What’s to Love: Being a climber, I’ve always been fascinated, and a bit intimidated, by the 848 foot high monolith – “Beacon Rock.” So intimidated that my first trip to the top was along the mile-long paved walkway and not roped-up hanging off the side of the rock. While the hike (1.8 miles round trip) to the top and back is exhilerating, the volcanic core is just a small piece of the whole picture. Upon further exploration, you’ll see that Beacon Rock has much to offer the whole family.
Beacon Rock is such an impressive piece of stone that it’s hard to take your eyes off it. This creates a diversion from all the other possibilities at the park. For example, there are over 20 miles of backcountry roads and trails that can be used for hiking, mountain biking, and horseback riding. There is also fishing, boating, swimming, a day-use area, and a 26-site campground. In addition, there are two other campgrounds within the park boundary that cater to equestrian riders and RV campers. Here is a short clip of our visit followed by a clip produced by the park service in WA.
See “Recommended Ages” below for more information about the hike itself, which is definitely a big caveat to the location.
Distance from Portland: Anywhere from 46 to 52 miles depending on your route and starting point. I prefer to zip down 84 to the Bridge of the Gods. You might want to drive 14 the entire way, which is shorter, but you cannot drive as fast. Here is a map.
Recommended Ages: No doubt, this is where there might be some disagreement among parents. I saw kids hiking in a camp group without immediate supervision who were around 7 to 8 years old. I found this shocking! I saw parents leading younger kids (under 5 years) on what looked like leashes. While not my bag, I thought it was perfectly reasonable and a good idea.
The bottom line for me is this: a simple stumble could lead to a fatal fall. I don’t see how anyone could dispute my claim. People rate the hike as “easy” and “family friendly.” I definitely think it’s family friendly, but only for kids 8 and older. Even at age 8, I was literally on my son’s heels the entire time – I always kept him within arms length.
I wouldn’t even take kids under 8 years on the hike; unless of course, I was carrying them the whole way in a backpack. There are railings, but they are open and have huge gaps where kids could easily slip through. I’m probably being a bit paranoid, but it’s better to be safe than sorry.
Parental Stress Factor: Because I’m a climber, I understand the potential for falls. This is a very easy hike to underestimate and get too comfortable. I kept my son close, so I wasn’t too stressed. However, I think a fair amount of stress is a good thing when taking this hike.
Physical Difficulty: It’s a strenuous .9 miles up. It’s a paved path that was built with hand rails. If you take your time, it’s a pretty easy hike. The park has a mile of ADA accessible hiking trails.
Family Fun Factor: I think camping at Beacon Rock would be a great family trip. If you’re going just to hike and check-out the scenery, it’s a bit lower on the fun factor scale. Still, it’s a classic hike!
Pet Friendly: Assuming you’re coming on a nice day to hike, I would leave the dog at home for this trip. People did have their dogs, but I thought the dogs looked pretty miserable in the heat. So much of the trail is in the direct sunlight.
Weather Considerations: I wouldn’t want to slip on this trail! Plus, the views are just too nice to miss on a cloudy day. If your main purpose is to hike to the top, then come on a beautiful sunny day!
Insider Info: If you’re interested in climbing at Beacon, seek out an experienced climber who is familiar with the terrain or a local guide service. Beacon Rock is not a good place to freshen up your climbing skills – it’s an old school climbing area with stiff grades. When you’re on the formation, you’ll need expert route finding skills coupled with knowledge of traditional gear placements and anchor building.
You can stop and park for 15 minutes without paying – you just have to be parked in one of the temporary spots! Use this to fill-up on water (they have a spigot right next to the picnic bench) or crack-out a picnic and stretch out a bit.
There is some decent bouldering on the west side of Beacon Rock – right where the hiking tails starts. You’ll see the boulders in the woods as you’re beginning your hike. We also bouldered right at the picnic area. There is a nice traverse that goes the length of that area.
Family Tips: The main campsite looks really cool in the WA video! This would probably be the perfect spot for your first time out camping with your kids. Not a good trail for a jogging stroller. If you have early walkers or babies, definitely go with a backpack for this hike. We’re pretty aggressive with our stroller, but it’s just not a good option here.
Other Posts of Interest...
Rocky Butte - Joseph Wood Hill Park on May 6th, 2012
Horsethief Lake State Park on July 10th, 2012
Orchard Park - Hillsboro on May 15th, 2012