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Dalles Mountain Ranch Loop Hike

From Oregon Hikers Field Guide

Balsamroot and lupine, Dalles Mountain Ranch (bobcat)
Cushion fleabane (Erigeron poliospermus), Dalles Mountain Ranch (bobcat)
Horsethief Butte and The Dalles, Dalles Mountain Ranch (bobcat)
Dog in the lupines, Dalles Mountain Ranch (bobcat)
View to Browns Island from the Vista Trail, Dalles Mountain Ranch (bobcat)
Crawford Ranch buildings, Dalles Mountain Ranch (bobcat)
Indra swallowtail (Papilio indra), Dalles Mountain Ranch (bobcat)
Hay mower, Crawford Ranch (bobcat)
Blanket flower (Gaillardia aristata), Dalles Mountain Ranch (bobcat)
The Bleakney wagon, Dalles Mountain Ranch (bobcat)
Trail system shown in red; off-trail options in yellow (bobcat) Courtesy: Google Maps
  • Start point: Crawford Oaks TrailheadRoad.JPG
  • End point: Crawford Ranch
  • Trail Log:
  • Hike Type: Loop
  • Distance: 6.9 miles
  • High Point: 1310 feet
  • Elevation gain: 1060 feet
  • Difficulty: Moderate
  • Seasons: Year-round
  • Family Friendly: Yes
  • Backpackable: No
  • Crowded: Yes
Poison Oak
Snakes
Ticks

Contents

Hike Description

The Dalles Mountain Ranch has become an annual pilgrimage for many, and mid-April to May is the prime time for the overlap of the balsamroot-lupine bloom that has been highlighted in so many area photographers’ portfolios. Spring is the best time to visit, but there is much more than balsamroot to pleasure the eye: old ranch buildings, sweeping vistas, steep rimrock, creeks and a waterfall, wildlife and many other species of blooms assail the senses. The property was deeded to the State of Washington in 1993 by Darlene and Pat Bleakney and became part of the Columbia Hills State Park in 2003. The ranch property had been split into two parts: this southern section joined the already existent Horsethief Butte State Park (see the Horsethief Butte Hike). The northern section of the ranch, comprising the treeless hillsides at the crest of the Columbia Hills, became the Columbia Hills Natural Area Preserve and is managed by the Washington Department of Natural Resources (See the Stacker Butte-Oak Spring Hike). Out of several homestead claims, the ranch became consolidated into to its present form under three consecutive owners: the Crawfords (1878-1935), the Reuters (1935-1975), and the Bleakneys (1975-1993). Ranching activities focused first on sheep and then, post World War II, cattle. In the state park section, an inventory of the early settler presence has been created, buildings are numbered, and interpretive signs are being set up. In 2014, new trailheads and a trail system were opened to the public. Before that, visitors were encouraged to indulge in “dispersed hiking” over the rolling hills, oak-wooded gullies and rimrock benches. This type of rambling is still permitted for those on foot, but mountain bikers and horses need to stick to the trails.

It should be noted that most of the historical information in this field guide entry comes from Dalles Mountain Ranch: A Museum of Natural and Cultural Heritage of the East Gorge by Darlene Highsmith Bleakney.

Hike up the ranch access road past the information kiosk and bitter cherry bushes. This road was most recently used to access a gravel pit. You’ll reach a bench that blooms with death-camas and buckwheat in the spring. Note the other, older routes that climb up the rimrock: one is the military road built in the 1850s between Fort Dalles and Fort Walla Walla; the other is a road built by early settler Peter Jensen. All three roads come together near Eightmile Creek Falls. The access road switchbacks at a magnificent view towards Horsethief Butte, the Columbia River, and The Dalles. Interpretive signs here explain the cataclysmic floods that scoured out the Gorge at the end of the last Ice Age. During the greatest floods, water levels were 840 feet above the current river.

Continue up under rimrock where balsamroot blooms among the rocky outcrops. A short user trail leads off to the right to offer views of Eightmile Creek Falls where it spills into a narrow slot canyon. Heading back up the road and fifteen yards before the first thicket of maple and poison oak, you’ll see a narrow trail leading off to the right to descend and cross the creek (See the Lower Benches option decribed below). Continue up the road. Eightmile Creek runs down to the right in a gully shaded by oaks, maples, and infested with poison oak. Pass through a gate with a brown trail sign and continue up, passing through a copse of white oak that is often aflutter with busy Lewis’ woodpeckers. Reach a four-way road junction and go right on a track, actually the Stagecoach Road to Fort Simcoe built during the Yakima Wars of 1855-56. This grassy route leads down to a crossing of Eightmile Creek among thickets of bitter cherry. Head across a grassy sward to the signposted Access Road-Vista Loop Trail Junction.

