More than 30 popular hiking trails on the Oregon side of the Columbia River Gorge remain closed because of hazards left in the wake of last year's Eagle Creek wildfire. That has park rangers wrangling crowds on the unburned Washington side of the Gorge.
Unsafe conditions will likely keep many trails on the Oregon side of the western Gorge closed until this summer or fall. The fire closure area covers terrain between Troutdale and Wyeth, including about 135 miles of trails.
The Eagle Creek fire was extinguished last autumn, but professional and volunteer trail crews need more time to repair damage, remove dangerous snags and allow landslide and rockfall risk to abate.
The spillover to Washington State Parks in the Columbia Gorge is already happening and they're bracing for worse. Parks spokeswoman Meryl Lipman said the biggest challenge is parking.
"People are parking crosswise and they're parking on grass,” she said. “They're parking on the shoulder of SR 14, which is not legal and not safe."
There are no near-term plans to make more parking available, since the spillover is a temporary situation. Lipman said outdoor recreationists should keep the Gorge on their list, but plan their trips for off days and off hours. She suggests a sunrise or sunset hike.
"Certainly, once wildflower season starts it's a great time to take photos early morning and late afternoon," she said in an interview Thursday. "So get out there and try something new."
"In the western Gorge, our peak hours are from 9:30 a.m.-3:30 p.m.,” Lipman said. If people come outside those hours, they're more likely to have a good "back to nature" experience.
Lipman said the two places most affected by crowding are Beacon Rock and Columbia Hills state parks.
Columbia Hills Historical State Park is home to the Dalles Mountain Ranch trail, a favorite wildflower hike in spring. Lipman suggested trying out the Crawford Oaks hike or Klickitat Trail as alternatives.
Beacon Rock State Park is best known for the zigzag path up its namesake monolith, but it is also the starting point for the Hamilton Mountain trail, a popular hike for waterfalls and views. Lipman said a less crowded alternative to consider is the strenuous Hardy Ridge trail.
The U.S. Forest Service manages the majority of trail mileage in the Gorge. At the beginning of this month, the Forest Service started requiring hikers to reserve a trail permit to use one of its most popular trails on Saturdays and Sundays. There will be 165 permits available per weekend day for the wildflower hike up Dog Mountain east of Stevenson, Washington.