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Hamilton-Hardy Loop Hike

From Oregon Hikers Field Guide

Beacon Rock and Yeon Mountain from Hamilton Mountain (bobcat)
Rustyhair saxifrage (Saxifraga rufidula), Hamilton Mountain (bobcat)
Hikers on Little Hamilton Mountain (bobcat)
The bridge over Hardy Creek (soon after its installation) (bobcat)
Hamilton Mountain and Mt. Hood from Hardy Ridge (bobcat)
Signage where the Ridge Trail meets the West Hardy Ridge Trail (bobcat)
The loop hike in Beacon Rock State Park to both Hamilton Mountain and Phlox Point (bobcat) Courtesy: Caltopo/USFS
  • Start point: Hardy Ridge Equestrian TrailheadRoad.JPG
  • End point: Hamilton Mountain and Phlox Point
  • Hike Type: Lollipop loop
  • Distance: 13.0 miles
  • Elevation gain: 3505 feet
  • High Point: 2,957 feet
  • Difficulty: Difficult
  • Seasons: Spring through fall
  • Family Friendly: No
  • Backpackable: No
  • Crowded: On Hamilton Mountain
Nettles

Contents

Description

Beginning at the less crowded Equestrian Trailhead in Beacon Rock State Park, this loop takes you on old logging roads and foot trails to the two main summits in the park, Hamilton Mountain and Phlox Point on Hardy Ridge, the latter actually 470 feet higher than the former. There's substantial elevation gain here as the course of Hardy Creek forms an abyss between the two. The loop avoids the most crowded part of the park, however, at Rodney Falls and Hardy Falls. You can even add a little distance if you want by taking the trails north from the Hamilton Mountain Saddle to loop down to Hardy Creek (see the Upper Hardy Creek Loop Hike). It is often possible to do this loop during the winter, but depending upon snow cover, you may have to skip the tricky ascent to Phlox Point if the tread is icy and the east wind is howling.

Behind the information kiosk at the Equestrian Trailhead, there’s a gated road and, to its right, a trail marked “Equestrian Trailhead.” Take either one – they come together in short order, and you’ll be following the gravel road up below a talus slope in Douglas-fir/hemlock forest with a sword fern and Oregon grape understory. A rip-rap buttressed section of road is where a slide took away the tread many years ago. After crossing a couple of creeks, the road levels on an alder bench and curves uphill to pass over another plunging creek. At the four-way Equestrian-West Hardy Ridge-Lower Loop Trail Junction, keep straight. (You will be coming back to this spot to complete the loop as described.)

Turn into the Hardy Creek drainage, and keep gently rising, getting glimpses across to Hamilton Mountain through the alders. This is a mixed slope forest of Douglas-fir, hemlock, maple, alder, and wild cherry. Keep straight again at the Equestrian-East Hardy Ridge-Lower Loop Trail Junction.

The trail begins to descend the slope as Hamilton Mountain looms above. Soon, you’ll cross the huge culvert at Hardy Creek and reach the Equestrian-Hardy Creek Trail Junction, where there’s a picnic table and trail map. Here you will turn right onto a level path through a cool alder forest. You'll pass over a footbridge where the trail is heavily buttressed with crib walls to keep the slope in place. After 1.1 miles in leafy woods above Hardy Creek, you will come to the Hamilton Mountain-Hardy Creek Trail Junction and turn left on the busy Hamilton Mountain Trail. (If you want to include the waterfalls in your trip, you can turn right for a short diversion.)

In the warmer seasons, your trail may be lined with ferns, Oregon grape, thimbleberry and wild rose. In fall, this area is filled with an understory of yellow maples beneath the green firs. You'll ascend steeply through the forest and soon the trail switchbacks beneath the first of Hamilton Mountain's many cliff faces. Follow steep switchbacks leading up a cliff-edged ridge, and you will be rewarded with spectacular views across the Columbia River at a spot locally known as Little Hamilton Mountain. The trail heads across the very crest of a ridge to Hamilton Mountain proper and continues climbing for another mile, until you reach a T-shaped junction at the summit ridgecrest. The path to the right will dead-end at Hamilton Mountain's summit, 2488 feet above sea level, but the view there is somewhat obscured by brush. Don't follow the user trails that tunnel into the thickets: You will not be rewarded by views but rather by unsightly dobs of toilet paper.

Turn around, and follow the ridge crest trail downhill toward the north that leads eventually, after almost a mile, to the Hamilton Mountain Saddle, where there are much better viewings of the Gorge landscape. Mount Hood can be seen peeking up just to the left of the Hamilton Mountain summit ridge. Larch Mountain and Yeon Mountain are prominences at the west end of the Columbia Gorge. Just to the east, look across the Hamilton Creek valley to Aldrich Butte, Cedar Mountain, Table Mountain, South Birkenfeld Mountain, and Birkenfeld Mountain. The Bonneville Dam blocks the Columbia River below. The saddle, when it's not too windy, is a very popular lunch stop, with room for several parties of hikers.

