It’s summer in the Pacific Northwest and that means everyone and their dog are either attending a festival downtown or getting outta town to the cool breezes and trails of the Gorge. Hamilton Mountain is often overlooked for the shorter Beacon Rock, but it’s a hike with many cool features perfect for a hot summer day.
Distance: 7.5 miles
Elevation Gain: 2,100 feet
Pass Required: Discovery Pass needed
Bathrooms: Yes, located at trailhead
Multiple Routes: Yes (coming down)
Word of Warning: The road to get to the trailhead isn’t well marked
Nearby attractions: Beacon Rock
Hamilton Mountain is not a widely talked about hike but for a sunny Gorge day, it hit all of my checkboxes for a note-worthy hike. A lot of people swarm to the nearby Beacon Rock – a short, fully paved hike up a tall 848 monolith on the banks of the Columbia River. It’s a fun hike, but it’s quick, not that much effort and busy. So if you’re up for more of a hike, then head up the road towards the Hamilton Mountain Trailhead. If you’re coming from the west, the turnoff is just before Beacon Rock but after the Ranger station to the left (it’s not very well marked).
The trailhead is also a picnic area, campground and complete with flush toilets (ooh la la). There’s also a water spicket, so you can fill up your water bottle before hitting the hike. Head up along the trail to the right of the bathrooms and into a second-growth forest of Douglas Firs. The path is well maintained and before too long, you come across there’s a side trail leading down to Hardy Falls. The view has become a bit obstructed by undergrowth, but it’s still worth a look and not too far off the trail. The top of Hamilton Mountain is nothing to hoot about, it’s all about the journey up there. So take your time.
After Hardy Falls, you come to Pool of the Winds and Rodney Falls – both beautiful and fun. Pool of the winds is a great little feature along this hike and if it’s hot, it will cool you off. After crossing the bridge, the trail will start to wind upwards with switchbacks and one great spot for views of the cliffs, Bonneville dam and the valley below.
As you’re climbing, you come to a point with rounded cliffs great for sitting in the sun and taking in the view below. This was our folly as we continue straight up along the trail thinking there’d be an even greater view at the top. I highly recommend treating Little Hamilton Mountain as the top and taking your break here.
Once done, you can continue up the the trail. The top of Hamilton Mountain has a lot of growth on it, making views obscured of the valley (though you do get a nice view of Table Mountain in the distance). Continue along the ridge to a plateau where the trail then divides. Keep left down the gravel road to make the return loop. You eventually come to a creek crossing that runs under the road. In spring and early summer this makes a great spot for a quick dip and picnic if you haven’t stopped already. Here, the directions to the car park were somewhat hazy in the books – I recommend taking the trail to the left of the gravel road. It winds its way back down to the car park in about another mile or so through shaded forest.
Often overlooked for other hikes like Angel’s Rest, I think Hamilton Mountain is a definite contestant for fun hikes without too much difficulty, reasonable distance and waterfalls to boot.