Sometimes you have to hike a trail twice to really fall in love with it. That was my experience with the Dog Mountain Trail.
Heading up in the winter, when it’s chilly and fog cloaks the surrounding landscape, turns this trail into an atmospheric but mostly mundane hike. Come spring and summer days however, it becomes something magnificent.
Located in the Columbia Gorge just across the Columbia River on the Washington side, Dog Mountain is a slice of wilderness paradise. It’s famous in hiker circles for the riot of wildflowers that crowd the upper slopes in May and June. Red paintbush, blue lupine and yellow balsamroot are in abundance, along with a dizzying array of other blooming plants.
Be warned – this is a bit of a steep hike. It’s a 6-mile loop trail with options for easy or challenging routes to the top, with elevation gain totaling about 2,800 feet. The ascent is especially steep in the first leg of the trail, so be sure to pace yourself. But once you clear the tree line, and the green hills unfold above, the trail levels out for an easier hike upwards.
Note that this trail is very popular. To avoid crowds, steer clear of the weekends, or brave a crack-of-dawn hike. Dogs are permitted on the trail, and you will almost certainly run into a few. Also be aware that this is rattlesnake country, and morning hikers should watch for trail-sunning snakes. Poison oak is also present, so avoid touching the plants and consider wearing long pants if you are allergic.
A Northwest Forest Pass or a $5 parking fee is required to park at the trailhead.
Directions from Portland and places to the west: Travel east on Interstate 84 to Cascade Locks exit #44. Follow the off ramp under the interstate and take the first right to the Bridge of the Gods across the Columbia River. At the stop sign, turn right (east) on Washington State Route 14 and travel 12 miles. At milepost 53.7 there is a large sign for the Dog Mountain Trailhead. Park in the pullout on the left.