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Columbia Gorge North Hiking Trip report Washington

Balfour-Klickitat and Lower Klickitat Trails – 04/02/2022

We have spent much of our hiking “off-season” addressing long overdue house projects including replacing siding, windows, floors, and now countertops. Hopefully the projects will be done shortly after our official hiking season starts. In the meantime we welcomed the start of a new month with an outing to Lyle, WA for hikes on a pair of trails along the Klickitat River. Our first stop, on the west side of the river, was at the Balfour-Klickitat Trail. The site of a former ranch this day-use area includes a short interpretive loop, picnic tables, and a wildlife viewing path.
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IMG_8374Rowena Plateau and Tom McCall Point (post) on the Oregon side of the Columbia River

We headed counter-clockwise on the loop which provided views of the Columbia River and across the Klickitat to Lyle.
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The trail then turned inland along the Klickitat where a noisy group of domestic geese drew our attention to a pair of common mergansers and great blue heron.
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IMG_8405A blurry heron along the river.

We spotted a number of smaller birds in the bushes and trees as we made our way around the loop. We also took a quick detour downhill to a picnic table overlooking the river.
IMG_8407Acorn woodpecker

IMG_8417Scrub jay

IMG_8418View from the picnic table.

A short time after returning to the loop we came to a sign for the Wildlife Viewing Area near a bench where we made another short detour.
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IMG_8425This trail was not paved.

IMG_8428Woodland-stars

IMG_8434View from a bench at the end of the trail.

IMG_8435Mallards on the water below.

After checking out the wildlife viewing area we completed the 0.75 mile loop which brought our stop here to a total of 1.3 miles. We hopped in our car and drove across the river on Hwy 14 to the Lyle Trailhead. Here the 31-mile long Klickitat Trail begins. This Washington State Park trail follows the historic rail bed of the Spokane, Portland, Seattle Railway (SP&S). A 3 mile section of the trail north of Klickitat, WA is currently unhikeable due to a missing bridge over the Klickitat River effectively splitting the trail southern and northern sections of 13 and 15 miles respectively. We hiked 3.8 miles along the end of the northern section from Harms Road in 2014 (post).
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IMG_8449Starting at mile 0.

The trail starts by passing some private homes in Lyle but soon provides views down to the Klickitat River. Across the river we spotted a number of deer working their across the hillside and a bald eagle surveying the river below.
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IMG_8458Keep your eyes out for poison oak which was prevalent along the trail. Luckily the trail is nice and wide so avoiding it was easy enough.

IMG_8469Heather spotted these three deer across the river.

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IMG_8474Another group of deer.

IMG_8487Bald eagle

We had chosen this hike based on Matt Reeder’s entry in his “PDX Hiking 365” guidebook where he recommends a late March visit for wildflowers. We kept our eyes out for flowers as we went and were not disappointed.
20220402_080542Larkspur and woodland-stars

IMG_8491Buttercups

IMG_8493Pacific hound’s tongue

IMG_8495Milepost 1

IMG_8496Saxifrage

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At the 1.7 mile mark we crossed the river on a Fisher Hill Bridge. The view was great and included a series of small cascades on Silvas Creek.
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IMG_8504Silvas Creek

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We continued north on the trail passing some nice views of the river which were briefly ruined by the smell of rotting flesh (fish?) which brought back memories of the decomposing whale we passed several years ago on our Floras Lake Hike (post).
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20220402_083857Blue-eyed Mary

At mile two we passed the Lyle Falls Facility which is a fish monitoring station.
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Beyond the fish facility the gap between the trail and the river closed and the views become even prettier.
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IMG_8526Seasonal pool along the trail.

