Hikes with Kids: Beacon Rock (Beacon Rock State Park, WA)

Hiking (or taking a walk in the woods as we say around here) is great for people of all ages. I have always thought the forest, in particular, is such a safe place because people are happier being with nature. There was a study published touting the benefits of being in the woods, not just for the exercise, but because the environment puts off special hormones that make humans feel calmer and more at peace. There is almost a euphoric quality about it. I believe this study because I feel that when I am with the trees!

As a couple, we would go out hiking every weekend. Rain or rain or rain or shine we were out there exploring parts of the world by foot. Then we became three, and the hiking lessened to the point of being a “special occasion” thing. As we have gotten out camping more, we are doing more hiking. And as I have hit another milestone, and my back-end is getting just a bit wider, I decided to to re-institute the weekend hike for the three of us. We started last weekend, and I am going to review our hikes on our little blog. I hope to give you information you need to decide if each hike is something your child might enjoy!

Last weekend we began our family hike series with something on the easy side. I am nursing a stress fracture in my leg and we needed some short hikes. We went to Beacon Rock State Park, which is located just east of Stevenson, WA, in our beautiful Columbia River Gorge. It is about a 45 minute drive from downtown Portland. You will see it as number 17 on the map below.

This very popular park boasts campgrounds, rock climbing and hikes and is very pretty with waterfalls, amazing views and a pretty special feature in Beacon Rock.

Beacon Rock was, at one time, one of our volcanoes. It erupted about 57,000 years ago and Beacon Rock is the inner core of cooled, hardened lava that was only revealed after powerful floods during the ice age wiped away softer rock layers. Henry Biddle bought the rock for $1 back in 1915 and spent the next 3 years constructing the 0.8-mile trail to the top of the rock, allowing some truly amazing views of the Columbia River Gorge.

For this hike, the best place to park is along the pull out just across from the Ranger station on Hwy 14. There is a good deal of parking right there, bathrooms, and a picnic area. Be careful as you come around the corner on the highway though as traffic slows to make the turn up to the campground and to the other trail-heads (our son was witness to his first rear-ending there last weekend). The Ranger Station (equipped with one of the nicest Rangers you will ever meet) is right across the street and is a great place to pop into before your hike to purchase your Discover Pass. This is the Washington State Park pass which is $10/day or $30/year, giving you access to all of Washington’s State Parks. You will be ticketed if you don’t have one while in the park or parked along that section of the highway. While you are in the Ranger Station also make sure to ask for a Jr. Ranger packet for the kids! They run the program as well. Once you have your pass on your dash, head over to the trail head!

 The trail starts off at a pretty easy grade, and continues with a gentle yet steeper grade. The series of switchbacks and board walks will gain you about 600ft of elevation. There is a boot/shoe scrub area (see above photo) to knock any particles off your shoes that may be invasive species that could affect the habitat of the area. They are currently trying to combat several invasive species which are thriving, and this will help make a difference (we are a “no trace” family, and that means we leave our invasive weeds home too!).

From here you will make your way up a couple of switchbacks before passing through the gate. This gate will lead to the switchbacks, and board walks and trail all the way to the top. There is a railing, but keep a close eye on your kids as there are some good drops. We didn’t have any trouble with that, but smaller kids might need extra attention. The trail is fairly shaded in
the morning, but gets pretty sun drenched by noon, and can feel really hot. Make sure you bring sun screen (if hiking on sunny days) and lots of water.

Also, as a big warning, we did see poison oak along the trail, so keep an eye out for that as well.   If you stay on the trail, you shouldn’t have any trouble (it is best to stay on the trail anyway to protect the park). Here is a small specimen we saw on the path (there were bigger specimens as well…it is one of our native plants and it thrives in this location).

The switchbacks continue up the rock where you come out of some thicker trees to amazing views of the river and her majesty. You also get to see her traffic, the fisherman and if you look closely, you might see some dear on the islands!

You can also watch Bonneville Dam produce our power or watch the squirrels try to talk you into feeding them (please don’t), and the smaller chipmunks nibbling on grasses or dashing in and out of the scrub, or the Steller’s Jay swooping in to land on nearby trees. It is a busy place that will keep the kids entertained as they sit for a rest. We even saw a small snake sunning itself just off the path on a rock.

Children of all ages were conquering this hike with their big people and it is a great one for beginner hikers and/or little legs. Strollers will not be good here, so bring a pack for your littlest hiker and lots of snacks and drinks for the top while you sit and enjoy the view. We highly recommend it!


          Hike details:

Milage: 1.6 miles round trip

Elevation gain: 600 feet

Hiking level: Easy


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