Test your personal best on the Klickitat Trail
The Klickitat State Park Trail offers scenic beauty and a great workout for hikers, mountain bikers and equestrians.
Sept. 4, 2019
Whether you’re just getting into long-distance trails, or you’re a seasoned thru-traveler, Klickitat State Park Trail has a challenge for you.
Klickitat State Park Trail is a little-known gem winding through the hills above the Columbia River. It traverses a rugged landscape through Swale Canyon to the Klickitat River, which empties into the Columbia. If you’re new to mountain biking, you might topple over gawking at the scenery.
The trail runs 31.5 miles, from Uecker Road to Lyle. Only 27 are hospitable:
- 14 miles - Warwick to Wahkiacus through Swale Canyon
- 13 miles - Klickitat to Lyle
Three miles between Wahkiacus and Klickitat are impassable due to a bridge washout.
The trail is doable in a day by mountain bike, or two days on horseback or foot. Three State Parks staffers recently rode the trail north to south and shared their trip-planning information.
Warwick to Harms Road, 1.5 miles
Leave a car at Wahkiacus (Wa-kai-eh-kus) and take a second car north to Warwick.
The first 1.5-mile stretch, Warwick to Harms Road, is a teeth-rattling ride atop ballast rock surface. Hikers will want ankle support and balance here. Horses should be shoed.
Rangers report owl, great blue heron, migratory waterfowl and coyote sightings on this short section.
The 12.5 miles through Swale Canyon are beautiful — with challenging ballast gravel.
Swale Canyon, 12.5 miles
Take a break at Harms Road, which has a port-a-potty. The terrain gets easier as you drop into Swale Canyon. A full-suspension, fat-tire mountain bike will swim through the ballast and glide over wooden planks laid on old railroad trestles.
Show up in late April or May for the big desert parsley bloom. Other wildflowers will wow you through May, and fall foliage shimmers into October.
Relax on a rock by the creek, staying alert for ticks. You’ll see thickets of alder, Oregon white oak and Ponderosa pine. Pine-scented breezes will keep you cool.
Riding the 12.5 miles through Swale Canyon takes a commitment. There is no way out but through. In addition to ballast, the trail includes a couple washouts.
The trail in two days
Views between the Pitt trailhead and Fisher Hill Bridge include a basalt canyon from which Native people fish using traditional wooden platforms.
Klickitat trailhead to Fisher Hill Bridge via Pitt, 11.5 miles
Continuing north to south, Day 2 begins in Klickitat with a second car at the Lyle trailhead.
The trail dips and follows the river for 3 miles to Pitt and a port-a-potty. Continue past blossoming mock orange, choke cherry, Douglas-fir and pine.
The 8.5 miles between Pitt and Fisher Hill are billed as the prettiest of the trail, and this leg will not disappoint. Sand or packed gravel makes the terrain easier than Swale, despite a few tough parts. Take breaks on outcroppings and small sandy beaches.
The trail eventually mellows, and the river roughens. Russet-colored hills give way to columnar basalt and a slot canyon. Look down and see wooden platforms where Native American fishers angle for salmon above churning waters.
The trail between Fisher Hill and Lyle is appropriate for hikers, cyclists and equestrians of most levels.
Fisher Hill Bridge to Lyle, 1.5 miles
Fisher Hill Bridge marks your return to civilization. Peer into the canyon from the span, then continue on compact gravel for 1.5 miles to the Lyle trailhead.
Tips for traveling the Klickitat Trail
- The north-to-south trail route descends gently and is recommended for beginners.
- Swale Canyon often closes in summer due to wildfire. Check with the park before setting out.
Mountain biking: Experts recommend tires 2.1cm and thicker. Bring pump, bike repair kit and all essentials. Hybrid bikes do fine between Lyle and Fisher Hill Bridge.
Hiking: Wear sturdy boots with good tread. Bring trekking poles, sunscreen and tick repellent.
Horseback riding: In addition to horseshoes, riders need veterinary first aid kits and knowledge. Check horses for ticks. Lyle to Fisher Hill makes an excellent ride for novices.
Cross-country skiers and snowshoers can do the trail in winter, depending on snowpack, according to Barbara Robinson, president of the Klickitat Trail Conservancy.
Bring lots of water. Rangers warn against purifying water, which is tainted by agricultural runoff.
Parts of the trail are on land sacred to the Native tribes that use it. Some of the trail runthrough private property. Cattle may cross your path. Please be polite and stay on track.
The Klickitat is close to state parks, federally managed trails and attractions such as museums and wineries, so why not plan a longer visit to the central Columbia River Gorge?