The trail to Hamilton Mountain definitely has everything you could possilby want in a hike – cliffs, forests, waterfalls, and stunning views of both the Columbia River Gorge and the surrounding mountains. The trail starts from Beacon Rock State Park (a Washington State Park’s Discover Pass is required for parking at the trailhead). The trail begins by moderately climbing through second-growth Douglas Firs and then crosses under some power lines. About 1/2 mile in, there are some nice views of Bonneville Dam, the Columbia River, and Hamilton Mountain.
In around a mile from the trailhead, you enter the waterfall area, where there are three waterfalls – Hardy Falls, Pool of Winds, and Rodney Falls. Crossing the Hardy Creek Bridge, you begin to switchback uphill and shortly come to a junchtion where a decision has to be made – the sign at the junction shows two options for getting to the top of Hamilton Mountain – the “difficult” route and the “more difficult” route. I highly recommend doing the loop counter-clockwise and chosing the “more difficult” option. Yes, it’s quite a bit steeper, but the views are stupendous and I would rather go up the really steep sections than risk loosing my footing on the way down.
You will soon be switchbacking beneath on of Hamilton Mountains’s many cliff faces and up to the edge of cliff known locally as Little Hamilton Mountain. The trail heads along the crest towards Hamilton Mountain proper and continues climbing for another mile or so. At the actual summit, you will reach a T-shaped intersection; the path to the right dead ends at Hamiltons 2488′ summit but the view is somewhat obscured by brush. Turn around and stop at teh plateau for breath taking views of Mt. Adams, Mt. Hood, Mount St. Helens, Table Moutain, and the Bonneville Dam on the Coumbia River. This makes a great spot to stop for a snack or lunch if it’s not too windy.
Continuing the loop means heading down an old road where you may find yourself sharing the trail with horseback riders. The trail junction is just over a mile away near a little meadow and the trail follows a relatively level path through an alder forest before joining back in with main trail.
I wouldn’t recommend doing the entire loop if you have small children as the way up can be difficult for smaller legs and it’s a 9 mile hike. I suspect that when the wildflowers are blooming, this area will have quite a few blooms that will only enhance the view.
Until the next adventure….