From mountain to meadow: Brooks Memorial State Park

Brooks memorial pines

Take a pause on the trails at Brooks Memorial to see dramatic views of the Columbia Plateau.

April 3, 2019

Do you miss blue skies in spring and early summer? Is the Columbia River Gorge a special place for you?

If you answered yes, you have two excellent reasons to book your next getaway to Brooks Memorial State Park.

Brooks Memorial sits north of Goldendale between the tan rolling hills of the Yakima Valley and the scrubby, pine forests of the Simcoe Mountains. The park has an east-meets-west feel and makes an ideal base for Gorge exploration – away from the crowds, clouds and infamous wind.

Get active!

Set yourself up in a wooded campsite at Brooks, and take to the park’s nine miles of hiking and horse trails.

Your path will ascend through Ponderosa pine and Oregon white oak to a subalpine meadow.

Bring lunch, and find one of two picnic tables hidden in the meadow. (Hint, one is under a tree.) Enjoy your meal and the sweeping views of Mount Hood, the Columbia Plateau and a burst of wildflowers in spring. Please keep kids and dogs on established trails, and “leave no trace.”  That means don’t pick or step on the wildflowers, so others can enjoy them. Look closely; the park has nine orchid species.

After your hike, how about a game of softball, horseshoes or nine-hole disc golf?  Just don’t wear yourself out. Interpretive staff and volunteers offer fun, educational evening programs, and you’ll want to be awake for star-gazing the clear sky over Brooks.

All kinds of camping

Whether you’re camping in an RV, tent, or one of the park’s new platform tents, you’ll be comfy at Brooks. Several RV sites are 60 feet long and have 50 amps, and the top row of campsites borders a creek, which babbles as tent campers drift off to sleep.  Your horse can even stay with you at a first-come-first-served equestrian site.

Are you booking your next group retreat? Take a look at the retreat center, which sleeps 70 in cabins around a lodge. The center has a volleyball court and basketball hoop, and it lies just below the main trailhead.

brooks-memorial-12-retreat center

The Brooks Memorial Retreat Center is a terrific, out-of-the-way setting for your next group event.

Culture on the river

If vacation for you is synonymous with culture, you’ll want to spend time at Maryhill Museum, the World War I-era Stonehenge replica, Columbia Hills Historical State Park and the area’s orchards and wineries. These attractions within an hour of Brooks make perfect side trips for cultural travelers.

Columbia Hills Historical State Park offers ranger-led tours of Native American petroglyphs and pictographs. (Mornings, April to October - reserve in advance.) Wander through Ice Age flood carved landscape, or hike from a settlement-era ranch through fields of balsamroot in April. Rent a kayak or paddleboard and cool off on Horsethief Lake in the summer.

Mt. Hood from C Hills for Brooks Memorial

Ice Age flood-hewn cliffs and 11,239-foot Mount Hood overlook Columbia Hills and Maryhill State Park.

Thrill seekers welcome

Do your tastes run a bit more extreme?

Climb a bolted rock route or go bouldering (with experience and gear) at Horsethief Butte. This popular spot attracts local climbing clubs in spring, and it may get busy before the sun starts to blaze. The presence of Native American pictographs requires extreme sensitivity when setting up climbs.   

Nearby Doug’s Beach State Park has enticed wind surfers and kite boarders for 20 years. Success on its coveted whitecaps comes with brags and respect. But this park is recommended only for expert-level surfers and boarders. Spectators of all levels are welcome to watch.

dougs-beach-13-windsurfer for Brooks article

A windsurfer navigates the Columbia’s famous whitecaps at Doug’s Beach State Park.

Whatever adventure you choose, your homey site back at Brooks will be waiting, the fire pit ready for grilling.

You could stay at Brooks Memorial for a week and not get bored. Alternating days of touring, trails and R&R will leave you with fond memories of and a longing to return to this central Washington sweet spot.

Do you have a favorite Gorge park? Share your story.

Brooks Memorial drive from the Gorge Mt Adams

Parting shot: the drive from the Columbia River north to Brooks Memorial State Park includes breathtaking views of 12,276-foot Mount Adams.