Portland Camping

From the Oregon Coast to the Columbia Gorge
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Key Information

Beacon Rock State Park
MP3483L, State Route 14
Skamania, WA 98648

Operated: Washington State Parks and Recreation Commission
Information: (509) 427-8265
Open: April 1 to October

Individual sites: 33 standard, 2 primitive
Each site has: Picnic table, fire grill, shade trees
Site assignment: Reservations for group camping only; otherwise first come, first served
Registration: Self-registration on site
Facilities: Flush toilets, showers (extra fee); firewood (extra fee); playground; dump station; boat dock, rentals, and launch nearby; kitchen; shelter; group overnight facilities; limited disabled access

Parking: At individual sites
Fee: $10 per night; no full hookups
Elevation: 700 feet
Restrictions:
Pets— On leash
Fires— In fire pits only
Alcoholic beverages— Permitted
Vehicles— RVs and trailers up to 50 feet

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Deep, lush forests, steep river gorges, active volcanoes and crashing ocean surf. . . No, you're not in the South Pacific or on a remote Asian island. You're camping in Oregon. We've picked out four favorites, all with their own distinct character.

Eagle Creek Campground offers a woodsy setting amidst true fir, western red cedar and hemlock, and access to some beautiful walks high above the river in the Columbia Wilderness. In addition to scenic beauty, Oswald West State Park provides wheelbarrows. Read to find out why. Wildlife abounds in Oxbow Park, with more than 200 native plant varieties, 100 bird species, nearly 40 different mammals, and an interesting assortment of reptiles and water-dwelling creatures.

And then there's Beacon Rock...

Beacon Rock State Park
Skamania, Washington

Beacon Rock State Park which offers campers access to the world's second-largest monolith, believed to be an exposed volcanic plug left from an ancient mountain. In addition, hikers can enjoy numerous hiking trails, including access to the Pacific Crest National Scenic Trail.

The Northwest's longest and largest river, cutting a huge sea-level pass through the Cascade Mountains, teams with the world's second-largest monolith to produce the main attractions for campers at Beacon Rock State Park.

Beacon Rock, once known as Castle Rock, towers 848 feet above the mighty Columbia River in the Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area and is second only to the Rock of Gibraltar in size. Several other similar but smaller rock formations in this section of the gorge have prompted geologists to hypothesize that Beacon Rock may be the exposed volcanic plug of an ancient mountain, part of a range that preceded the Cascades. The monolith could be as much as nine million years old.

Apparently unimpressed by this massive icon of geologic time, the Army Corps of Engineers wanted to blast Beacon Rock into bits sometime around the turn of the century. Fortunately railroad officials opposed the idea enough to get the demolition stopped. Theirs wasn't a particularly noble reason, however. They just didn't want rocks falling on their new tracks. Another popular idea at the time was to convert the rock to a quarry.

The fate of Beacon Rock remained uncertain until 1915 when Henry Biddle bought it and proceeded to build a trail to its summit. The project cost him $15,000, a considerable sum in those days. When Biddle died, his heirs were instructed to sell Beacon Rock to the State of Washington for a mere dollar. One small restriction accompanied the astonishingly low price, however. The land was to be preserved as a public park.

At first the state refused to honor the terms, so the Biddle family approached the State of Oregon with the same deal. An Oregon-owned park on Washington State soil almost became a reality until Washington reconsidered and handed over the buck.

Today the three-quarter mile trail to the top switches back a dizzying 52 times and crosses 22 wooden bridges. Panoramic views up and down the gorge including Oregon's Mount Hood and Washington's Mount Adams are the reward.

Aside from the Beacon Rock trail (which is a must), a network of other paths throughout the park's interior offers destinations to Rodney Falls and Hardy Falls. The Pacific Crest National Scenic Trail intersects the park's trail system at the northeast corner and takes the ambitious wanderer north out of the park and into steep terrain strewn with basaltic rubble to Table Mountain (elevation 1,042 feet). If you follow the Pacific Crest Trail south, you'll come to its crossover point from Oregon at a trailhead near the Bridge of the Gods.

Hamilton Mountain is a more attainable distance for most hikers. At 745 feet, it is the highest point in the park (not including Beacon Rock). Sitting beside the falls as they cascade down Hardy Creek, a forested mountain at your back, watching birds flit and chipmunks scamper and enjoying the fragrant wisps of campfire smoke wafting past are all ingredients for as fine a Northwest outing as anyone could hope for.

The campground is tucked against a forested hillside on the north side of State Route 14. Tent sites are spaced comfortably around the circular paved drive that winds up from the river.

To get there, head east on SR 14 from its junction with I-205 at Ellsworth. The wide expanse of the Columbia is your constant companion as you drive approximately 30 miles on the 2-lane route (Lewis and Clark Highway) to the park's entrance. You'll pass the base of Beacon Rock as you are watching for the signs to the turnoff to the park. Be aware that the road signs around here are a bit confusing and traffic gets congested when motorists slow to gawk at Beacon Rock.

 

Article copyright Menasha Ridge Press . All rights reserved.


Published: 29 Apr 2002 | Last Updated: 3 Nov 2011
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication

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