The Columbia River Gorge is home to countless natural wonders. There are scenic viewpoints, sprawling forests, and sheer cliffs all along the banks of twisting and turning river. We’ve mentioned some special locations in the Gorge in the past, such as the Stonehenge Monument in Maryhill, Washington. You can read more about that unique location here. It’s an excellent place to stretch your legs while taking in the spectacular view on a road trip down I-84.

Further west down the Gorge, the dry shrub steppe gives way to the lush shades of evergreen trees. Around the Dalles, the physical geography of the region changes before your eyes. Half the distance between Portland and Hood River, a monolithic rock formation stands tall above the tree line on the Washington side of the Columbia River. A famed hiking location, this formation of exaggerated columnar basalts and jagged pine trees is known throughout the region as Beacon Rock. The 850-foot behemoth stands isolated and can’t be missed from either side of the river.


The monolithic rock is the focal point of Beacon Rock State Park and is claimed to be the second largest freestanding monolith in the northern hemisphere. It was given its current name in 1805 by Meriwether Lewis and William Clark during their famed expedition to the west coast. A man by the name of Henry J. Biddle purchased the rock for a grand total of $1.00 USD in 1915, or about $26 adjusted for inflation. Talk about a great investment! He would go on to build a network of private trails and bridges allowing himself access to the peak of the rock.

Several years later, the Army Corps of Engineers were planning to demolish Beacon Rock. They were going to harvest the raw materials for use on a massive construction project at the mouth of the Columbia River. Biddle and family petitioned for the rock to obtain status as a state park, which was eventually granted. The existing trail system was overhauled and made safer, allowing the newly minted Beacon Rock State Park to officially open to the public in 1935. These trails are still in use today, and the three-quarter mile trek to the pinnacle is well worth it for the awesome panoramic view.

Planning Ahead

Though the weather is quite cold this time of year, it is good to plan a trip to Beacon Rock well in advance. Parking options are somewhat limited, and the park is rather popular. Plan to dedicate at least a few hours to enjoy your hike. If you’re waiting until the warmth of spring arrives, feel free to pack up a bottle of wine and some cheese to enjoy it at the summit! Hopefully you’ll be able to take a delicious local wine from the Tri-Cities area. If you’re in need of inspiration on that front, check out our pervious articles on the wineries of the Tri-Cities.

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