You will go right here, but first look to the left. There’s a grove of locust trees that shades a large warren of Columbia ground squirrels. This area was the site of the John Lucas homestead (1879). Follow the Vista Loop along a grassy slope of balsamroot and lupine. Reach the powerlines and begin to get views of Horsethief Butte and The Dalles. Go left between two pylons and follow the powerline road, carpeted with desert parsley, a short distance. Then leave the powerline road and follow a path below a shallow rim on a bench blooming with balsamroot and lupine. Soon, to the right and left, you will see piping and fence posts related to springs hidden in small thickets. From here, you can get views to the clifftop sands of the Kaser Dunes on the Oregon side of the Gorge. The trail swings away from the river and passes through a fenceline. Cross a grassy gully and head up a slope to breach the fence line again. There are more expansive views from these heights. The trail circles around below the fence and reaches the crest of a ridge to offer views east to Browns Island, the Cascade Cliffs Winery and the Biggs railroad bridge. Turn up a deep creek valley and hike along a fence across from two power pylons. Pass under the powerlines and continue along the edge of a wheatgrass/bluegrass field on a farm track to reach the Vista Loop Trail-Ranch Route Junction. From here, get views west to Mount Hood.

To make a shorter loop, you can go left to descend to cross Eightmile Creek. Otherwise, go right on the Ranch Route. The trail makes a sharp left at a rusting water trough. Look off to your right and see a homestead plantation of trees, predominantly black locust and osage orange, a species of many uses for Western farmers. Such groves were a result of the 1873 Timber Culture Act, which allotted an additional 160 acres to homesteaders who planted at least 40 acres of trees (Some of the remaining trees in this grove were scorched in a 2015 grass fire). Veer off the farm track at two more examples of the agricultural enterprise: a sod tiller and upturned water trough. Drop down the slope above a fenced spring and a large plastic water tub that is often visited by deer. Pass across a blooming slope of balsamroot and hike up the east side of an oak-shaded creek, then cross it. Cross a second creek in a lovely grove of oaks and switchback at the top of a rise. Here there are rich vistas of balsamroot and lupine the second half of April. Cross a dry draw and reach the Eightmile Creek Trail-Ranch Route Junction at a fence line.

Go right here and up the slope. Reach the Dalles Mountain Road below the new Dalles Mountain Ranch Trailhead, the alternative jump off point for hiking the area. Go right along the road to approach the complex of buildings at the Crawford Ranch. A pond on your left provided water for an orchard of apples, apricots, and peaches. Eightmile Creek itself is densely wooded with white poplars and bitter cherry bushes, all hiding a collapsing chicken coop. The 1905 John Crawford House is above the road. Beyond it, near the road leading up to the Stacker Butte Trailhead, are the Crawford family cemetery (four graves) and an outdoor museum displaying old farm equipment. The last barn and corral on the south side of the road is an historic 1878 structure. Please obey the Area Closed sign here. At the junction with the Stacker Butte Road, there’s the ranch welcome sign, a wagon placed there by the last owners, the Bleakneys.

After visiting the ranch buildings, return to the Eightmile Creek Trail-Ranch Route Junction, and descend the slope through a grassy field that passes through a fence line and then drops down the fence above oak-shaded Eightmile Creek. At a fence corner, swing away from the creek along a slope of lupine and desert parsley displaying a line of rotting fallen fence posts. Get a view down to the lush flat that sheltered the Lucas homestead. Head up the western slope of a gully and descend to cross a creek that runs well into the summer. Drop down the east side of the same gully and cross a small draw. Reach the Eightmile Creek-Vista Loop Trail Junction, and go right on the Stagecoach Road. Descend to the Access Road-Vista Loop Trail Junction, cross Eightmile Creek and return to the Crawford Oaks Trailhead via the access road.


