The night before we hiked up this rock we had slept between the river and the train tracks, it was the last day for salmon fishing and a few boats came into the docks in front of us. We set up camp with this view of a massive tree-topped point jutting up out of the earth, steep cliffs on all sides. Beacon Rock looked to be the tallest point on the north bank of the Columbia River but I had to make sure.
The next morning we packed up, only spending one night at the empty campground. When we reached the base of the Rock we found out it was an old cinder cone. The magma had hardened and the dirt of the volcano had washed away long ago. We were about to start up the trail, after reading the information placard, but a small quote in the lower right-hand corner had me laughing out loud. The quote spoke of a simple purpose and achieving it. It read: “My purpose in acquiring the property was simply and wholly that I might build a trail to its summit.” That is all. Online I find the quote goes on “This had been in my mind for many years”. I can relate; I moved from San Diego to just below the Saddleback formation, 75 miles to the north, some 12 years ago, and those two peaks called to me for some time. I wondered what it would feel like to summit and what is it like up there. Well, we didn’t build our own trail but below is a photo from that great day when I conquered Santiago peak with some of my brothers. We were surprised by what we found up there. Snow at 5,000′, on the north side of the mountain, great views at the 5,689′ peak, and newts crawling around fresh water springs half way up.
Again, some years later the same crew attempted Modjeska Peak but the trail was a bit steeper, better suited for 4x4s.
Henry Biddle built the 51-switchback trail up Beacon Rock over a few years with the help of a good friend. The trail raises you up 848′ above the Columbia River. The man bought the land for $1 (the previous owner shared Henry’s vision), built the trail, maintained it for a bit and then gave it to the state park system to save Beacon Rock from the Army who wished to blow it up.
The trail is unlike any I’d ever hiked before. All switchbacks until you get to the very top but that isn’t the strange part; the trial is mostly cantilevered off the side of the rocks. Basically bridges here and there with some sections cut into the cliffs. The views of the Columbia River gorge are impressive and in the distance is the town of Hood River. Enjoy this little video tour which starts at the top: