Beacon Rock (photographer: Mitch& Hammontree)
Trail Description Driving DirectionsBeacon Rock is truly a Gorge icon, not to be missed! It is an easy, straight-forward climb with wonderful views in all directions from the top.
Two miles round trip from the base of the Rock to the top and back down; 600' of elevation. The climb can be done year round, but use caution when conditions are unusually cold, wet, icy or windy. The grade on the trail is gradual with railings all the way up across 17 bridges and 54 switchbacks.
The River at this point is about 15' above sea level. The trailhead is at 250' and the top of the Rock is at 848'.
Views From the Top
- Looking (east) upstream: Bonneville Dam; the slide area. Mt. Defiance. Get out your binoculars! Is that Dog Mountain in the distance!
- Looking (south) across the river: Munra Point. Elowah Falls. The shear rock faces are the front of Nesmith Point and Yeon Mountain.
- Looking (west) downstream: Phoca ("seal" in Latin) Rock. Crown Point Vista House if the weather is clear and your eyes are good!
- Looking north: Hamilton Mountain.
Best Views of Beacon Rock
- Looking south from Beacon Rock Upper Picnic Shelter. Enter the State Park across Hwy 14 from the Beacon Rock trailhead. Drive past the Hamilton Mountain Trailhead and turn left into the upper picnic area. $10 Discover Pass. Nice place for a picnic!
- From Beacon Rock boat ramp. Turn left on Doetsch Road, 0.7 miles west of the Rock, on Hwy 14.
Lewis and Clark initially called it "Beaten Rock", but changed the name to "Beacon Rock" on their return voyage in 1806. During the early 1900's it was most often called "Castle Rock."
Geologically the Rock was once thought to be the eroded core of an ancient volcano. However, it is more likely a segment of a large north-south dike where basalt lava oozed up through cracks in the earth's crust only 50-60,000 years ago. In either case, the softer outer layers were stripped away by massive floods during the last Ice Age to leave the monolith that remains today.
We owe the preservation of the Rock to two far-sighted individuals. Charles Ladd purchased it in 1904. It was a much loved by his family who often traveled there by boat. Ladd's stewardship thwarted plans by the Army Corps of Engineers to blast it apart and use the pieces to create a jetty at the mouth of the Columbia. In 1915 Ladd sold it for $1 to Henry J. Biddle on the condition that it would be preserved. The first recorded climb was in 1901, and the climbers left spikes and ropes in place for later climbers. Biddle was attracted by the idea of building a trail "in perhaps the most difficult location in which a trail had ever been built". From October 1915 to April 1918, Biddle and a helper built the walkway of trails, ramps, stairs and railings to the top. It was later improved by the CCC. In 1935 Biddle's heirs offered the Rock to the State of Washington to become a state park. Initially Washington refused the offer, but quickly reconsidered after the same offer was accepted by Oregon. Thus, Beacon Rock very nearly became an Oregon State Park!
Beacon Rock once marked the end of the last rapids in the Columbia River before the ocean, and the farthest point upstream where tidal influences can be detected (only in late fall when the water level is low). This is why Lewis and Clark named it Beaten Rock.
Prior to the building of the Bonneville dam a series of major rapids ran from present-day Cascade Locks to a point near the Rock. These were called the "Columbia Cascades" - from which the Cascade Mountains derive their name. These cascades were caused in part by a violent earthquake in 1700, and by earlier quakes. These caused much of nearby Table Mountain to collapse and slide into the river. For a brief time the rubble blocked the flow, creating a lake that stretched 35 miles upstream and an earthen bridge across the river that the Indians called the "Bridge of the Gods".
Cool Nearby Attractions
- Bonneville Dam and Hatchery. See the giant sturgeon and enjoy a tour and history of the dam. Enter at MP 40 on I-84. There is also a smaller visitor center on the Washington side. The trail to Wahclella Falls is at the south end of this same exit. It is a short hike to a beautiful waterfall. 1.8 miles round trip; 300' of elevation.
- Columbia Gorge Interpretive Center. Geology of the Gorge; history of Lewis and Clark and the Oregon Trail; local tribes; fish wheels; and much more! From the Bridge of the Gods drive 1.5 miles east on WA Hwy 14. Turn left on Rock Creek Drive and follow the signs. Nearby Stevenson, WA has good restaurants and a brew pub for lunch.
- Hamilton Mountain. The trail all the way to the top is steep: 7.6 miles round trip with a 2,000-foot elevation gain. Make that an all-day adventure. However, you can take a shorter hike to beautiful Rodney Falls (also known as "Pool of the Winds") in only 2.2 miles round trip and 600' of elevation. Enter the State Park across Hwy 14 from the Beacon Rock trailhead. Turn right into the first parking area. There is a sign for the trailhead. $10 Discover Pass.
- Written by Jim Chase
Beacon Rock State Park Map
Hike by Bus! The Skamania County WET Bus stops at this trailhead. Plan your next trip using this service with our suggested hike itinerary. Learn more. + Read More