Other options

There is plenty of opportunity for dispersed hiking at the Dalles Mountain Ranch. The country is open and relatively easy to navigate, but be sure to keep yourself oriented at all times. Do not cross park boundaries onto private property. When hiking cross-country, there is increased chance of encountering poison oak, ticks, and rattlesnakes. Both ticks and rattlesnakes are common in the northern section of the park above the Stacker Butte Road. Do not cross the fence into the Columbia Hills Natural Area Preserve: only road hiking is permitted there (See the Stacker Butte-Oak Spring Hike).

These directions are descriptive. Bring a detailed topo map and know how to use it.

Lower Benches:

From the access road near Eightmile Creek Falls and 15 yards before the first roadside thicket of poison oak, find a narrow trail leading off to the right to cross Eightmile Creek. Wind up above the creek, making short switchbacks, and then continue along a faint, overgrown trail on the bench. Note in places where stones have been placed on the edges of the trail. Reach a wide, flat bench backed by thickets of bitter cherry. Cross a draw and, past an ancient cairn strewn with decaying cow bones, come to another bench with commanding clifftop views east to Wishram and Browns Island. The cliffs above the Devil's Pass, an old Indian route that led from the river up to Oak Spring and then the berry fields around Mount Adams, will prevent you from exploring farther here, so take a steep deer trail heading up the talus in a breach in the rimrock. Continue up until you reach the Vista Loop Trail.

Eightmile Creek East:

Below the Crawford Ranch, where the Eightmile Creek Trail turns away from the creek at a fence corner, continue straight down Eightmile Creek on a user trail. Reach a low rock wall and step over it. Walk across a flat area with a bitter cherry thicket to the right. At the end of the meadow, pass through the thicket to a grove of locust trees which also supports a ground squirrel warren. This is the area of one of the Lucas homesteads, later amalgamated into the Dalles Mountain Ranch. Past the locust grove is the Access Road-Vista Loop Trail Junction.

Old Barn:

Walk west from the Dalles Mountain Trailhead past the last of the buildings on your left. Walk around the west end of this fence and pass through an open gate to a lush field. Go left behind the 1878 wooden barn (Do NOT enter any of the buildings) and pass through another fence at an open gate. From here, pick up a trail leading down through a field. The trail reaches Eightmile Creek near a marmot warren. Hike down to join the Eightmile Creek Trail. Also, the second field below (south of) the barn has the “rusty old car” seen in so many photographs. You can head down the ridge from the car to cross Eightmile Creek.

Eightmile Creek West:

West of the Crawford Ranch buildings, there’s an electricity panel on the left side of the road. Climb over the gate here and follow a farm road down the slopes above Eightmile Creek. This area was all pasture, so there are few blooms in the spring. You pass some rusting equipment and eventually end up on the access road near an old landfill and west of the Eightmile Creek crossing.

Brune Homestead:

Walk west from the Dalles Mountain Road-Stacker Butte Road junction about 0.3 miles to a farm gate. Climb the gate and walk down an overgrown farm road in wide open country with views towards Mount Hood. Below the track are the rusting remains of irrigation equipment. Cross a draw blooming with pungent desert parsley and then cross the main channel of Fivemile Creek. Pass a spring with a water trough and continue heading down to another draw. From here head up the slope to your right, making for a plantation of walnut trees which surround stone remains at the Brune Homestead Site. Bill Brune and his wife were German immigrants who settled here in 1892 or a little before. An old pear tree blooms here in the spring and a poplar windbreak, where a pair of red-tailed hawks nest, shields the walnut grove from westerlies. Above the grove, you can find a picturesque springhouse above a small water hole.

Stacker Butte Trailhead Connector:

Stay on the the farm track which the east section of the Ranch Route Trail follows (Keep right at the sod tiller and upturned water trough). On a clear day, there is a stupendous view of Mount Hood from here. These former farm fields bloom with bare-stem desert parsley, lupine, and balsamroot in the spring. An oak-lined draw is to your left. The road swings left, crosses a draw and reaches an open gate on the Dalles Mountain Road. Cross the road to the dry creek bed and step over the fence here. Now head up over grassy hills with cluster lilies, milk-vetch, and lupine. Keep rising generally towards the Columbia Hills crest. Reach a lovely draw rimmed with pungent desert-parsley and cross the fence to its left. Keep up the hillside and wander up a balsamroot-carpeted slope that is home to meadowlarks and rattlesnakes. Cross under powerlines. You can see the Stacker Butte Trailhead ahead. Make for it and reach the cattle grid that marks the boundary between the Columbia Hills State Park and the Columbia Hills Natural Area Preserve, run by the Washington Department of Natural Resources.

