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Upper Hardy Creek Loop Hike

From Oregon Hikers Field Guide

Mt. Hood from the Hamilton Saddle, Beacon Rock State Park (bobcat)
Approaching Hardy Creek on the Equestrian Trail (bobcat)
Hardy Creek from the horse bridge, Bridge Trail (bobcat)
Stepping stones on the Bridge Trail (bobcat)
The loop hike in the northern section of Beacon Rock State Park (bobcat) Courtesy: Caltopo



The Equestrian Trailhead at Beacon Rock State Park is the quiet back door to an extensive network of trails that extend to Hamilton Mountain and Hardy Ridge. Horses are not permitted on either of these prominences, but they can both be approached via old logging roads that have been repurposed as horse/bike/hiker trails. This hike takes you into the quiet woods north of the Hamilton Mountain Saddle and down to the upper reaches of Hardy Creek. You can connect to the summit of Hamilton Mountain (1.7 miles extra) and/or also widen the loop to head over Hardy Ridge (see the Hardy Ridge Loop Hike).

Behind the information kiosk, 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.

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. (You will be coming back to this spot to complete the loop part of your lollipop.)

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, go left up along the creek to reach the Equestrian-Upper Hardy Creek Trail Junction and keep left. Hardy Creek rushes through an alder bottom down to the left, and a verdant Douglas-fir/hemlock slope rises to the right. Large rotting nurse stumps can be seen in the woods. You’ll pass by a rather incongruously located restroom in a thicket of salmonberry. When you reach the Upper Hardy Creek-Don's Cutoff Trail Junction, go right on Don’s Cutoff, a hiker-only trail.

This is a young Douglas-fir forest with a lush carpet of sword fern and Oregon grape. The trail makes three switchbacks up before following a long traverse over a mossy carpet with wild ginger and red huckleberry bushes in the understory. When you come to the Equestrian-Don's Cutoff Trail Junction, head left to reach the Hamilton Mountain Saddle.

Take time to appreciate the views at the saddle. 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. It’s 1.7 miles return to the summit of Hamilton Mountain if you want to proceed south along the ridge (see the Hamilton Mountain Loop Hike).

Otherwise, from the signpost at the saddle, take the middle trail (not the ‘Dead End’ to the right or the Equestrian Trail to the left). This road bed takes you up the crest of a viewless ridge. At the next junction, stay right to follow a grassy track just below the crest. After passing through a thicket of alder and salmonberry, the road veers left and rises as you get glimpses through the trees of Table Mountain. At a junction on the crest, a steeper road leads up through thimbleberries to the scalped summit of the ridge, just a little lower than the summit of Hamilton Mountain. Unfortunately, trees have grown up around this former viewpoint, so you may not want to tarry long as there’s only a partial view of Table Mountain.

Descend to the junction, and keep left then right, ignoring a track coming in from the left. The road keeps dropping and then switchbacks left at an old post to reach the Upper Hardy Creek-North Hamilton Ridge Loop Trail Junction, where you should break right. As you descend, you may notice large snags in the forest, relics of the 1902 Yacolt Burn. The road bed winds down rather steeply as salmonberry crowds the track, and you can see the densely forested east slope of Hardy Ridge. The track makes a sharp turn into a salmonberry thicket, with Hardy Creek running down to the right under a canopy of alders. When you reach the junction with the Bridge Trail, descend to the right 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. If you’re tackling Hardy Ridge, go right (see the Hardy Ridge Loop Hike); otherwise, turn left to descend the road bed.

It’s about three-quarters of a mile down the road to close the loop. At first, you’ll be making a rather level traverse in dense regenerating coniferous forest. As you begin to descend again, the woods become more deciduous, dominated by red alder and big-leaf maple. A big looping switchback takes you down a salmonberry lined trail to the junction with the Equestrian Trail. Here, turn right to hike down the Equestrian Trail to the 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


Trip Reports

Related Discussions / Q&A

Guidebooks that cover this hike

  • Columbia River Gorge: 42 Scenic Hikes by Don & Roberta Lowe
  • Washington State Parks: A Complete Recreation Guide by Marge & Ted Mueller
  • Washington’s Columbia River Gorge: Camping & Hiking by Tom Stienstra & Scott Leonard

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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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