If you like waterfalls, views of the magnificent and historic Columbia River Gorge, steep cliffs, lush hemlock forests and summer wildflowers, try Hamilton Mountain in Washington. Compared to other well-trodden trails in the Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area, this hike is less crowded. An hour’s drive from downtown Portland, the trailhead off Highway 14 at Beacon Rock State Park is easy to access and has good parking (Discover Pass required).
Friends of the Columbia River Gorge (gorgefriends.org) board member, Debbie Asakawa of Portland recommended the Hamilton Mountain loop because it “offers a lot of diversity and can be hiked year-round,” she said. “Depending on weather, the season and the amount of water flowing through the falls, I have a different experience each time.”
But be prepared for a workout. The trail gains 2,000 feet in elevation and takes the average hiker about five hours. The eight-mile hike starts and ends on the same stretch of trail but a loop (Asakawa recommends doing it counterclockwise) winds around the summit.
About a mile from the trailhead, you’ll reach a spur leading to the Pool of the Winds and Rodney Falls and a bit farther, you’ll cross an impressive log bridge at Rodney Falls. The loop comes next (head right at the junction), climbing 1,400 feet to the top of Hamilton Mountain and “great views of the gorge and mountains to the east,” Asakawa said. She rated the hike “difficult,” and suggested that families with small children enjoy Beacon Rock and an abbreviated hike to the waterfalls.