Rattlesnake Rim:

From the Stacker Butte Trailhead, don’t cross the cattle grid, but hike up towards the rim along the fence line (Don’t cross the fence: off-road hiking is prohibited in the Columbia Hills Natural Area Preserve). Follow a deer trail up on a slope of oaks and then scramble farther up the rimrock. Note that this area was the site of a rattlesnake den which was dynamited by the Reuters, who took over the ranch after the Crawfords defaulted during the Great Depression. However, there are plenty of rattlesnakes here still and you have a good chance of encountering one. If you don’t like snakes, don’t try this option! Cross a stream that runs into the summer and continue along the rim, reaching a more open slope. Drop down the slope at the corner of Eightmile Creek’s upper gully. This can be a very windy point. Head into the oaks, and near the northeast edge of the oaks, you should find the grave of Ludwig Skibbe (1825-1897). Skibbe was the brother-in-law of Bill Brune (See the Brune Homestead Site) who came to visit and housesit for a few days. His body was found up in the rimrock and brought down to the gravesite. Since the weather was extremely hot at the time, it is surmised he died of a heart attack from exertion rather than a rattlesnake bite. Drop down from the gravesite through the oaks and past a wooden cattle trough to the Stacker Butte Road. Cross the road to the east of the oak-lined creek following a definite tread. Head across a flat area and then drop down the hillside next to the creek. See a fenced area in the creek thickets: this protects a large spring. Where you see a gap in the thickets, cross the creek to its west side and continue to drop towards the Crawford Ranch buildings. You will see the “new” ranch house, built in 1968 by John Reuter, across the road to your right: this is now occupied by park personnel.

Upper Eightmile Creek:

Take the Rattlesnake Rim route described above, but instead of descending to Ludwig Skibbe’s grave, turn into the gulch that conveys a branch of Eightmile Creek. Note that, in addition to rattlesnakes, these upper gulches are crawling with ticks (and the deer they attend to), especially in early spring. Drop to cross the creek and head up the steep slope opposite following deer trails if you can. Keep above the oaks, for they conceal a thick carpet of poison oak. You can drop in and out of the next gully (another branch of Eightmile Creek) and then hike down the broad open ridge festooned with balsamroot and lupine, with the Fivemile Creek drainage to the west, to join the powerline road. From here, you have two options: continue down the slope, passing through barbed wire fences, to the Brune Homestead Site; or head east along the powerline road to recross Eightmile Creek and pass the line shack constructed in the mid-1890s by Henry Brune, a nephew of Bill Brune. When you reach the Stacker Butte Road, cross it and continue down to the Crawford Ranch on the east side of Eightmile Creek.


Maps

Fees, Regulations, etc.

  • Discover Pass required
  • Dogs on leash
  • Restrooms, interpretive signs, picnic area
  • Keep out of ranch buildings
  • Open 6:30 a.m. to dusk; no overnight camping
  • Share trails with horses and mountain bikers
  • Watch out for poison oak, ticks, and rattlesnakes

Trip Reports

Related Discussions / Q&A

Guidebooks that cover this destination

Note: Most guidebooks below do not include the new trail system.

  • Day Hiking: South Cascades by Dan A. Nelson & Alan L. Bauer
  • Best Desert Hikes: Washington by Alan L. Bauer & Dan A. Nelson
  • Columbia Gorge Getaways by Laura O. Foster
  • Hiking Washington's History by Judy Bentley
  • Pokin' Round the Gorge by Scott Cook
  • Washington State Parks: A Complete Recreation Guide by Marge & Ted Mueller
  • Dalles Mountain Ranch: A Museum of Natural and Cultural Heritage of the East Gorge by Darlene Highsmith Bleakney

More Links


Contributors

Oregon Hikers Field Guide is built as a collaborative effort by its user community. While we make every effort to fact-check, information found here should be considered anecdotal. You should cross-check against other references before planning a hike. Trail routing and conditions are subject to change. Please contact us if you notice errors on this page.

Hiking is a potentially risky activity, and the entire risk for users of this field guide is assumed by the user, and in no event shall Trailkeepers of Oregon be liable for any injury or damages suffered as a result of relying on content in this field guide. All content posted on the field guide becomes the property of Trailkeepers of Oregon, and may not be used without permission.