Klickitat Trail - Swale Canyon
Eastern Gorge, Washington
Hiking the Swale Canyon trail in spring. (photographer: Debbie Asakawa)
Hike Details
Type:
Out and back
Distance:
10.2 miles round trip
Elevation Gain:
1000 feet
Difficulty:
Moderate
Trail Features
Family Friendly:
No
Restrooms:
Yes
Trailhead Pass:
No
Trail Details
WildflowersBeautiful ViewsCultural HistoryCultural HistoryBird Viewing
This section of the Klickitat Trail breaks away from the Klickitat River and the road and follows Swale Creek. Near mile 2, the route starts its descent into Swale Canyon, a remote gorge punctuated with volcanic rock outcroppings and vibrant Columbia desert parsley. Cross three railroad trestles in the next 1.5 miles and continue heading west. After 4.5 miles, the route swings to the north for the final 0.6 mile to a waterfront lunch spot along Swale Creek. Savor views of the creek's chutes, waterfalls, and small pools. Please stick to the path, as much of the adjoining property is private. This trail is popular with mountain bikers.
 
Note: Dogs are required to be on leash on this section of the Klickitat trail.
 
Klickitat Trail History
In 1889, a group of Goldendale citizens incorporated the Columbia Valley & Goldendale Railroad. Surveys were conducted for a route that ran southwest from Goldendale across a plateau to Swale Creek. It followed the creek northward through Swale Canyon to join the Klickitat River near Wahkiacus; then wound southwest past Klickitat to terminate on the Columbia River at Lyle. The grade was gentle and the route required no tunnels and few bridges. In 1902, new investors took over the surveys and began construction of the Columbia River and Northern Railroad. Freight and passenger service began in May 1903.
 
There was no easy road access to the towns along the route until the mid-1920s. Thus, the railroad was the only viable way to move grain and agricultural products from Goldendale and timber and paper products from Klickitat. In the early years, these goods were carried to Portland by steamship. Then in 1908, the main rail line along the north shore of the Columbia River was completed from Portland to Spokane, and river transport faded. By the early-1930's, good county roads were completed and passenger service ceased. Freight service continued, declining gradually, and came to an end with the closing of a large mill in Klickitat in 1990.
 
Ownership passed from the Northern Pacific to the Burlington Northern. By 1992, the rails were removed and in 1993 the line was purchased by the Rails to Trails Conservancy, who donated it to the Washington State Parks, who in turn coordinated with the US Forest Service to eventually build a trail along the railroad grade. The US Forest Service looked into recreation management of the trail in the mid-1990s, but opposition from the Klickitat County Commission stalled efforts.
 
Those efforts resurfaced in 2001 when a young man writing a thesis on rail trails visited the trail. The County Sheriff's office cited the man for criminal trespass, even though he was on Washington State Parks land. This led the state of Washington to vigorously rebuke the County and a group of local trail enthusiasts began hiking the trail on a monthly basis to reassert the public's right to the trail. A small group of property owners along the route were aggressive and hostile in their opposition. Proponents, hikers and Forest Service staff were threatened and intimidated, and incidents of violence occurred. Eventually, a majority of locals embraced the trail and recognized it as an asset to their communities.
 
Those early local trail enthusiasts created the Klickitat Trail Conservancy, incorporated in 2003 and has since has worked tirelessly to improve the trail and promote its use and to raise funds for these goals. In 2006, the US Forest Service and Washington State Parks signed an official Cooperating Agreement with the Conservancy. Today, the Conservancy provides over 1,000 volunteer hours a year to the trail and works with the two agencies to ensure effective stewardship and enhancement of this amazing 31-mile trail.
 
Come and hike or mountain bike through the rugged beauty of Swale Canyon, view the Klickitat River Gorge at Fisher Hill Bridge and the gathering of Bald Eagles every January along a 2-mile section of handicapped-accessible trail starting at Lyle. Enjoy all the wonders of this incredible area!
 
- Submitted by Jim Chase
 
Learn about the Klickitat Trail Conservancy.

Driving Directions

Swale Canyon Trailhead:  Cross the Hood River Bridge ($2 toll) into Washington. Turn right/east onto WA Hwy 14. Travel 11 miles into the town of Lyle. Turn left/north onto Lyle-Centerville Hwy. Go north, then east for about 15 miles. Turn left on Harms Road. Drive north one-half mile and park just north of the bridge. There is a portable toilet at the trailhead.

Community Connection

Lyle Cherry Orchard’s trailhead is located approximately one mile from the Gorge town of Lyle and is home to the “Lyle” sign that sits above the community. Since this preserve was opened to the public the Lyle Cherry Orchard has provided the community with an accessible natural space right in their back yard. The sunny and dry preserve is the perfect hiking spot to visit during the rainier fall days in the western gorge. Visitors from the Gorge and beyond recreate on Lyle Cherry Orchard and in turn support the local economy.

Photo: View of town of Lyle from Lyle Cherry Orchard (Debbie Asakawa)

Preserve Story

The property where Lyle Cherry Orchard Preserve lies currently was once grazing land for cattle and as the name suggests the eastern part of the preserve held a cherry orchard. The orchard and its trees were well abandoned by the time Nancy Russell purchased the property piece by piece in the 1990’s and later donated it to Friends in 2009. Nancy purchased the property when it came up for sale because it was within key viewing areas on the Oregon side of the Gorge and would have most likely become subdivided for development.

The land is also home to remnants of Lyle Convict Road, a demonstration road built by Sam Hill to convince Washington legislators to fund a Columbia River Highway. When Washington showed no interest in Sam’s project, he invited the entire Oregon legislature to his Maryhill estate to see his "Good Roads" work and Oregon quickly agreed to build on their side of the river what is today the Historic Columbia River Highway.

The trail at Lyle Cherry Orchard was started in when Friends' founder Nancy Russell purchased the property and has been open to the public and maintained Friends and its land trust ever since. In 2019, Washington Trails Association started work to reroute some parts of the trail and add new trail to explore for the benefit of Gorge residents.

In 2013, the land trust and volunteers removed a dilapidated house and outbuildings on the southwestern end of the property. Countless hours were spent removing building materials, old vehicles, garbage, and debris. In 2015 volunteers removed over 1,700 feet of fencing material on the property to allow for the free movement of wildlife across the landscape. Without the help of Friends volunteers and Gorge community members, projects like this would not be possible.

Photos: Before and after cleanup at Lyle Cherry Orchard (Friends' archive)