By John Kruse
COLUMBIA HILLS STATE PARK – A NICE PLACE TO VISIT WHEN YOU CAN
Last week’s edition outlined all of the public lands that were open in Washington State, albeit with several restrictions. We edited that column several times, trying to keep up with the rapid changes coming at us as state and federal agencies revise rules while combating the coronavirus pandemic. Unfortunately, changes continued happening to the point that some of the information in last week’s column was obsolete by the time many of you read it.
The biggest changes? The closure of all fishing statewide until at least April 8th. That and the closure of Washington’s state lands to the public. This includes all of Washington State Parks, Department of Natural Resource lands, State Wildlife Areas and state boat launch sites. It’s all part of Governor Jay Inslee’s “Stay Home, Stay Healthy” decree, and these closures are clearly designed to keep you off the road and close to (if not in your) home.
Having said that, our state parks and lands will open up again, and hopefully do so before spring passes us by. That’s why we are profiling a wonderful state park, divided into four units, that is a great springtime destination for hikers, wildflower enthusiasts, anglers, history lovers and people who just enjoy beautiful views in unique landscapes.
COLUMBIA HILLS STATE PARK
Located in the National Columbia River Gorge Scenic Area of Southcentral Washington north of The Dalles, this park is divided into four units, all accessible from State Highway 14.
One great reason to visit this park during the spring is to go for a hike amongst the wildflowers. The trails connecting the Dalles Mountain Ranch, an old homestead, and Crawford Oaks Trailhead, both on the north side of Highway 14, offer 6-1/2 miles of trails to explore.
Park Ranger Andy Kallinen says grass widows and buttercups are blooming now but the crowds typically show up here from mid-April into May to take in the hills covered with yellow arrowleaf balsamroot and purple lupine. Kallinen says, “For the (University of Washington) Husky fans out there, it’s quite a color splash.”
Another unit of the park is Horsethief Butte. The prominent landmark and Ice Age remnant just south of Highway 14 has attracted rock climbers for some time but in recent years hikers wanting to soak in views of the Columbia River Gorge have come here as well. Ranger Kallinen stated a number of “social trails” that lead nowhere had developed over the years and they are completing trail work that eliminates those trails and clearly marks the ones hikers should stick to. A loop hike with a small amount of bouldering offers up to 1 ½ miles worth of trails to enjoy.
The main unit at this dispersed park is found at Horsethief Lake, a 90-acre impoundment of the Columbia River. A campground is located here on a peninsula gently jutting out into the lake. There is also a boat launch at the lake. Fishing opens up the last weekend of April and the lake is stocked with trout. Andy Kallinen says, “The trout fishing can be good into early June and after that if you want to go after the smallmouth bass, yellow perch and other warmwater fish that can be good too.”
One unique feature found at Horsethief Lake are the rocks containing Native American art, some of the artwork being hundreds of years old. They include petroglyphs, etched engravings, as well as pictographs which are painted rocks. Several of them are on display in a well signed interpretive area you can visit anytime and others can be seen during ranger led hikes.
Put this all together and you’ve got a great destination for a day visit or for a weekend camping trip once this state park, and our other ones in Washington, open up again for these activities. You can keep up with the latest news about coronavirus related closures and the like on the Washington State Parks website at https://parks.state.wa.us/1177/Novel-Coronavirus---COVID-19
John Kruse – www.northwesternoutdoors.com and www.americaoutdoorsradio.com
(Editor's Note - this article was first published April, 2020)