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Hat Rock Loop Hike

From Oregon Hikers Field Guide

Hat Rock from the Lewis and Clark Commemorative Trail, with Boat Rock behind (bobcat)
Pale evening-primrose (Oenothera pallida), Hat Rock State Park (bobcat)
Old railroad cutting on the Lewis and Clark Trail, Hat Rock State Park (bobcat)
Footbridge over the pond, Hat Rock State Park (bobcat)
Looking up to Boat Rock, Hat Rock State Park (bobcat)
The suggested hike at Hat Rock State Park (not a GPS track) (bobcat) Courtesy: Google Maps
  • Start point: Hat Rock Trailhead
  • Ending Point: Lake Wallula Overlook
  • Trail Log:
  • Hike Type: Two loops
  • Distance: 2.8 miles
  • Elevation gain: 235 feet
  • High Point: 502 feet
  • Difficulty: Easy
  • Seasons: All year
  • Family Friendly: Yes
  • Backpackable: No
  • Crowded: No


Hike Description

On October 19th, 1805, Captain William Clark noted in his journal “ . . . a rock in a Lard. ressembling a hat just below a rapid at the lower Point of an Island in the Midl: of the river . . .” This observation records one of the first landmarks remarked upon on the Columbia River by the Lewis and Clark Expedition (Somehow, they missed the Twin Sisters at the Wallula Gap). Many of the other riverside features that Clark noted in the area have now been drowned by Lake Wallula, the reservoir behind the McNary Dam, completed in 1953. Hat Rock, along with its companion prominence Boat Rock, is now part of Hat Rock State Park. The park straddles an arm of Lake Wallula, formerly a wetland fed by the copious spring that supplies the verdant park’s water needs. Trails lead to the two geological features, but you can also join up with the 7 ½ mile long Lewis and Clark Commemorative Trail, maintained by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which follows the basalt rim above Lake Wallula.

Interpretive signs at the trailhead tell of Lewis and Clark’s visit as well as the ancestral homeland of the Cayuse, Umatilla, and Walla Walla tribes. Take the gravel trail to the right of the kiosk, and make several short switchbacks towards 70-foot-high Hat Rock up a slope of feral rye, rabbitbrush, and sagebrush. A rocky outcrop to the right gives you a view across the steppe to Boat Rock. Hat Rock itself is surrounded by a fence: Climbing it is forbidden! The landmark is an eroded remnant of a Columbia River Basalt layer, formed about 12 million years ago, and then whittled out by the Missoula Floods at the end of the last ice age.

Continuing on the trail, you’ll come to a rim. A spur leads left to a bench, where you’ll get a good view over the park’s pond, which is stocked with rainbow trout. Russian olives, an invasive species but very aromatic in the spring, line the north shore, while black locust, willow, and cottonwood trees shade the expansive lawns. The main trail switchbacks down to a paved path, where you should go right alongside the Russian olives. Cross a dike that contains the pond and separates it from Lake Wallula. Look for Canada geese on the lawns, ospreys hunting overhead, and swallows swooping for insects just above the surface of the pond. Go right at a parking area; a dock leads out from a tall cottonwood for a good view up to Hat Rock.

Take up a trail to the right of the restrooms. This becomes a sandy track that leads up a slope to join the Lewis and Clark Commemorative Trail, a gravel track that replaced an old rail line. Head right through a cutting, and come to the Lake Wallula Overlook, where an interpretive sign explains the Missoula Floods. Looking east, you can see the west end of the Wallula Gap, a narrows that constricted the floodwaters, raised them about 1,000 feet, and temporarily backed them up to form the vast Lake Lewis in the Pasco Basin. To the west, you can make out the McNary Dam. Below you, Russian olive trees fringe the shore (A fisherman’s trail leads down from this point); you should watch the waters below for muskrat, beaver, and a family of otters that lives here. Barn owls nest in the cliffs. The Lewis and Clark Commemorative Trail extends about 4 ½ miles west from this point to the trailhead at McNary Beach.

A short trail leads above the cutting through spring-blooming balsamroot and pale primrose to rejoin the rail trail. Walk south on the railroad grade to get more views of Hat Rock, Boat Rock, and the lawns and pond of the state park. Pass around a gate, and cross the park road to leave the rail trail (It continues 2 ½ miles to Warehouse Beach) to take a trail down to a junction. Go left under a planting of pines to reach the large parking lot at Picnic Area C. Head to the right, and follow the paved trail down across verdant lawns to the shore of the pond. Then walk east along the shore, and go left over an arched wooden footbridge. If you’re heading directly to Boat Rock, go right and right again; keep straight at the second junction to reach your car.

To reach Boat Rock, cross a road and walk east across the lawns of Picnic Area A. Towards the back of this area, in the middle, there’s a volleyball net. A wide, sandy mowed path heads into the tall grass. About 20 yards in, look for a narrow path leading left (If you miss this, continue on the mowed path and, where it bends to the right at a colony of locust trees, go left to head cross-country towards Boat Rock). The footpath crosses a shallow draw and rises up a slope to an indistinct junction below the prow of Boat Rock. Go right, and walk below the south side of the rock looking for a deer trail that leads up to a noticeable cleft in the rim near the stern. Once you’re on top, you can admire views in all directions. To descend, take the path from the cleft on the north side of the rock, and descend past blooming phlox and balsamroot. Reach the obvious loop trail, make a left and then return to the picnic area.

Fees, Facilities, etc.

  • No fee
  • Dogs on leash
  • Picnic area, restrooms, interpretive signs, boat launch, trout fishing


Trip Reports

Related Discussions / Q&A

Guidebooks that cover this destination

  • Day Hiking: Columbia River Gorge by Craig Romano
  • Oregon State Parks: A Complete Recreation Guide by Jan Bannan
  • Best Rail Trails: Pacific Northwest by Natalie Bartley
  • Rail-Trails: Washington & Oregon by the Rails-to-Trails Conservancy
  • Canine Oregon by Lizann Dunegan

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.

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