The Hamilton Mountain Trail is like a one stop shop for all the best features of Gorge hikes, with cascading waterfalls, shaded old growth forests, wildflowers and spectacular panoramic views over the Columbia River.
While the steep terrain means it’s a bit of a grind to do the full 3.2 mile hike up to the summit, there are plenty of natural attractions and lookout points along the way that make the effort well worth it.
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Quick facts about the Hamilton Mountain Trail
- Hamilton Mountain Summit: 6.4 miles out and back, 2038’ elevation gain
- Hamilton Mountain Summit Loop: 7.87 miles, 2038’ elevation gain
- Rodney Falls, Hardy Falls, Pool of the Winds: 2.52 miles out and back, 600’ elevation gain
The Hamilton Mountain Trailhead
The Hamilton Mountain trailhead is in Beacon Rock State Park near the Bonneville Dam in Washington, a short drive from the Bridge of the Gods that’s part of the Pacific Crest Trail. About a 40 minute drive west of Hood River and White Salmon, the Hamilton Mountain hike is also a great day trip from Portland since the city is only one hour away.
A well-marked road leads from Highway 14 up to the parking lot, where there’s a day use area with washroom facilities, a machine for purchasing the required Discover Pass, a playground and picnic area.
Hiking Hamilton Mountain takes about three hours with breaks for photos, and might be a bit too strenuous for kids since there are steep drop offs and a bit of climbing required near the summit. However, the sets of waterfalls found just over one mile into the walk are more easily accessed and make a good stopping point.
The hike up Hamilton Mountain Washington
Towering Douglas fir trees line the pathway marking the start of the trail, and half a mile into it there’s a clearing where you can see the Bonneville Dam below. Since it’s mostly treed in, Hamilton Mountain is a great hike on a rainy day, and the surrounding fog and cloud cover create an ethereal scene.
You’ll hear Hardy Falls before you see it, which is the first set of Columbia Gorge waterfalls along this trail. The water pools over jagged rocks, and is framed by lush moss and ferns. Steps veering off the pathway lead to a great lookout point, but take care if you’re visiting in winter since it can be very muddy and slippery.
The next set of falls is even more dramatic, as you cross over wooden bridges to arrive at Rodney Falls and Pool of the Winds. Scamper up to the left and take the steps to the upper falls (prepare to get soaked!), or stick to the main trail for gorgeous photo-ops.
Summiting Hamilton Mountain
If you choose to hike all the way up, continue along the trail until you reach an intersection that says ‘Hardy Creek Trail’ or ‘Hamilton Mountain Trail’. Keep to the right to continue on the Hamilton Mountain Trail, which is the most direct way up.
The 1.7 mile pathway is a series of steep switchbacks with peek-a-boo views of the Columbia River Gorge through the trees, before arriving at an exposed cliff area. It features a dramatic crevasse, overlooks the water and Cascade peaks, and is covered with blooming wildflowers during the spring and summer months.
This is a good spot to stop for a quick break or snack, but the real highlight is a bit further up when you reach the summit (keep an eye out on the right side of the path, since there’s a shortcut up that veers off the main trail about five minutes later). Emerging from the trees, the trail opens up to a wide ridge walk, where the Gorge is sprawled out before you.
From this vantage point, you can see the river, Bonneville Dam, Table Mountain and Beacon Rock on your left, which is hands-down one of the best views in the entire area.
To complete the hike, head back down the same way you came or complete the loop by continuing along the equestrian trail until reaching the Don’s Cuttoff junction which links up with Hardy Creek Trail.
No matter which way you choose, the combination of gorgeous waterfalls and spectacular scenery make the Hamilton Mountain Trail one of the best hikes in the Columbia River Gorge.
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Tamara Elliott is the travel editor and founder of The Gorge Guide, which highlights the best experiences in the Columbia River Gorge. She’s an award-winning writer based in Hood River, Oregon, who particularly loves the area wineries and waterfall hikes. Tamara is also the founder of Globe Guide, which offers savvy tips for exploring destinations around the world.