Here is the nitty-gritty:
- 2.5 miles round trip, with 650 feet of elevation gain. I consider this a nice easy hike
- Great for kids 4 and up (littler kids who have more endurance will do fine too
- Trails are flat and wide enough for two people to walk shoulder-to-shoulder most of the way
- Pool of the Winds is really fun for older kids, but rocks are slippery and the railing offers only a little protection from a very high fall. Kids on this part of the hike will need more developed dexterity and balance than most little ones have.
Here are more details! While we were at Beacon Rock State Park a few weeks ago, we hiked Beacon Rock, but decided to add another hike to our day. We had a look at the map and decided to hike to Rodney and Hardy Falls. We are so glad we did, because it offered a much different experience than out on the very popular “rock”. We encountered plenty of other hikers of all abilities, but it was far fewer people than those who were hiking Beacon Rock.
One thing that really appealled to us was that both of the view points for each of the falls are very near one another and the total hike (round-trip) was right around a 2.5 miles. The elevation gain is around 600 feet (650 if you go to the top of Pool of the Winds) so it isn’t a very taxing hike. While it is a little bit longer than the Beacon Rock trail and the elevation gain is around the same, the gain is spread out over a longer distance. I feel like kids 4 and up will do fine here walking on their own. Younger kids will do well too, but might need mom or dad to help when they get tired.
Start your hike at the Hamilton Mountain Trailhead, which is up the road to the upper campground, just past the Ranger Station. There is a bathroom and a playstructure so you have a place to prepare for the hike, and a nice reward for after the hike! This park requires the Washington State Discover Pass, which is a $10.00 fee and will cover you for the whole day. The pass can be used at other state parks in the same day too! The parking lot here is quite small, so starting earlier in the morning would be a good idea, because it fills up fast! There is another parking area up the road, but this will add to your hike distance, is only open seasonally.
The Hamilton Mountain Trail starts off going through a nice forested area, eventually opening up to a meadowy area before going back into a forest. The meadow area was logged for the power lines to run through and while that isn’t over beautiful, it does offer some access to lovely wild flowers in the spring and it allows some of your only views of the Gorge and the Bonneville Dam. The kids can also learn about where their power comes (who doesn’t love a teachable moment!)! As you leave the meadow, the path will take you up a small incline and the trail will split off to the right for the Hardy Falls Viewpoint. It is a short detour, and it affords folks a nice view of the creek and the falls. It is an out and back and not part of the loop, but worth the extra 1/4 mile or so.
Once you come back to the Hamilton Mountain Trail and walk a short distance, you will have a choice to to either continue straight, which takes you to the Pool of the Winds, or right, which takes you down the hill to the bridge which crosses the Hardy Creek.
We chose to go up to the Pool of the Winds first. It is a very short jaunt up and it was interesting to be able to look into the top of Rodney Falls. As I mentioned in the “nitty-gritty” section above, please watch your children. Small children should not attempt to go up. Parents should scout the area before taking their kids up so they can decide if is is safe for them. The narrow, uneven path, slick rocks, and the potential to fall from a high place are all real risks and everyone needs to take care. That said the view is very pretty down to the creek and the “pool” is quite beautiful. It is fun to be able to stand there and look up to the top of the waterfall.
Looking down from the top you will see the bridge that one would cross to get to Hardy Falls and Hamilton Mountain. If you head back down to where the trail goes right (it goes left when you are coming from Pool of the Winds), walk down the path a bit more, you will get there. This gives a nice view of all of Rodney Falls.
The Bridge was the point we turned around and headed back to the car. We found this to be a great hike for kids and our son loved the waterfalls and views. It was also fun being able to identify many of our native plants in this forest (we are just learning). I am putting together a cheat sheet for Northwest Native plants that we see while we are out hiking (feature coming soon, keep your eyes out!).
Before we headed back to town we checked out the upper campground. It is quite basic, but seemed nice and quiet set in a dense and lush forest. Spots are shaded. Some spots would work for teardrops (others will be much too small and will work better as tent only spots). I checked with the Park Ranger and he said as long as the tow-vehicle and the trailer fit, we are welcome to camp there. I believe there is a second campground down on the other side of Hwy 14 along the river. I didn’t have a chance to have a look around, but it seems quite near the railroad tracks, which does see a lot of traffic as it is one of our main freight lines. Based on our experience and the number of trails we haven’t checked out yet, we will be back and we will try camping here too!