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Klickitat Trail: Lyle to Klickitat Hike

From Oregon Hikers Field Guide

The Klickitat Gorge north of Fisher Hill Bridge (bobcat)
Deer brush (Ceanothus integerrimus), Klickitat Rail Trail (bobcat)
Milepost 3, Klickitat Rail Trail (bobcat)
Rapids on the Klickitat River opposite Dillacourt Canyon (bobcat)
Collapsed homestead, Klickitat Rail Trail (bobcat)
Columbia desert parsley (Lomatium columbianum), near Pitt, Klickitat Rail Trail (bobcat)
Northwestern balsamroot (Balsamorhiza deltoid), near Klickitat, Klickitat Rail Trail (bobcat)
The Lyle to Klickitat section of the Klickitat Rail Trail (bobcat) Courtesy: National Geographic Topo
  • Start point: Lyle TrailheadRoad.JPG
  • End point: Klickitat Trailhead
  • Trail Log:
  • Hike Type: In and out or car shuttle
  • Distance: 13.0 miles one-way
  • Elevation gain: 340 feet
  • High Point: 465 feet
  • Difficulty: Moderate
  • Seasons: All year
  • Family Friendly: Yes
  • Backpackable: No
  • Crowded: No
Poison Oak
Snakes
Ticks

Contents

Hike Description

After Burlington Northern abandoned this section of the rail route between Lyle and Goldendale, the Rails to Trails Conservancy purchased rights of way to the 31-mile section in 1993. Much legal wrangling and public hearings followed, interrupted by the February 1996 floods, which damaged sections of the rail bed. By the end of 2003, the Forest Service, Washington State Parks, and the Klickitat Trail Conservancy had reached a management agreement, with the USFS involved with overseeing the Lyle to Klickitat section of the trail, while the State Parks Bureau agreed to manage the Swale Canyon section. The trail offers a wonderful excursion into canyon country, with basalt rims, oak and ponderosa pine groves, and plentiful access to the Klickitat River and Swale Creek. New mile markers help you to keep track of your passage.

The 13 mile Lyle to Klickitat section of the Klickitat Trail can be divided into three parts, the longest and more secluded being the middle reaches of the Fisher Hill to Pitt section. A car shuttle or hike/bike (Leave a bike at the Pitt Trailhead or the Klickitat Trailhead) is a good way to do this section.

1. Lower Klickitat section


Directions: This first section of the trail runs very close to Highway 142 and thus there is little sense of isolation. However, views of the Klickitat Canyon are rewarding and the latter can be reached via foot trail leading off the rail bed. Bald eagles congregate here in January and February to take advantage of winter salmon runs.

Before you leave the Lyle Trailhead, walk to the stone-walled viewpoint looking up the lower end of the Klickitat River Gorge. Then pick up the paved trail from the information kiosk at the entrance to the parking area. Although there is a plan to pave the trail as far as Fisher Hill Road, the pavement ends shortly and you cross gravel Keith Road. The rail grade runs right below Highway 14 in this section. It is lined with clumps of blackberry and plantings of ponderosa pine. Deer brush drips sprays of bluish flowers in mid-spring. Cross another gravel driveway and then note a foot trail leading down to your left. This is well-worth an exploration as it drops and then leads north along the rim of the sheer gorge wall in oak/poison oak forest. The foot trail, a fisherman’s access to the river itself, then switchbacks steeply down to the rocky shore of the Klickitat (If tribal fishing is happening down here, keep your distance). It also gives access to prime bald eagle viewing in the winter: you might spot a dozen bald eagles when using this side trail in January or February. Continuing on the rail trail, hike along an avenue of oaks. Look left at a culvert for an overhanging in the basalt on the river’s west bank. Reach the sign for the Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area boundary at the Fisher Hill Bridge Trailhead and cross the gorge on the refurbished railroad bridge. In season, you can watch tribal fishing operations from this bridge or the Fisher Hill Road Bridge.

2. Fisher Hill Bridge to Pitt section


Directions: The trail runs across the river from the highway in this section and there are spectacular views of the narrow Klickitat Gorge, whitewater on the river, and wildflower fields on the open hillsides. Closer to Pitt you will come across a couple of ruined homesteads and then a string of rural dwellings.

Cross Fisher Hill Road, and pick up the trail at a gate. Pass around a second gate. You are now on the Klickitat’s more secluded west bank. Note a five-foot drop in the river to the right. Cross the gravel road which leads to the Lyle Falls Facility, a fish (mainly salmon and lamprey) monitoring station. Continue upriver above swampy seeps blooming with camas in spring. See a screw trap, an instrument used to trap young fish for tabulation purposes, moored on the opposite bank. The trail now hugs basalt cliffs and makes a curve. Cross over a couple of small slides. Oak trees clothe the slopes above. Enter another area of seeps rimmed by rushes and sedges. A boardwalk leads through an arbor of white alders. Verdant pastures lead down to the highway on the opposite bank. Pass over the rubble from another slide just past Milepost 5, and note another drop in the river opposite the deep valley of Dillacort Canyon. Here the rail grade was lost in the 1996 floods, but a definite trail continues along an avenue of young ponderosas on the washout area.

