“I’m so glad it’s spring!” Theresa exclaimed. “I want to go riding – somewhere other than the same old places!”
“Hmmm,” I replied thoughtfully. “Beacon Rock State Park just opened for the season. The Equestrian Trail there is graveled so it won’t be muddy and slick, even after all the rain we’ve had. Let’s give it a try.” So off we went.
You have plenty of riding opportunities on Hamilton Mountain.
Beacon Rock State Park is a 5,100-acre park that encompasses Beacon Rock, Hardy Ridge, and Hamilton Mountain. The park has 13 miles of non-motorized trails that are open to horses, hikers, and mountain bike riders. The park has oodles of trailer parking
Beacon Rock State Park has a huge parking lot for horse trailers and hiker cars.
and a small horse camp for overnight visitors.
Beacon Rock State Park has a small but well-appointed horse camp.
The equestrian trails at Beacon Rock don’t actually go up on Beacon Rock, of course. The monolith isn’t exactly horse-friendly terrain. Instead, the trails explore the forested slopes of Hamilton Mountain and Hardy Ridge, which lie just north of Beacon Rock. As a result, when local equestrians talk about riding at the park, they typically say they’re riding at Hamilton Mountain.
Hamilton Mountain is heavily forested.
The Equestrian Trail departs from the trailer parking area and heads up toward the summit of Hamilton Mountain following a wide gravel road that provides good all-weather footing.
The Equestrian Trail is the main trail up the slopes of Hamilton Mountain.
Other trails depart from the Equestrian Trail at various points and run along old lightly-graveled forest roads or along single-track trails. The East and West Hardy Ridge Trails are out-and-back trails, or you can create several loops by connecting the Equestrian Trail with the Upper Hardy Creek Trail, the Bridge Trail, East Hardy Ridge Trail, and the Lower Loop Trail. Don’t miss the panoramic views from the Hamilton Mountain Saddle Viewpoint and from upper Hardy Ridge.
You’ll have a panoramic view from Hamilton Mountain Saddle. That’s Hamilton Mountain to the right, and the Columbia Gorge beyond it.
Beacon Rock State Park has a colorful history. When Lewis and Clark traveled down the Columbia in 1805, they spotted an 848-foot basalt monolith on the Washington side of the Columbia River near present-day Stevenson, and named it Beacon Rock. In 1915 the rock was purchased by Henry Biddle, who built a highly-engineered trail to the summit and charged admission to use the trail. When Mr. Biddle died, the family offered Beacon Rock to the state of Washington for a park, but Washington officials weren’t interested. That is, until the state of Oregon offered to accept it and make it an Oregon park! At that point the Washington officials changed their minds, and Beacon Rock became a Washington state park in 1935.
From the Hamilton Mountain Saddle Viewpoint, you can look down at Bonneville Dam on the Columbia River below you.
The Riding: It’s 7 miles round trip to Hamilton Mountain Saddle via the Equestrian Trail, plus several side trails provide additional route options. Elevations range from 750 to 2,250 feet. The Equestrian Trail is well graveled, so hoof protection is highly recommended.
Getting to Beacon Rock State Park: From Washougal, drive east on Hwy. 14 for 18 miles. Turn left on Kueffler Road. In 1 mile, turn right at the sign for the equestrian trailhead and continue 0.4 mile to the horse camp and trailhead at the end of the road. Four-wheel drive recommended.
Season: Mid-April through October
Facilities: Day-use parking for many rigs. Vault toilet, stock water from a hand pump, manure bin, garbage cans. Discover Pass required for day use. Two back-in campsites with a shared 6-horse cable highline, picnic tables, and fire rings. Camping fee.
More Information: The Hamilton Mountain trails are covered in more detail in the Beacon Rock State Park chapter of Riding Southwest Washington Horse Trails, by Kim McCarrel, Ponderosa Press, 2016).