Beacon Rock

May 21, 2017


Columbia River Gorge, WA

Beacon Rock is an iconic, free-standing tower on the north bank of the lower Columbia River Gorge and really “stands out” from the surrounding landscape despite its lowly status. At the first glance it appears technical from all sides (and in fact, it is) but thank to the construction of the Beacon Rock Trail nearly a century ago getting to the summit is a mere walk nowadays. This 1.6-mile out-and-back trail involves pavement for the entire length, handrails, steps and bridges and was one of the most ambitious trail project at that time. I can imagine the amount of blasting required.. The associated history is probably more fascinating than the ascent itself but I won’t dig too far into the historical facts, and in case you read this and become curious, this page has a good account.

As soon as I saw a picture of Beacon Rock and heard the stories associated with this trail I knew I had to pay a visit at some point, but the lack of elevation gain meant I wouldn’t drive far down to the southern Washington just for this hike. I had to combine it with some other objectives and tagging it as part of a road-trip seemed like a reasonable idea. This was the 4th, also the last day of my Mt. Shasta trip and since I had a couple hours to kill I decided to drive a (scenic) variation and bag Beacon Rock on the way back.

Beacon Rock ascent route

After evaluating the mileage and elevation gain I decided to not carry anything other than my camera and a pole. I did drink enough water and had a quick snack break in the car, and then that’s it. About 3 minutes into the hike the views opened up and then I got to see the incredible concrete switch-backs ahead. It’s hard to believe constructions like this exist in North America and the feeling was quite Chinese-like. Looking around I could see that without this trail there’d be no way to go up this peak without ropes and gears. There were lots of hikers but most were locals. The view was better from a couple corners near 2/3 of the way up and the summit was quite forested.

The start of Beacon Rock trail

As you can see, the initial stretch travels through forest

This is how steep looking up.

The gate will be closed at dusk to dawn..

Impressive work of trail-building…

The Columbia River Gorge

Lots and lots of switchbacks, wooden boards, bridges and handrails..

Just a fraction of the trail

Very open vista down towards Columbia River

Another fraction of the trail

Almost at the top now

The last few meters

Summit of Beacon Rock.

Looking upstream the Columbia River Gorge

This is looking straight down the face..

Due to the lack of views and the gathering of people I did not linger too long on the summit. I was also worrying about possibly getting a ticket so went down pretty quickly. The descent was uneventful and once back to the parking lot I did not see what I was concerning about and that’s good. Wasting no time I resumed the scenic drive westwards in the Columbia River Gorge. There’s one really good vista point that I stopped for some photos.

Looking downstream the Columbia River

More about the river view

Descending the switchbacks

One last look

A review shot of Beacon Rock from the parking lot.

Columbia River from another vista point down the road.

The drive into the city of Vancouver, WA was on new ground for me but once merging onto I-5 northbound the game soon became mind-numbing. Thankfully with a decent about of sleep in the previous day I was able to keep myself awake for the whole game back. The traffic was heavy from Olympia to Tacoma but considering it was a Sunday I shouldn’t complain too much about it. The delay was about half an hour and that’s it, and once through Seattle the rest was a cruise-sailing until the border crossing. The report was a 40-minute delay and that was already 11 pm so I just took a short rest in the gas station until about midnight. The delay was less than 10 minutes by the time I crossed the border so that’s not a bad timing, and then half an hour later I was back home, tired but very satisfied.