The Rock of Gibraltar, at 1,396 feet high, may hold the title as the world’s largest freestanding monolith, but at 848 feet the Gorge’s own Beacon Rock occupies a respectable second place. The rock is actually the remains of a volcanic core, and as you stand at its base, you’ll realize why Lewis and Clark found themselves impressed (Clark’s 1805 journals describe a “remarkable high detached rock”). However, the explorers did not get to experience the sheer feat of engineering that the Beacon Rock Trail is today. Built from 1915 to 1918 by local engineer Henry Biddle and his assistant, the trail is a real-life Chutes and Ladders game of wooden catwalks that make it a must for families with children old enough that they know to keep back from the edge. (As an added precaution, metal guardrails line the entire path.)
ROUTE: The climb begins in deep forest and works its way up the basalt cliffs, with views improving as you ascend. More than 50 tiny switchbacks make for a winding route over the 600 feet elevation gain, but also help to keep the incline gentle. The top of the rock naturally affords the most impressive vistas, although small trees block some directions. Note that the summit area is quite small and can become crowded, but the trail’s reputation as an accessible and intriguing slice of ingenuity is deserved.
DIRECTIONS: Drive east from Vancouver on Rte 14 for about 34 miles to Beacon Rock State Park. The parking lot is at the base of the rock on the right. The trail begins about 50 yards west of the lot.