hike: Klicikitat River Trail
In the spring when it’s still cloudy and rainy in Portland, head east to the sunny and drier environment of the Eastern Columbia River Gorge, an area that looks much like the wild west of old movies.
This section of the Klickitat River Trail is near where it enters the Columbia River at Lyle, Washington. On the dry side of the Cascades, this is a good place to go to escape the rainy weather. Native Americans have fishing rights on the river, with platforms setup along the rocky sides of the river. We were there to see salmon attempting to jump up a waterfall. We did see one make it, but I didn’t get any photos of it.
The Klickitat River Trail is a 31-mile former rail corridor that runs along the Wild & Scenic Klickitat River where it meets the Columbia River in Lyle, Washington and then heads up the isolated Swale Canyon before ending near Warwick, Washington. This section of the hike is known as the Lower Klickitat River Trail and is open to hikers and bikers. Due to excessive heat in the summer, the trail is only open from October – June. Bald eagles congregate here in January and February to take advantage of winter salmon runs.
The first section of the trail is very close to Highway 142 along an old gravel road bed for the first 1-1/2 miles. Fishers’ access trails lead down to the river with great views of the canyon, but they don’t connect back to the hiking trail. Native Americans still use traditional dip net fishing methods here during salmon season using fishing platforms perched along the rocky sides of the river.
Crossing the river, the Fisher Hill pedestrian bridge spans the Klickitat as it churns through a narrow rocky gorge. From here on, the trail is on the opposite side of the river from the highway and is much more secluded and scenic. Pass the Lyle Falls facility where salmon put on a show attempting to jump the 8-foot waterfall in September.
In early spring, the normally brown hills all around are greener, and colors from abundant Deer brush (a shrub with many sprays of light blue to purplish flowers), Columbia desert parsley, yellow Northwestern balsomroot lend to the beauty of this wild west feeling canyon filled with stands of ponderosa pine and oak trees and rocky rims. Keep an eye out for poison oak and rattlesnakes, and be prepared for ticks. Along the trail, mile markers help keep track of each mile of trail with metal signposts.
Continue on the trail, passing a water flow measurement raft moored on the opposite bank of the river. The canyon narrows, with basalt cliff rising on the side of the trail, and the river widens with rapids in the fast moving water. For an 8 mile round trip hike, cross a boardwalk through a tunnel of white alders and continue to the 4 mile marker before returning the same way.