Dalles Mountain Ranch at Columbia Hills State Park (photographer: Warren Morgan)
Trail Description Driving DirectionsRoad hikes often lack appeal for hikers, but the spectacular flowers and mountain views on this one make up for the rather ordinary walk!
From the trailhead (2,050’) where a gate blocks the road, hike up the road for 2 miles to the 3,200’ summit of Stacker Butte. At 1.1 miles (2,600’) a jeep track on the right offers a 1 mile side trip to Oak Spring, one of many springs in the Columbia Hills. Continue up to the summit where you will find microwave towers and an oddly- shaped radar dome that provides a signal to aircraft arriving and departing from Portland International Airport.
In April or May the area offers one of the best displays of flowers in the Northwest with balsamroot, lupine, paintbrush, phlox, larkspur, hawkweed and many others. However, this is also a good year-round hike for the views.
From the summit you will encounter breathtaking views of Mount Adams and Mount Hood, and look down into Swale Canyon and the Klickitat River Valley.
Use caution during warmer months as the area has many ticks and even rattlesnakes. Return to the trailhead back down the same road.
Be advised that pets are not allowed in this preserve, and hikers must not wander off the road! This is to protect one of Washington’s last stands of native grasses and three rare plants – the obscure buttercup, Douglas’ draba and hot-rock penstemon.
Early settlers often had a rough time surviving in this beautiful but harsh eastern Gorge environment. Thin soil, high winds and scant rainfall challenged even the most determined pioneers. William T. Murphy of Polk County, Oregon was the first non-Native settler in what was to become Dalles Mountain Ranch. In 1866, he claimed 220 acres of land near the Columbia River about midway between the east and west boundaries of today’s park.
Most of the original homesteads were too small to support crop growing. Thus, farming was replaced for the most part by ranching, which tended to consolidate the original homesteads.
One of the most intriguing features of the Ranch is the stands of deciduous trees found at the sites of some of the original homesteads. These were planted in response to the Timber Culture Act of 1873 which granted homesteaders an additional 160 acres of land if at least 40 acres (later lowered to 10 acres) were planted with trees. It was thought at the time that the planting of forests would bring rain to the dry plains. Two such stands can be found at the Brune and Lucas homesteads.
Eventually the early homesteads were consolidated and the John Crawford family emerged as the principal landowners. Sadly, John’s widow and son Malcolm lost the ranch during the Great Depression. In 1935 it passed to John Reuter, a wealthy doctor. Reuter operated the ranch and added to it, eventually leaving 6,000 acres to his son and daughter upon his death in 1954. The Reuter heirs also fell on hard times which led to the sale of the property to Yakima Valley ranchers Pat and Darlene Bleakney in 1975. The Bleakneys ran the ranch for 18 years until they were preparing to retire. They recognized the natural beauty and historic value of the property and approached the state of Washington in hopes of moving their beloved property into the public domain.
The upper ranch land was sold to the Department of Natural Resources in 1993. About 2,900 acres, including Stacker Butte, ultimately became the Columbia Hills Natural Area Preserve and was set aside to protect rare plant communities. The balance of the ranch, about 3,100 acres, including most of the structures and ranch house, was deeded to Washington State Parks for operation as a park.
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Preserve the Wonder Hike Challenge
This spring’s hike challenge highlights the many wonders of the Gorge.