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Two Hikes to Savor in Washington-Oregon

By Patrick Still - August 2nd, 2000

If you're camping in the Hood River, Oregon, area (and there are plenty of great places to camp within a 30-minute drive -- Trout Lake, Washington, 20 miles north toward Mt. Adams; Sherwood and Robinhood campgrounds, 30 miles south on Oregon 35; and Memaloose State Park, 10 miles east on Interstate 84) stop in town to fuel up before you try these Deschutes River day hikes.

A key attraction in these two day hikes is getting there. The 30-mile section of the Columbia Gorge on Interstate 84 -- between Hood River and the mouth of the Deschutes -- contains some of the most dramatic scenery of the entire 80-mile loop drive.

You'll follow the river east to the Deschutes River State Recreation Area. After the hike, you'll go north across the Columbia, into Washington and loop back on the Washington side of the river.

After leaving the town of Hood River, the first two bends in the river are formed on the south by tall, vertical walls of columnar basalt. The village of Mosier is the west end of the Rowena Loop Road, with panoramic vistas from the cliff tops.

You'll round the next bend and start climbing a basalt slope, now almost completely covered in fruit orchards. At the top of the hill sits the Memaloose area, an ancient Native American burial ground that was flooded by the Bonneville Dam.

Continue through The Dalles, noticing the highway sign for U.S. 197 south to Maupin. This is the road to follow for the Deschutes rafting day trip. As you pass by The Dalles Dam on the east end of town, admire the striking formations on the Washington side, where wind, rain and the river have cut through centuries of lava flows.

In a few miles, the river straightens out enough to see a railroad bridge in the distance. This spur follows the Deschutes River canyon for more than 70 miles. As you drive by the bridge, start looking for Exit 97, Celilo, and Oregon 206. Turn east and drive three miles along another stretch of impressive vertical basalt, and you have arrived at the Deschutes River State Recreation Park.

Two trails at the Deschutes River State Recreation Park give you an option. The west side has a simple out-and-back of approximately three miles round trip, starting upstream of the boat landing. The trail follows an old ranch road, going by weathered cattle pens. Around the first half mile, the "road" fades into cattle trails. River access is easy, and the elevation change is negligible.

The east side has more variety, with a 4.5-mile loop following an old railroad grade. This trail begins near the overflow camping area. For the first 1.5 miles, the trail starts easy, running parallel to the river and the railroad embankment. Then a left turn sharply cuts up the slope toward the basalt ramparts. Pause briefly at the railroad grade, catch your breath and take in the magnificent river views.

As you cross over a stile, you find yourself climbing a moderate slope through a sage grassland. After negotiating Ferry Springs Canyon, point your camera downriver.

Also, keep an eye out for wildlife. There might still be some deer on the low ridge lines at midmorning. More likely, you'll see herons, hawks, kingfishers, numerous seagulls and some common mergansers. On the return loop, listen for otters in the reeds at the river's edge.

Following the canyon descent, you recross the grade at the 3.5 mile mark. The return part of the loop wanders back downstream, ending at an old homestead. From there, retrace your steps back to the overflow lot.

Continue east on Oregon 206 and then take the turnoff for Biggs. When you cross the Columbia, you have a choice of several nearby picnic areas.

On the Washington side of the bridge is Maryhill State Park; it's pretty, with numerous tree "walls," but still usually windy. Drive up the canyon wall to SR 14, turn left and go for a couple of miles until you see signs for Maryhill Museum. Find a spot on the spacious grounds to munch some goodies, but make sure that the roving flocks of peahens and peacocks don't help themselves. I prefer the lawn between the mansion and the river, with magnificent views of the wheat fields on the Oregon highlands.

To the southwest, you're treated to a wide turn in the Columbia, with the mouth of the Deschutes (where we were walking earlier this day) in the distance. In the southeast, The Dalles lies in another huge bend of the river, with Mount Hood dominating the heights.

After a couple of miles on the left, there is a little picnic area just east of Lyle. Stop to enjoy the up- and downriver views at this almost-hidden nugget.

Slow down for the village of Lyle, noticing the road sign for SR 142 and the Klickitat River as you drive out of town. The Klickitat River is a prime spring runoff whitewater river, with one upper section comprised of two solid miles of Class 2s and 3s.

The final high point of this Gorge Day Loop is located in the town of White Salmon, on the heights opposite Hood River. In Bingen, turn right on SR 141. Downshift for the coming grade as you pass the closed movie theater and the local community church.

Across the main drag from the clock tower, and about a block up the hill, look for a narrow storefront that offers ice cream and espresso. The Creamery, 121B E. Jewett St. (WA SR 141), is owned and operated by two sisters, who make a good, non-syrupy-tasting iced mocha; just the late-afternoon treat to cap another fabulous Gorge day.

Trip Planner

Hike: Deschutes River State Recreation Area.

Elevation Change: East: 500 feet; West: minimal.

Difficulty: Moderate dayhike.

Distance: East: 4.5 miles roundtrip; West: 3 miles roundtrip.

Best time of year: late spring to early fall.

Getting there: From the west, Exit 97 Celilo, 3 mi. east OR206.

From the east, Exit 104 Biggs, 4 mi. west through Biggs to OR 206.

Special Note: Ticks in the grass and sage like people; rattlesnakes run from people. Take along plenty of liquids, especially for most of the summer.


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