If you’re hunting for a Columbia Gorge hike that’s a little different than the typical Gorge waterfall hike, Beacon Rock might be the fit for you. Located outside of Stevenson, Washington, the Beacon Rock hike sits on the North shore of the Columbia River, offering unparalleled views throughout the entire trek.
Simple Hike, Huge Reward
Late summer is the ideal time for a day-trip to the Columbia Gorge, and a stunning time to tackle this hike. The trail up Beacon Rock will make you feel like you’re literally on top of the world, and it’s made that much better when the sun isn’t blazing hot. The parking lot for the hike is just off of State Route 14, between Camas and Stevenson. And don’t forget your Discover Pass – you’ll need it to grab a spot.
The hike is only 1.8 miles round-trip, but this short hike packs a Pacific Northwest punch. You’ll catch sweeping views of the Columbia River on the way up, along with the opportunity to observe the uniqueness of this basalt behemoth. It’s suitable for all ages and abilities, with handrails along the way. And with no more than a 15 percent grade all the way up, Beacon Rock is one of the area’s simplest hikes, but it pays off with a huge reward.
A Piece of History
But Beacon Rock is much more than just your average hike. It’s a huge chunk of history – literally. The behemoth that is Beacon Rock stands 848-feet tall and was first discovered in 1805 by Lewis and Clark during their expedition West toward the Pacific. It was originally formed by the Missoula Floods, a series of ice age floods that ripped through the region, playing a role in how we see the Columbia Gorge today. The gushing waters carved away at the softer layers of the rock, and the floods eventually revealed the lava core of the volcano that stands today.
A century later, the rock was slated to become quarry materials for projects along the river, but a local man by the name of Henry J. Biddle wouldn’t let that happen. Biddle purchased the rock from Charles Ladd in 1915, with the agreement that Biddle would be devoted to preserving the piece of history, which ultimately made the rock accessible to others today.
Constructing a Trail
In 1901, two climbers had successfully summited Beacon Rock, but it had never been hiked as it is by hundreds of people today. The fact that we can all enjoy making our trek to the top is all thanks to Henry J. Biddle and his vision.
Construction on the trail began in 1915 and took several years. If you watch for it along the trail today, you’ll see a plaque that notes the beginning date in 1915, with a completion in 1918. In constructing the trail for Beacon Rock, Biddle brought in the help of Charles Johnson – one of the key engineers who we can also thank for constructing the beloved Columbia River Highway.
As construction moved along, Biddle and Johnson and had no way of seeing what was in front of them, forging a path up the rock as they went. Essentially, they drove a tunnel through the rock side, eventually constructing the 4500-foot-long trail that still exists today. As you take your hike, you’ll realize why this makes sense. You can tell at the points in which a switchback changes course, why Biddle and Johnson needed to adjust their path along the way. It truly was a matter of working with what nature would allow them to accomplish.
Beacon Rock Hike
From the parking lot, the hike begins by taking you through a small forested area. Then, the incline begins up the 52 switchbacks constructed by Biddle and Johnson. The platforms are a mixture cement, with concrete and wooden bridges along the way. As you make your way up Beacon Rock, check out the stunning panoramic views of the Columbia Gorge, but also consider the magnitude that this project must have been for Biddle and Johnson to accomplish on their own in 1915. Beacon Rock is truly a beacon of Pacific Northwest history now, meant for all to enjoy.
Photography by Petar Marshall