What’s to Love: I know I’ve been a bit heavy on climbing destinations lately, but Government Cove is a little gem that provides more than rock climbing, scrambling, and bouldering. This is a relatively undeveloped location (i.e., no fees, no restrooms, no water, no parking area, etc.). Despite that fact, the entire area was very clean with some nice paved and unpaved trails for hiking and biking.
This rock outcropping has always caught my attention driving east on 84 right after Cascade Locks. The rocks have a bright whitish/gray color similar to granite. In the Gorge, they stick out like a sore thumb. In addition, the area surrounding the rocks has a nice network of trails, which might equate to around 1-2 miles combined.
If you head north on the peninsula, you’ll inevitably end up on the banks of the Columbia River. There is a rocky beach close to the gate where you’ll park your car. This is an excellent spot for dogs to go for a swim. The current didn’t seem to be too much near this inlet.
If you want to hike to the top of the rocks, walk around to the west side where you’ll be able to cruise right up a gentle incline to the top. This would be a nice spot for a picnic – just make sure to bring a blanket. The view on top is worth the walk up, which is very short with no technical climbing.
If you have the gear for rock climbing, this looks like it has a lot of potential. I didn’t see any signs of development like chalk, bolts, hangers, or fixed anchors. The rock was pretty clean and wouldn’t take much to prep for routes. Just make sure you bring top roping equipment with enough traditional gear to build anchors. Most likely, you’ll need a static line (at least 20 feet) for rigging with lots of webbing. The bouldering opportunities look really good as well. We did a couple of problems that were around V1 to V2.
Caveats: I will probably print this again within the text of this article – when you’re on top of the rocks, PLEASE SUPERVISE YOUR CHILDREN CLOSELY!!! There are no guard rails. Make sure you keep them far away from the edges of the rocks. A fall from the top would certainly be fatal. Kids often will wander right up to the edge of a cliff without even realizing there is serious fall potential. Please keep a close watch!
In addition, since this appears to be an undeveloped climbing area, there is plenty of loose rock. We scrambled up a couple different places and dislodged quite a bit of rock. Therefore, be careful when you’re following after someone when scrambling.
Website: Not much out there. I think this site offers some interesting historical information.
Distance from Portland: About 45 miles from downtown Portland. Here is a map. You’ll see the rock outcropping as you drive on 84. Head over the train tracks and park near the gate.
Recommended Ages: This might work for multiple ages, especially if your kids like to climb rocks. Teens would probably have a blast scrambling around a bit. Just make sure they understand that climbing down is WAY HARDER than climbing up. It’s easy to get yourself in a bind while fooling around on rocks.
Parental Stress Factor: If you’re going to climb, that’s always a bit stressful, especially with multiple climbers. If you keep kids away from the edges, your stress level will certainly be lowered. Otherwise, this is a nice retreat from the city. It really does feel like your own little island, even though it’s technically a peninsula.
Physical Difficulty: Some of the paths are paved, but it’s inconsistent. I certainly wouldn’t call the peninsula handicap-accessible. The trails are mostly flat, so a jogging stroller is a good bet.
Family Fun Factor: If your kids are younger, this could be a very nice trip when combined with some mountain biking. Again, the total length of trails doesn’t amount to much, but young riders will enjoy all the freedom on what feels like their very own island. Fishing is also a possibility.
Pet Friendly: Yes! Make sure you keep your pet on the leash when up on top of the rocks! You wouldn’t want your dog falling off the top either!
Weather Considerations: Best on a nice summer day! We arrived shortly after 10am, which felt like the perfect time of the day to be out on the rocks.
Insider Info: We stopped in Cascade Locks for lunch at Char Burger. It wasn’t necessarily the best quality of food, but it was a lot of fun and tasted good. It’s “cafeteria style,” which was new for my son. He enjoyed pushing the tray along the line and picking out some food. Most likely, you’ll be tempted to grab a dessert in the line, but I wish I would have waited and grabbed something from the case near the entrance. The cookies and homemade fudge looked good!
If you look around carefully, you might discover some interesting wildlife. We saw two bald eagles circling above the Columbia. Right at the entrance of the Cove, there was a great blue heron sitting on a stump. We also saw a yellow jacket nest in the rocks! I’m sure there are probably snakes in the tall grass that surrounds the rocks.
Family Tips: There is limited shade, especially on the south side during the day, which is probably when you’ll visit. Bring some hats, sunscreen, water, and snacks. A jogging stroller is an excellent option for carting young walkers.
The cove looks like a great place for boating as well – kayaking, canoeing, and even a decent area for practicing kite boarding or wind surfing.
Make sure you keep your kids away from the edge of the rocks when you’re on top. Also, watch for loose rock!
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Driftwood Beach State Park on October 3rd, 2009
Oswald State Park on November 6th, 2007
Sandy River Delta: Got Dog? on April 24th, 2012