Something wonderful happened. After weeks of relentless winter Washington rain, on January 17th, the skies cleared and the sun burst through the clouds as if to say, “Hey you, come out and play.” Needing no further convincing I laced up my boots, leashed up the dog, gassed up the car and headed out to explore.
Hiking in Beacon Rock State Park
I love hiking the Columbia River Gorge. I know every time I pick a new trail, it won’t matter where it is in the Gorge — the hike will surprise and move me. The drive from Vancouver is an easy half-hour, and just after passing through town is the first glimpse of the winding river and steep towering rocks with misty mountains hiding their tops in the clouds. Every time I make the trip, I tell myself I will never grow tired of this magical place. And the happy flutter in my heart begins.
Pool of the Winds
I chose Hardy Falls and Pool of the Winds Falls in Beacon Rock State Park for my hike that day because the trail is relatively short (2.1 miles out and back) and I wasn’t sure how long I would have the gift of the sun. The trusty pup and I arrived around noon to the mostly empty parking lot, paid our parking fee ($10 for the day) and suited up for our walk. I found a map of the area and was happy to see that the trails I’d planned for connected to the Hamilton Mountain Trail in the likely event we would want more adventure. Backpacks and harnesses strapped and secured, our paws and boots took the first steps into the forest, the wonderland.
Setting Out on the Trail
The trail starts with a bit of elevation gain (643 feet), enough to break a sweat and shed a jacket but not terribly strenuous. The first leg of the hike was through the forest, brilliant green and alive, lush and dripping audibly from the recent rain. The ground was soggy but not muddy, a perfect squishy forest floor that cushioned our steps as we ventured deeper.
As with every hike, in the beginning I found myself thinking of the day, the frustrations from work and the busyness of life. I had to remind myself to stop, breathe, and take in my surroundings. Sure enough, just as I was settling into my rhythm I was being pulled out of the woods and into tall meadowlike grass underneath power lines. I gave my buddy the hiker dog, Kion, a bowl of water and set down my things to take in the first view wholly. Ah, there it was, the big beautiful blue river. Tiny cars meandered below, and snow-capped mountains loomed, wisely looking on. “Don’t you love it, boy!” I shout-laughed to the dog, though I’m not sure he shared my enthusiasm. Feeling excited and shedding my daily stressors, we pressed on toward the next forest.
Exploring Hardy Falls and Pool of the Winds
Having spent the last few months seeking out waterfalls, I was becoming more familiar with the feel of the woods approaching water. The air is heavy with droplets, and cooler. The smell is different, weighted with fragrances carried from somewhere else. Rocks are slick and puddles form on the sides of little trickling streams over the path. The trail was getting a bit muddy and I knew we were getting close to something cool. Sure enough, we rounded a few bends and I heard it, the ocean-like sound of rushing water down a mountainside.
When I researched this hike, I saw a few pictures of the falls but was not at all prepared to encounter a beast. Water gushed and poured unapologetically from above and flowed rapidly down, down as far as the eye could see, creating smaller falls along the way. I was stunned and immediately decided this waterfall put my previous ones to shame. Following a sign to the Pool of the Winds, Kion and I hiked up to a guard rail beside the falls (I was apprehensive at first having the pup with me, but the trail was nice and wide and did not take us directly into the rushing water). Here you can stand next to the waterfall on a flatter area of rock that creates a pool, and watch the water work its wonder.
Kion and I both stood in amazement and awe, splashing in the clear, cold basin. I began snapping pictures when I felt us getting wet, the water soaking us quickly. My heart dropped a bit thinking our sunny day had passed but as I reached for my raincoat, I realized it wasn’t raining at all! The wind was blowing the water so forcefully it created a rain-like effect just over us in our own little spot. I grinned a silly grin. Nature.
Hamilton Mountain Summit
At this point, the trail connects to the Hamilton Mountain Summit or there is the option to head back to the parking lot. Kion seemed to be enjoying the outing as much as I was, and I had a feeling there was a view ahead that I wouldn’t want to miss. So, we trudged on, over the bridge in front of the falls, up a few slippery, muddy steps to one of the most magnificent views I have seen on my hikes to date. The tops of trees were below us as we gazed across the river to the mountains, just as a snow cloud was forming at their highest points. We stopped for water and sat quietly. A few hikers passed and a couple stopped and sat beside us, also silently reflecting.
The walk back to the car was just as wonderful as the hike to the endpoint. I looked around and soaked up the details all over again. Amazing how much more I noticed with a change of afternoon light and a clear head. Each time I finish a hike I sit in the car for a moment, first reflecting on the experience and then mentally preparing for the familiar sounds and noises back in the “real world”. I drove home with the setting sun and a sleeping dog in the passenger seat, planning a camping trip to Beacon Rock State Park and anxious to share my perfect experience at Hardy Falls and Pool of the Winds.