I love the Columbia River Gorge. It’s incredibly beautiful and only a short drive from Portland. On weekends like two weeks ago, I just want to get away from the city and breathe in the cool, clean air and vistas. Most of my hikes have been on the Oregon side of the river, like Angel’s Rest and Wahkeena Falls, but this edition takes place just east of White Salmon, Washington at Coyote Wall.
Coyote Wall is a flower haven in mid-spring, and expansive views of Mt. Hood and the Columbia River during the rest of the year. This is a more rigorous hike, so be prepped for a steep climb (1,950 feet to the top), even if you opt for the shorter 6 mile loop (1,530 ft elevation gain). Hikers will also share the path with hard core mountain bikers. Happily, the cyclists my crew came across were very considerate and let us know how many more were in their group. That being said, if you don’t care to jump off the trail and let some bikers pass, this may not be the trek for you.
The turn off for Coyote Wall is pretty easy to miss, so look out for the Courtney Road sign 3.5 miles after driving through Bingen. Just as you turn off, the parking lot is on your right. There’s a restroom at the trailhead, but no sink, so bring your own hand sanitizer. It did not appear that any permit was needed, but I brought my Northwest Forest Park pass, just in case.
From the parking lot, head up about 3/4 mile to the trailhead entrance. Whether you take the loop west or east, the ascent begins quickly and doesn’t quit for at least 2 miles. We opted to keep right (east) which resulted in an almost immediate, stunning view of Mt. Hood. This time of year, wildflowers (and tons of fennel) are popping up, adding color and texture to your hike. I didn’t capture too many of the sunflowers scattered about, but fortunately hiking enthusiast awildman did. Take a peek. Birds of prey can easily be found scouring the area, namely Red Tail Hawks and even vultures (I prefer the hawks).
At about mile 3 or 4, there’s a cross section in the trail. Heading right will lead you to Catherine Creek, away from the cliff, so stay left to hit a great picnic area before ending up at Coyote Wall. Along the hike, you will see a lot of loose, very light rock. After a little digging, I found that Coyote Wall is 200 feet of basalt columns created by the Missoula Floods that formed the Columbia River Gorge. In addition to the basalt columns, you’ll see plenty of leftover basalt rocks scattered on the trail. Little science for ya.
If you’re doing the full 8.25 mile trip, a few notes:
- Bring extra water, particularly when it’s a hot day. I had a full CamelBak and went through the whole thing before finishing the loop.
- Wear a hat. I opted for function over fashion on this one, and dorkiness aside, I was much cooler keeping the beating sun off my head.
- You’ll be in tick country, so even though you’ll be hiking in predominantly open areas, come prepared with bug repellent and long sleeved shirts/pants. If I may make a product recommendation, I was a huge fan of the Omni-Freeze line from Columbia. Even in the long sleeve all day, I was very comfortable and didn’t want to douse myself in ice water at the end of the day.
- There is poison oak! I’ve only seen those “leaves of three” a couple of times, but this time of year, they are easier to identify with their red leaves. Make sure you know what to look for and stay away!
- There are two great picnic spots to choose from: the first is nearly 3 miles in and looks over the River. There will still be an uphill climb after you’re done, though, so if you prefer to get the hard stuff out of the way, wait until you pass the three-pronged path (you’ll see a private home straight and to your right), stay left and enjoy the large open field.