HOME VALLEY — Paul Freeman had a simple explanation why he was making his 26th hike up steep Dog Mountain trail in the Columbia River Gorge.
“This is my favorite trail at this time of year,’’ the 61-year-old Portland hiker said on Saturday. “It’s all different. You go to see waterfalls in May. But if you want to see wildflowers and big views — this is it. It’s spectacular.’’
Dog Mountain trail No. 147 and Augspurger Mountain trail No. 4407 combine for a 7.2-mile loop to the 2,900-foot summit of Dog Mountain in eastern Skamania County.
The open slopes of Dog Mountain are famous for their dazzling display of balsamroot — a showy yellow flower.
Accent the balsamroot with the red of Indian paintbrush and purple of lupine on a grassy green hillside and the display is just as Freeman described it: spectacular.
Add the panaromic view of the Columbia River far below and it’s no wonder Dog Mountain is packed with hikers from late May to mid-June.
“Go there during a weekday, not a weekend, if you can’’ said Stan Hinatsu, recreation program manager for the Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area. “That place can get chaotic with 200-plus cars all trying to park.’’
Hinatsu said the Multnomah Falls-Benson Bridge trail is the most popular in the Gorge, followed by the “waterfall corridor’’ that includes Horsetail, Ponytail and Wahkeena falls plus Angels Rest.
But in early June, Dog Mountain is the trail of choice.
Hinatsu said he’s hearing from hikers the wildflower bloom on Dog Mountain is 10 to 14 days late due to the cold spring.
“I’m guessing almost three weeks late,’’ said Freeman. “On Dog Mountain, May 25 is about the peak.’’
Hinatsu said the majority of hikers take Dog Mountain trail No. 147 going to the summit and many descend on Augspurger No. 4407.
Dog Mountain trail is on the east side of Dog Mountain, while Augspurger is on the west.
“It’s a tough hike,’’ he said. “People will come down the Augspurger side because it’s a little more gradual and easier on the knees.’’
Freeman prefers the opposite way.
“I like to go up the Augspurger side because it’s shady in the morning when you’re climbing,’’ he said. “That east side is quite a bit more open.’’
Regardless of the route, the trails up Dog Mountain are ultra-popular in early June. On weekends, it is common to see 100 or more hikers resting at the top while eating lunch.
“You really can’t beat it,’’ said Hinatsu. “The only places in the Gorge with those kind of flowers are Catherine Creek at its peak or Rowena at it’s peak. You’ll not find a more scenic place than Dog Mountain.’’