Dog Mountain: A rite of passage

Dog Mountain is located roughly and hour drive eastward of Portland and has become, at least to me, a rite of passage for hikers in the Pacific Northwest. If you’re new to town, you’ll likely hear, “Oh – have you climbed dog?” or the reverse, “Wait, you mean you haven’t climbed Dog Mountain yet?!”. For the proximity to Portland combined with stellar views of the Gorge and relatively short hiking distance, Dog is a favorite amongst locals.

Hike details:
Distance: 3.8 miles
Elevation: 2,800 feet
Pass Required: Yes, $5 day pass, can pay at parking lot
Bathrooms: Yes, located at the trailhead
Multiple Routes: Yes, three
Word of Warning: This hike will be extremely busy during wildflower peak weeks (late May) and throughout the summer on weekend. It is hike-worthy year round.

Pano at Puppy Point
Pano at Puppy Point

Quick bit of history
The Columbia River Gorge was carved out towards the end of the last Ice Age by the Missoula Floods, creating beautifully sharp mountain formations on either side of the river – Oregon to the south, Washington to the north. The Columbia River was discovered and got it’s namesake from Captain Robert Gray, an American fur trader; and the river proved to be a popular trade route. Vancouver and Portland quickly became valuable port cities and in 1852, the Oregon Territory was divided into Washington and Oregon with the Columbia River as the dividing boundary. In the early 20th century, a man named Samuel Lancaster was charged with establishing the first highway through the Gorge. Not wanting to ruin the natural beauty, he created a road that became the first scenic highway in the United States. It’s hard to not gape and awe in wonder while driving along Interstate 84. The sharp mountain edges in combination with the vastness of the river truly does take your breath away – and that’s while sitting in a car. It’s no wonder the many vistas, overlooks, waterfalls and hikes have become an outdoor mecca for locals. For more information on the Gorge & its adventures, visit Travel Oregon.

The trail to the summit is stunning
The trail to the summit is stunning.

Dog Mountain
The etymology of the name has two versions: the first hypothesis is that it is named in commemoration for first dogs, who were sacrificed to avoid starvation (cited from Paul Gerald’s 60 Hike within 60 Miles: Portland). The second being the sheer number of dogs who frequent the trails with their owners. Regardless, it sure is a dog of a mountain.

At the trailhead you will find envelops for a day parking pass ($5.00), cash or check. Be sure to save $2.00 for the Bridge of the Gods toll ($1.00 each way) if you are coming from the Oregon side. The parking lot is rather big, but on warmer weather weekends, expect it to be crowded. Two pit toilets are available at the base of the trail.

There are three ways up and three ways down, making for a good combination of climbs. The first way is on the traditional Dog Mtn Trail – head up the trail from the toilets to a series of switch backs. In about 0.7 miles, you’ll come to two signs: More Difficult, or Less Difficult. The More Difficult way leads you up through pine forests and merges with the Dog Mountain Trail just before reaching Puppy Point. The Less Difficult (or Dog Mtn Trail) way is still steep but provides a nice vista point with a bench along the way. When these two trails intersect further up the trail, that is when you really hit the steepness! Eventually (after about 1.5 miles) you’ll emerge from the tree line and walk along the bluff to Puppy Point. For a short period of time, the open fields leading to puppy point are flush with wildflowers. Late May / early June are rumored to be the best times to hike; however, this all depends on when spring hits it’s peak.

The third way to hike up is featured in 60 Hikes within 60 Miles and takes the Augsperger Mtn Trail. This trail starts from the parking lot (to the left of the toilets) and is approx 0.6 miles longer. This trial also deposits you at the top of the summit, skipping the panoramic views at Puppy Point (though you can opt to head down this way).

Lastly, this is a wildly popular hike despite the steepness, so expect company. I recommend going at various times in the year, even climbing in the snow can be highly rewarding and you’ll have more of the mountain to yourself.

During peak wildflower time, the open fields near the top will be awash with yellow balsamroots, but there’s plenty of other beautiful fauna to see during non-peak hikes. If you want to know if the flowers are blooming before you go, be sure to check out Oregon Wildflowers.

From Portland, take I-84 East towards the Dalles. Take Exit 44 towards Cascade Locks. The exit ramp will wind underneath the interstate towards Cascade Locks. Be sure to take the first right towards Stevenson Washington / Bridge of the Gods. There is a $1.00 toll (each way). From the bridge, take a right onto WA-14. In about 12 miles, you will see a parking lot to the right with a Dog Mountain sign.

The view from the top of Dog Mountain, March
The view from the top of Dog Mountain, March

4 thoughts on “Dog Mountain: A rite of passage

    1. Dog Mountain can be hard on the knees, especially coming down. While I’ve seen folks of all ages do this hike, it warrants caution for those who have issues with steep hills. As for Dogan (my 10 year old retriever), this hike would be too much on his arthritic elbows. The last time I took him on this hike, a few years ago now, I nearly had to push his butt up the steepest part. He much prefers naps at home and waiting for the postman.

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