Next, take an old track (the end of the Equestrian Trail) leading left off the saddle (if you have your back to Hamilton Mountain). In a few yards, there's a switchback, where you'll see a sign for Don's Cutoff, a hiker-only trail. Take this trail to traverse down a slope on a mossy carpet with wild ginger and red huckleberry bushes in a young Douglas-fir forest. Make three switchbacks down in a carpet of Oregon grape and sword fern to reach another old road bed at the Upper Hardy Creek-Don's Cutoff Trail Junction.

Bear right here, and hike up the road bed about 0.4 miles, getting glimpses of alder-shaded Hardy Creek below. When you reach the junction with the Bridge Trail, descend to the left between crib walls. The Bridge Trail was constructed to allow equestrians to connect the road up the east side of Hardy Ridge with the Upper Hardy Creek road. You’ll descend a slope thick with trailing blackberry and cross the sturdy bridge over Hardy Creek. The trail heads up into a hemlock forest and crosses a couple of tumbling creeks shaded by alders before reentering mossy woods. After crossing more creeks, the trail joins an old road bed and proceeds to the East Hardy Ridge-Bridge Trail Junction.

Bear right up the road track in deep forest to reach the road's end and the east end of the hiker-only Hardy Ridge Trail. This footpath switchbacks up in a hemlock forest with sword fern and Oregon grape forming the carpet. Looking at the trail bench, you can see that this entire slope was once scree that has been colonized by forest and a thin layer of organic matter. After a steady traverse up, two switchbacks take you into a more stunted forest, and you'll come to a four-way junction right on the ridge crest. A little spur leads left to a fin of rock that offers views to Mount Hood and an expanse of the Columbia River Gorge, including west to Archer Mountain, east to Hamilton Mountain and Table Mountain, and across the river to Tanner Butte, Yeon Mountain, and Larch Mountain. However, to sample the real delights of Hardy Ridge, turn right (north).

The trail is a typical user track, and it first passes another rock fin to offer more views of Mount Hood. Phlox bloom in profusion on these rocky outcrops in spring. Then, after winding through thickets of windblown noble firs, views open up to Mount Adams between Table Mountain and South Birkenfeld Mountain. The Bonnevile Dam also moves into view below Hamilton Mountain, which seems small and insignificant from this perch, and Dog Mountain can be seen upriver to the east. The trail burrows through thickets of Sitka alder and mountain ash with patches of bear-grass. After another rock outcropping, the ridge becomes almost treeless, and the views are expansive along the lichen and moss-covered crest. The summit block, Phlox Point, is visible ahead. The trail switchbacks up a short section of loose talus and reaches the summit after you pass from Beacon Rock State Park to the Gifford Pinchot National Forest. Horsetail Falls is visible on the Oregon side of the Gorge. To the east, Mount Adams shows itself, and Mount Hood dominates the southern horizon. You can expect the wildflowers on the ridge and at Phlox Point to peak from June to late July.

Return the three-quarters of a mile to the four-way junction with the Ridge Trail, and bear right. Three switchbacks down take you through dense thickets and into a Douglas-fir forest. Another switchback offers a view over the wide bowl of Duncan and Woodward creeks to Archer Mountain and across to Larch Mountain on the Oregon side of the Columbia River. Now a series of 10 switchbacks conveys you down the west slope of Hardy Ridge as you criss-cross ancient logging roads. Red alder forms most of the canopy although slide alder has colonized the road beds. Eventually, you'll reach the West Hardy Ridge Trail, where you need to bear left.

This open road track, which is also used by horses, make a level traverse under alders and vine maples and then gradually descends under a canopy of Douglas-fir. Past a horse hitch, the track gets a little brushier as thimbleberry thickets encroach. After a level hike, you'll stay right and drop to the junction with the Equestrian Trail. Here, make a right to hike the last mile back to the Equestrian Trailhead.


Fees, Regulations, etc.

  • Discover Pass required
  • $2 toll each way at the Bridge of the Gods
  • Restrooms, picnic area, information kiosk
  • Dogs on leash
  • Trail maps at most junctions
  • Share some trails with horses

Maps

Trip Reports

Related Discussions / Q&A

Guidebooks that cover this hike

See Guidebooks under the Hamilton Mountain Loop Hike and Hardy Ridge Loop Hike for separate treatments.

  • Washington State Parks: A Complete Recreation Guide by Marge & Ted Mueller
  • Washington’s Columbia River Gorge: Camping & Hiking by Tom Stienstra & Scott Leonard

More Links


Page 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.