The only mountain view of the day was along this stretch with Mt. Hood making an appearance to the south.
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IMG_8536Common mergansers

A short distance upstream we passed a screw trap, an instrument used to trap and count young fish.
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We continued upriver until we reached milepost 6 where we called it good and turned around. I had gotten myself confused by misreading Reeder’s hike description and thought that there was another bridge around the 5 mile mark and had originally planned to turn around at that but since it didn’t exist (and we didn’t realize that until after passing MP 5) we made MP 6 the turnaround marker.
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IMG_8542Popcorn flower

IMG_8544Columbia desert parsley

IMG_8546Lupine

IMG_8549Balsamroot

IMG_8554Shooting stars

IMG_8560Buttercups

IMG_8561Waterleaf

IMG_8567A balsamroot amid pungent desert parsley

IMG_8564Big-leaf maple trees lining the trail.

20220402_091018Big-leaf maple blossoms

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IMG_8574Gold stars

IMG_8583Larkspur, poison oak, and buttercups

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IMG_8589Spotted towhee

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IMG_8600Squirrel

IMG_8609Dillacort Canyon

20220402_101749Red-stem storksbill

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After turning around we took a brief break on a rocky beach near MP6.
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On our way back it had warmed enough for the butterflies (and moths) to come out and we watched for them along with anything we’d missed on our first pass.
IMG_8633Couldn’t get a good look at this small moth but it was pretty.

IMG_8643Anise swallowtail

IMG_8644Sara’s orangetip

IMG_8654Grass widow

20220402_112438Slender phlox

IMG_8672Heading back.

IMG_8685Immature bald eagle

IMG_8688Propertius duskywing – Erynnis propertius

IMG_8690The mergansers had moved to the near bank.

IMG_8698Hood behind some clouds.

IMG_8700Ground squirrel

IMG_8708Mourning cloak

IMG_8718Lizard

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View from the Fisher Hill Bridge in the afternoon.

IMG_8741Arriving back at the Lyle Trailhead.

Some backtracking and detours brought our hike to a little over 12.5 miles here giving us close to 14 miles on the day with only a couple of hundred feet of elevation gain.

Rattlesnakes and ticks are present in the area but we encountered neither on this day. It was a nice break from the projects at home and a good way to end our off-season. Happy Trails!

Flickr: Blafour-Klickitat and Lower Klickitat Trails

Categories
Columbia Gorge North Hiking Trip report Washington

Klickitat Rail Trail – Swale Canyon from Harms Rd

Wildflowers, wildlife, and cows – oh my! Hiking season is officially underway for us. We kicked things off by making the 2 1/2hr drive to the Harms Rd. trail head for the Klickitat Rail Trial which is located about 20 miles NE of Lyle Washington. It was a long drive for a hike that was less than 8 miles, but the sights more than made up for the less than ideal ratio of driving to hiking hours. Wildflower, wildlife, and solitude were the themes for this hike.

Prior to reaching the trail head we had our first run in with wildlife. As we wound our way up the Centerville hwy on the way to our destination we were delayed by some turkeys who had decided to cross the road.
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When we arrived at the trail head we found some conflicting signs. There were plenty of trail head signs and information as well as the seasonal port-a-potty that is there when the trail is open from October through June. As we headed down from the parking area to the gate which blocks car access as well as keeping cattle contained we noticed a “No Trespassing” sign. You can see it on the gate in the picture.
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It stated that the sheriff would ticket and/or arrest trespassers. The smaller gate was held shut by some very strong barbed wire while padlocks kept the larger gate from being opened. We stood there for a moment trying to figure out what all this meant. I had been on the Klickitat Rail Trail Conservancy’s website that morning and there was nothing about a closure. We decided that since there wasn’t anything on the actual trail head board and the port-a-potty was there the no trespassing sign was either to remind people to stay on the trail and off of the private land that borders it, or it was an attempt by one of the locals to deter people from the trail all together. Either way we hadn’t driven for two and a half hours to turn back now so we climbed over the gate and set off.

