There is no shortage of incredible experiences to be found in the Columbia River Gorge at any point of the year. From hikes to snowcapped mountain views to roaring waterfalls, the Gorge has something to offer for each season and in late Spring the draw is wildflowers, lots and lots of wildflowers.
While there are many places to see the flowers, Dog Mountain’s expansive blooms and scenic hills make it one of the most frequented spots year after year. After this year’s incredible winter it felt like the flowers were left on a bit of a delay (my 2016 update was in April afterall) but I can promise you from my firsthand experience that they most certainly have arrived and are incredible!
As usual, the flowers start popping up almost as soon as you leave the cover of the forest (500’ or so below the summit) and don’t stop all the way from there to the top.
When I Say Wildflowers, I Don’t Mean Just a Patch or Two
If you have yet to experience Dog Mountain’s blooms yourself, for the few weeks it lasts (*hint hint*), the view is simply endless. Hill after hill is full of vibrant yellows, patches of violet, spots of red, light blue, and probably plenty others in there too. Even for those that are not “flower people” (*cough, this guy, cough*), it really is an incredible sight to see. Plus, the arrival of the marks the (*fingers crossed*) transition into the warmer months of the year!
Getting to the Hike & Parking
The trailhead start for Dog Mountain is located on the Washington side of the Columbia River Gorge just a few minutes east of Stevenson (last major stop for supplies, water) along highway 14. It’s well marked and not something you could possibly miss on a weekend.
That’s because Dog Mountain’s wildflowers are hardly a secret and the biggest obstacle to seeing them is often parking at the trail. With far less spaces than demand, the place is a zoo in flower season so you’ll want to arrive extra early for your hike. On weekends, early is often still not enough and Skamania County extends their Gorge WET service from the Stevenson Fairgrounds to the trailhead. It’s a 15-minute ride and $2 / adult for the ride but a whole lot better than stalking cars in the lot for an hour.
Do not park on the highway 14 or in non-designated areas, you will get ticketed or towed!
The Hike Up Dog Mountain
Reaching the Wildflowers on Dog Mountain is not quite as simple as driving up of course. All said you’ll be hiking anywhere from 6.8 to 7.6 miles (or more) while climbing up a little over 2,800’.
My full Dog Mountain Trail Guide can be found here but in short, there are 3 ways up to the top of the mountain. The first two follow the main trail located at the right side of the parking lot. The marked trail immediately heads up to a couple of well used vault restrooms before a series of switchbacks lead you up 700 vertical-feet (watch for poison oak along the sides) and into the forest.
At the top of the switchbacks you’ll find yourself at junction that’s currently missing its sign post. The right side is the standard, “less difficult” route to the top over 2.6 miles while the left side is the “more difficult,” 2.2-mile direct ascent. Both ways get you to the same place as they meet back up about a mile and something like a 1,000 vertical-feet shy of the summit. So, really it’s a question of if you want steeper walking or more walking.
The other way up Dog Mountain is just to the left of the main route and follows the Augspurger trail before a right-hand junction lets you traverse over to Dog Mountain. This is a longer route though one I quite like taking back down as you’ll find more hills for wildflowers, more views along the way, and less impact to your knees than the main trail’s steep upper descent.
Once again, you’ll find the flowers start as soon as you climb out from the trees with some of the best views along the lower slopes of the mountain so get your camera ready early! There are two main break spots on the upper mountain, at the top and a clearing a few hundred feet below it. You can also find a few well defined side trails to explore other parts of the mountain and perhaps find a little more solitude from the crowds but overall expect it to be a zoo out there and yet one well worth enduring (or just arrive early on a weekday!)
No matter which way you go, it’s a solid workout to get to the flowers which makes the adventure all that much better if you ask me so gear up, take your time, and enjoy!
Making a Day Out of the Adventure
There are of course many other spots in the gorge to see wildflowers and Spring is an incredible time to be just about anywhere in the gorge too. OregonWildflowers.com is a great resource for finding other blooms while OregonLive has a nice article about some of the hikes associated with their updates.
If you’re looking for a snack after returning to your car, there are several options in nearby Stevenson right along highway 14 and the town’s waterfront is well worth a stop as well.
I also recommend crossing over the Bridge of the Gods ($2 toll) into Oregon for another fun view. You can grab a burger or ice cream at the Eastwind Drive-In located a few blocks down on your left (look for the neon sign) or pick up a beverage at the market in town. Heading back west via highway 84 makes it easy to swing by some of the gorge’s roadside waterfalls (Horsetail, Multnomah, Wahclella) as well; you can even sneak in another adventure in route… if your legs are up for it!
Quick facts about the trail
- Official Rating: Moderate to Difficult
- Start point: Dog Mountain Trailhead, Hwy 14
- Round Trip Distance: 5.8 miles (more difficult) – 6.4 miles (less difficult)
- Vertical Climb: 2,800′ gain at 800’+ / mile
- Duration: 2.5 – 4+ hours
- Crowds: Very Busy to Insane
- Recommended time: Early Morning
- Facilities: Vault toilets just up the main trail
- Water: No water at the trailhead or on the trail!
- Parking: Road side lot, shuttle bus from Skamania County Fairgrounds (do not park on the road!)
- Fees: Northwest Forest Pass NPS Pass or $5 Day Parking Fee
- Permits: None
Additional info & links