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Beacon Rock

From Oregon Hikers Field Guide

Beacon Rock from the Beacon Rock boat launch (Jeff Statt)
Winter view of the Columbia River looking toward Bonneville Dam (Steve Hart)
A look at a the historic trail up Beacon Rock (Steve Hart)
The Columbia River and Beacon Rock from the Oregon side (Jeff Statt)


Beacon Rock is the 57,000 year-old plug of relatively young cinder cone, now considered the most recent extrusion of the Boring Lava Field. The ice age Missoula Floods scored away the volcano's rubbly flanks, leaving a freestanding monolith that has become one of the most recognizable symbols of the Columbia River Gorge.

Beacon Rock has been known by many names. Native Americans called it Che-che-op-tin. The first known Europeans to see the rock were Lewis and Clark, and William Clark coined the name Beacon Rock. The explorers also noted that this was the farthest extent of tidal influence up the Columbia River. In 1811, Alexander Ross called the rock "Inoshoack Castle". An 1841 map lists the site as "Castle Rock", and that name was in common use for many years. The rock was first climbed in 1901, and soon after the rock became a popular climbing destination. Henry J. Biddle purchased the rock in 1915 for $1. He and his family were very serious in maintaining the natural beauty and condition of the rock, as well as opening it to visitors. Rather than let a dozen ugly climbing routes cover the mountain, he began construction of a trail to the summit which was completed in 1918. The trail to the top is 9/10 of a mile of almost continuous switchbacks, handrails, bridges and ledges. There are incredible views of the Columbia River Gorge at every turn.

In the early 1930s, Biddle's dream just about disappeared. The US Army Corps of Engineers planned to demolish the rock to create riprap for jetty construction at the mouth of the Columbia River. In an effort to save the rock, Biddle offered to give the rock to the State of Washington. When the state initially refused, the State of Oregon offered to accept the gift. Somewhat shamed, Washington accepted the gift and in 1935, Biddle's heirs turned the rock over to the state for use as a park.

Today, Biddle's trail remains on the west and south faces of the rock, one of the scenic gems of the Gorge. The trail is almost completely lined by handrails, although parents of little ones should be very careful, as they could possibly slip through the rails. The view from the summit extends from Bonneville Dam to Cape Horn.

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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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