A stiff breeze made it feel quite a bit colder than the 46 degrees that the thermometer said and we were glad we’d worn layers. The layers were intended to help keep ticks at bay since they are common in the area. We had a lot of company along the first portion of trail with many birds and several marmots busy with their morning activities.
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There were plenty of flowers along this first portion as well. The most prevalent being desert parsley.
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We also saw some larkspur:
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Phlox:
Phlox
Ballhead waterleaf:
Ballhead waterleaf
and camas:
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We came to a second gate which was easily opened via a chain and quickly discovered cows. Having been raised in Central Oregon and done some work on farms growing up I knew what was coming. Not the brightest of creatures they stared at us for a long time before beginning to slowly move down the trail in front of us. They could have easily just turned right off the trail into the brush and let us pass but no. Not cows, they just kept walking, pooping, and staring at us as we continued behind them. When the reached a third gate they were hemmed, stymied. Again instead of heading right along the fence which would have taken them out of our path they gathered in the corner of the fence with no where to go. I finally convinced the brains of the operation that she should walk down the bank to the right at which time the rest of them followed suit allowing us to pass through the gate and leave them behind.

As we continued along the trail descending down into Swale Canyon the flowers and wildlife continued to change. We came across some mallard ducks, a rabbit, and a bald eagle.
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Bald Eagle

New flowers included daggerpod and yellow balsamroot.
Daggerpod
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The marmots were keeping a close eye on us as we followed Swale Creek.
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There has sprung up a tradition along this trail to make designs out of the old railroad scraps, and sometimes whatever else can be found. The most elaborate of the collections was placed on a rock shelf along the trail.
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As we got further into the canyon, the hillsides began exploding with balsamroot in places.
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Being an old rail road line when the trial crosses the creek it is on old trestles made into bridges. The 3rd trestle was the most scenic as we approached. In the distance we could see the shadows of the clouds passing over Stacker Butte.
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From the third trestle the balsamroot began to steal the flower show. Patches of lupine were in bloom but much of it had yet to come out.
Lupine just starting to bud out:
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Winding through the canyon we began approaching a more forested area.
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Here we added paint to the flowers and a Great Blue Heron to the wildlife:
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The balsamroot still ruled the hillsides:
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The creek was hidden from the trail at this point but a lovely meadow of desert parsley was home to many happy birds.
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Just up from the parsley meadow a pair of deer came up from the creek and headed off down the trail. They were nice enough to pose for a couple of pictures before bounding away though.
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There was a small waterfall about 3.5 miles in that was mostly obscured by the trees then just a few tenths of a mile later we came to our planned turnaround point – a series of bedrock pools.
There was a small easy trail down to the creek where we paused for a snack since we were relatively safe from ticks on the rock.
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I was searching along the bank for one of the many frogs we were hearing when I noticed a flower filled ledge across the creek. Upon closer inspection I realized it was shooting stars. I decided to try and hop the creek and get some closer pictures since I couldn’t seem to get the full effect from the far bank.
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It had warmed up for our return trip. We kept all our layers though. We had brushed three ticks from our pants, two on mine and one off Dominique. The marmots had retired for the day and we hadn’t seen anything new for most of the return hike when we came back to third gate and the cows. Different direction but same story.
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Just after taking that picture I looked up the hill to our left and saw a coyote standing up top looking down at us. Before I could get a picture of it standing there it took off back over the hillside leaving me with a very blurry, distant photo of it’s ears. After convincing the cows to move away from the second gate we left them behind and started the final leg of our hike. I turned back after a few minutes to take a look behind us and there went the cows up the hillside away from the creek. They apparently had hung out for a couple of hours just to accompany us on our return trip. 😀

We didn’t see any other people on the trail. When we returned to the trail head around 11:30 there were a pair of hikers and a pair of bikers just getting ready to set off. I took a couple of final pictures from the trail head.
Indian Rock beyond the farmland:
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Camas field:
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The total trip was 7.6 miles with just over 300′ of elevation gain. A nice easy start to get us into the swing of things. Until next time – Happy Trails

Photos on flickr: https://www.flickr.com/photos/9319235@N02/sets/72157644343719784/
facebook: https://www.facebook.com/deryl.yunck/media_set?set=a.10203854494069953.1073741871.1448521051&type=3