2021 Hike # ; 74
Hike Distance: 9.1 miles
Elevation Gain: 1,888 feet
Yearly Hike Distance: 598.4 miles
Yearly Elevation Gain: 73,788 feet
A truly gorgeous day in the PNW and we’ve been taking advantage of the exceptional weather. We’ve been a bit more bold in that we’re going out to “real” trail systems rather than continuously walking forest roads. While the forest roads were fairly safe, they were hard on our bodies, due to the hard surfaces and shifting gravel. So, we headed out to one of our favorite Columbia River Gorge hikes, to Beacon Rock State Park.
Most everyone that visits Beacon Rock State Park hikes either to the top of Beacon Rock or on the Hamilton Mt. Loop. Both are incredibly spectacular, but also terribly overcrowded. With the current state of the Pandemic, and our desire for solitude, we preferentially hike a completely different route!
We usually start at the Equestrian TH, and hike up the road to the Hardy Creek picnic area. Hardy Creek is one of those beautiful places to stop and feel the serenity. The creek is a constant flow of fast moving water over a streambed of large rocks. If you can’t relax here, then you’ll have to wait until you reach the Hamilton Mt. Saddle.
From the Hardy Creek Picnic area we walk north on the Upper Hardy Creek Trail and turn right to ascend towards Hamilton Mt. This ascent is a switchback, and steep, but the effort is worth every ounce of energy (short of a heart attack) you put into it. You’ll know when you reach the Hamilton Mt. Saddle because it will take your breath away.
At an elevation of about 2100 feet the saddle has breathtaking views, looking both east and west, down the Columbia River Gorge. When you first enter the saddle, which is a vast open area, you’ll be greeted by a view (looking south) of the peak of Mt. Hood. We also saw a small group of Glacier Lilies that were still blooming. No photos I’ve ever seen has portrayed the overwhelming natural beauty displayed on the Saddle. This place feeds my soul and brings tears to my eyes. This is a place to stop and rest, and to put all of life in perspective! Drink it in. Oh, and this is where we saw plenty of hikers, but we kept our distance and wore masks. It was also very windy on the saddle, as is usually the case.
After a short food break, we continued north on a typically unused fire road to the northernmost point of the Upper Hardy Creek Trail. This unused fire road is usually devoid of people and passes through nice second growth forest. We saw nobody today. 🙂
Once on the Upper Hardy Creek Trail we hiked south until we reached the cutoff that brings you to the horse crossing bridge, over Hardy Creek. Again, nobody here despite plenty of people being on the Hamilton Mt. Loop. We stood on the bridge above Hardy Creek and watched the water flowing over the rocks. I also took some long exposures to catch the water flowing effect. An added bonus was that I found a singular Calypso Orchid, just off trail, but the photo isn’t very good since it was at ground level.
Once over the horse bridge, we intersected the Hardy Ridge Trail and followed it south until we reached the main trail back to the Equestrian TH. The small section of trail south of the horse bridge is one of our favorite places in the park. There are small stream crossings, plenty of Trillium and Salmonberry, and only one person seen. It wasn’t long before we made our way back to the Equestrian TH, and finished the hike. A truly fantastic day!
A note to anyone who hasn’t visited Beacon Rock before, hike the Hamilton Mt. Loop to get the best views in a multitude of places! You’ll see Hardy Creek Falls, the front face of Mt. Hamilton, peaks of Mt. Hood and Mt. Adams, Best view of Columbia River Gorge, summit of Mt. Hamilton, and The Saddle. This will also be a shorter distance than what we hiked, but is a much more aggressive climb from the parking area. I mention this because if you only have one chance to visit, this is the hike you shouldn’t miss! My wife and I have already done this awesome loop and currently prefer other attributes of the park, for at least now. Haha