMG_0885

IMG_0865

Almost directly below us lay Stacker Canyon where the Klickitat Rail Trail follows Swale Creek toward the Klickitat River, a hike we had done last April. https://wanderingyuncks.wordpress.com/2014/04/27/klickitat-rail-trail-swale-canyon-from-harms-rd/

IMG_0875

IMG_0876

It was a little too windy (and chilly) to spend much time at the summit so after a quick snack break near an air control wigwam we headed back down the road.
IMG_0860

On our way down I got my first butterfly pictures of the year.

Sheridan’s Hairstreak
IMG_0899

Blue Copper
IMG_0936

With all of the options Columbia Hills State Park has to offer it makes a great place to spend a day outdoors, especially during the spring flower bloom. There are ticks and rattlesnakes in the area in addition to the poison oak so you’ll want to pay attention if you visit, but don’t let that stop you from checking this park out. Happy Trails!

flickr: https://www.flickr.com/photos/9319235@N02/sets/72157649434751593/

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s