Walk out your front door and take a look at the Columbia Hills. At this time of year they are turning dusky gold and they look dusty, dry and uninviting.
Nothing could be further from the truth.
These hills and their shoreline on the Columbia River hold some gems that most of us never explore. What we are seeing is Washington’s Columbia Hills State Park, over 6,000 acres that are open to the public to just wander, explore and find surprises we never expected to find.
The newest trail in this park is the Crawford Oaks trail system that wanders from the trailhead just off of Hwy 14 and climbs about 930 feet to the farm buildings at the old Crawford Ranch site.
In early April these hills are covered with masses of golden arrow leaf balsamroot and deep blue lupine.
Well, this year hasn’t gone as well as I would have liked so I missed the balsamroot and lupine, but wanted to just take a hike there and plan for next spring.
This week I finally found a free day and a couple of friends who agreed to tag along. At my age I try to find the easiest way to hike a new area and it occurred to me that the Crawford Oaks trail is perfect for a two car shuttle hike.
We parked the first car at the trailhead just off of Hwy 14 and then drive the second car to the upper trailhead at the old ranch building and we had about an 2.5 mile hike, all downhill.
This trail is patchwork of old ranch roads, the original military road that was built circa 1850 and new trails connecting them into a figure 8 trail system that gives you about a 8-mile hiking option.
Here is my suggestion for your first hike at Crawford Oaks: Do the car shuttle with a friend, park in the upper trailhead parking area and then follow the road you drove in on about 100 feet to the east end of the ranches pond. Watch for an opening in the fence and follow the trail until you reach a fork. Near the fork I found my first big surprise; lots of Blanket Flower in bloom, and I had thought the flower season was over!
Take the right hand trail and follow it as it drops into the Eight Mile Creek drainage. This creek is an all year long creek that is home to lush growths of white oak, mock orange and poison oak. Near the creek the trail heads east and follows the contour lines in an easy downhill walk. The trail climbs up a draw and then crosses another spring creek where I found my second gem on the mountain; the mock orange were in full bloom and the creek was filled with yellow monkey face flowers.
As we topped out of the draw far below us was the green meadow on Eight Mile Creek. Who could have ever guessed this meadow would exist on this dry mountain? The trail crosses the meadow, then the creek, and climbs to a wide gravel road.
This gravel road was a mystery to me. Why was such a good road built that went nowhere? At one time the hill to the west was a Klickitat County landfill, all of the pipes sticking out of the ground monitor any seepage from the reclaimed landfill that might contaminate the creek.
From this point on the road follows Eight Mile Creek for about .25 mile and then does a sweeping switchback to the trailhead parking area.
My suggestion is to save this hike for next spring if you can’t do it in the next few days.
Take lots of water, a few snacks and a sense of adventure.
This area is home to western rattlesnakes, and they have right-of-way! You will also need a Discover Washington Pass.
IF YOU GO
To find the lower Crawford Oaks trailhead travel east from where Hwy 97 intersects with Hwy 14. Drive past Horsethief Lake and about .25 miles past Horsethief Butte. Watch for Crawford Oaks Trailhead on your left.