Beacon Rock is a towering monolith of basalt that juts up from the north shore of the Columbia River near Skamania, WA. 860 feet from base to summit, it’s a favorite with local rock climbers. But thanks to the foresight and ingenuity of Henry J. Biddle, there’s also a hiking trail that leads straight to the top!
An avid hiker himself, Henry Biddle bought this unique landmark for just $1 in 1915. Later that year, he hired a construction foreman by the name of Charles “Tin Can” Johnson to begin work on a hiking trail that would eventually run 4500 feet from the edge of the old North Bank Highway (now Highway 14) to the summit. The project was completed in April, 1918.
The original trail was 4 feet wide and included 52 switchbacks (narrow hairpin turns), 100 concrete slabs, 22 wooden bridges, and a cable for a handrail. The wooden bridges were eventually replaced with steel and the cable with sturdy, fixed handrails, but the trail itself remains virtually the same as in 1918.
The roughly two hour hike starts with a pleasant stroll through a forest of pine trees that hugs the base. As you near the river, the trail then begins to snake its way up the sheer cliff face. The higher you climb, the shorter the switchbacks. And a couple of times, the trail actually loops back over itself. There are also 2-3 bridges higher up that span narrow chasms in the rock, so you feel as though you’re stepping out onto open air. Exhilarating!
A word of warning: Most of the trail climbs along the exposed south and west faces of Beacon Rock. So it can get a little warm, especially in the dog days of summer. Plan accordingly, and don’t forget to bring along some bottled water.
There’s a pesudo summit very near the top, but don’t cheat yourself. Continue following the trail as it loops around to the east side of the monolith. The hike here is shaded by pine trees, the perfect respite during one of those hot summer days. One last obstacle to clamber up–a few “extra large” steps cut into the rock–and then you’re there. At the top of the world, and the view is spectacular!
Actually, the views all along the way have been pretty spectacular. Hope you brought your camera!
Beacon Rock is located 35 miles due east of Vancouver, WA, on Highway 14. You can’t miss it! The trail is open daily from 8am until dusk. Ample parking on site. And, as Henry Biddle intended way back in 1918, it’s free and open to the public.