Renee Tkach, the towns-to-trails project manager for Friends of the Columbia Gorge, has a big dream: a loop trail system encircling the whole Gorge, with all the trailheads conveniently served by mass transit.
“Take the train or bus to the trail and leave your car behind,” she said. “In Europe, they’ve been doing that for 100 years plus.” A similar plan is developing here, she said, but it’s years away from fruition.
Meanwhile, the super-scenic Dog Mountain trail has become totally overwhelmed; therefore, on weekends only, now through July 1, each person using the Dog Mountain trail system must carry a special permit. Permits cost $1.50 via the website www.recreation.gov; only 165 permits per day will be issued. Plus, parking at the Dog Mountain Trailhead lot still costs $5 — and buying a hiking permit doesn’t guarantee you a parking space.
All of which is frankly meant to discourage you from parking there. Instead, stop at the Skamania County Fairgrounds, 710 S.W. Rock Creek Drive in Stevenson, and take the county’s new shuttle service, which operates every half hour from 7:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. on weekends. (The last departure from Stevenson is 1:30 p.m.; the last pickup at the trailhead is 4:30 p.m.) The shuttle costs $2, round-trip, and your hiking permit is included. Leashed dogs are welcome on the shuttle.
For all the details, visit www.gorgetranslink.com and click on Skamania.
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The permit requirement and the special shuttle both end on July 1. Starting July 7, for weekends only, Skamania County revives its regular, but honestly not-too-convenient, West End Transit bus service. That bus departs once daily, at 10:40 a.m., from Vancouver’s Fisher’s Landing Transit Center and visits nine different trailheads — including Steigerwald Lake, the Cape Horn Trail, Beacon Rock, North Bonneville, the Pacific Crest Trailhead and Dog Mountain, along with Skamania Lodge and other sites — as its heads east to downtown Stevenson.
But, examine the schedule very carefully before you climb aboard. It’s hard to believe, so we triple-checked: The WET bus makes more eastbound stops into the Gorge than westbound stops back. You can step off the eastbound bus at Steigerwald, Beacon Rock, the Pacific Crest Trailhead and Skamania Lodge — but then there’s no westbound return pickup at those sites. The WET bus system that’s meant to serve you can wind up stranding you (unless you’re up for extremely complicated connections and transfers that land you at Portland’s Gateway Transit Center — in which case, are you actually saving time and headaches?).
That’s thanks to a funding cut this year, according to bus line operator Heidi Beierle; the hope is that the system will be better supported and better connected in the future.
“We’re learning as we go,” Tkach said. “We’re building this plane as we fly it.” Watch out for flights that are one way.