Cross a slide composed of large basalt chunks and see blooming yellow roses to your left at the site of a homestead in a cow pasture. Walk above a wide gravel bar rimmed with white alders and then proceed across a flat wooded with white oaks and ponderosa pines. Pass a collapsed wooden home on your right and then another house whose suspension bridge access to the opposite bank has been decommissioned. Amble along another oak/ponderosa flat and pass through a small cutting. Here the trail edges the river again at a mossy seep blooming with white water buttercups and monkey flower. The trail makes a detour where the rail bed was undermined by the river. More young ponderosas line the track and you soon enter an area of oak and pine-shaded pastures. You may encounter cattle on the trail in this area. The path is now a vehicle track which accesses various holdings tucked in along this side of the river.

Pass through a thicket of willows and up and over a concrete bridge. Near Milepost 9, reach a cattle gate, which you need to close after you. There are private homes to your left. Leave a second gate open and pass a vineyard in its infancy. Pass through a third gate and hike next to the river again. Cross a small creek (There’s a footbridge to your left), pass around another gate and reach Fish On Road and the community of Pitt, where Highway 142 crosses the Klickitat to be on the same side of the river as the trail again.

3. Pitt to Klickitat section

  • Start point: Pitt TrailheadRoad.JPG
  • End point: Klickitat Trailhead
  • Distance: 3.0 miles one way
  • Elevation gain: 85 feet
  • High Point: 465 feet
  • Difficulty: Easy
  • Family Friendly: Yes


Directions: The trail runs between the river and Highway 142 in this section. You will never be far from rural homes, so keep strictly to the rail bed. This is a good wildflower hike in the spring.

At the trailhead, in an open area with plantings of ponderosas, signs warn of the consequences of walking your dog without a leash. The path on the old rail bed heads up the river, squeezed between Highway 142 and the torrent. White alder, oak, willow, maples and ponderosa fringe the waters. Pass through a cutting in the basalt and then along a flat with large white alders. The rail bed has been washed out here, so there’s a path that detours to the left through the brush and horsetails. Resume walking on the rail bed, passing a chain-railed set of cement steps leading down from the highway. Then, pass a steep basalt face with a waterfall cascading down. Next, there’s a seep with blooming saxifrage and camas in the spring. The trail becomes very boggy in a white alder alley. It’s best to pick up the detour to the right that leads up a basalt prominence over the river blooming (in the spring) with balsamroot, prairie star, bare-stem desert-parsley, gold stars, blue-eyed Mary and lupine. After dropping down from this hump, encounter another boggy section coated with slime and then pass between farm buildings, an orchard and a pond, in the area of Skookum Flat. Be ready for several friendly dogs to come out to greet you as you pass by fenced fields with cows and a horse. Just after MP 12, cross over Skookum Flat Road, walking under young ponderosas and past a pair of ruined outbuildings. The Klickitat-Appleton Road rises up to the left on hillside of pungent desert-parsley. Kuhnhausen Creek cascades down to meet the river. The trail runs along the east side of Highway 142 and passes over a private road which leads to a suspension bridge over the river.

Pass more homes and outbuildings and cross an access road, passing a wide bar in the middle of the river. Cottonwoods rustle in the breeze. Pass a driveway to a new wastewater treatment plant. Then come to the homes of Klickitat. You have to cross the highway and the rail trail resumes on its west side across from 7th Street. There’s a sports field up to your left and homes across the highway. Reach School Drive where the highway bends to the right. The trail becomes a gravel track. Klickitat School, home of the Vandals, is to your left. Pass behind the 1924 brick McCrow Building and then enter a large open area, which has parking for the Klickitat Trailhead. If you continue, you're confronted by a fence with signs saying "No Trespassing: Klickitat Interim Trail Corridor Not Ready For Use". At this point, turn back and retrace your steps.


Maps

Fees, Regulations, etc.

  • Stay on the trail; respect all private property signs.
  • Dogs on leash.

Trip Reports

Related Discussions / Q&A

Guidebooks that cover this hike

  • Day Hiking: Columbia River Gorge by Craig Romano
  • I Heart Oregon (& Washington) by Lisa D. Holmes
  • Day Hikes in the Columbia Gorge by Don J. Scarmuzzi
  • Columbia Gorge Getaways by Laura O. Foster
  • Washington: The Creaky Knees Guide by Seabury Blair, Jr.
  • Rail-Trails: Washington & Oregon by the Rails-to-Trails Conservancy
  • 100 Hikes in Northwest Oregon & Southwest Washington by William L. Sullivan
  • Curious Gorge by Scott Cook

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.

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