Where to Find the Trailhead for Dog Mountain Hike

Overview of Dog Mountain Trail

Dog Mountain Trail is located in the breathtaking Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area, about 60 miles east of Portland, Oregon and Vancouver, Washington. The Dog Mountain area lies within the Gifford Pinchot National Forest in Washington state.

This challenging 6 mile out-and-back trail climbs nearly 3000 feet to the steep summit of Dog Mountain at 2948 feet, offering outstanding panoramic views of the Columbia River Gorge and surrounding Cascade peaks. The trail winds through forests and open meadows bursting with wildflowers in spring and early summer.

The trail’s steep sections and high elevation gain make it a difficult hike. However, the spectacular scenery at the top with unmatched Gorge views and colorful carpets of wildflowers make it a favorite spring hike.

The trail is especially popular from April through June when the meadows erupt with colorful blooms like balsamroot, lupine, paintbrush and more. The display reaches its peak in May and June.

Trailhead Location

The Dog Mountain trailhead is located near the town of Stevenson, Washington in the Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area.

To reach the trailhead, from Stevenson drive approximately 6 miles west on Washington State Route 14 until you reach milepost 51. Turn left into the Dog Mountain trailhead parking area. The parking area is located on the south side of the highway.

The GPS coordinates for the Dog Mountain trailhead parking area are 45.6981°N, 121.9156°W. Here is a map showing the exact location of the trailhead:


map shows trailhead location

The map shows the parking area located right off WA-14 near mile marker 51.

Permits and Fees

No permits are required to hike the trail, only to park at the trailhead. The Dog Mountain Trailhead is located within the Gifford Pinchot National Forest, therefore visitors must have a Northwest Forest Pass to park at the trailhead. Day passes cost $5
permits required for parking
as of 2023. Passes can be purchased online ahead of time from https://www.recreation.gov/timed-entry/10091444. An America the Beautiful pass will also allow access to the trailhead parking. There is no fee to hike the trail itself.

Due to the popularity of the hike, a permit system is in place to limit parking at the trailhead to 100 vehicles on busy weekends between April 15 and June 15 each year. Each permit allows up to 4 people; only the driver needs to display proof. Permits must be reserved in advance online and cost $1 per person. Specific dates requiring permits change yearly, check the forest service website for details. On permit-required days, all hikers must carry proof of permit while on the trail.

When to Hike

The best time to hike Dog Mountain is in the spring and summer months to enjoy the vibrant wildflower displays. Mid-April through May is prime wildflower season on Dog Mountain, when the slopes erupt in colorful blooms of balsamroot, lupine, paintbrush and more (https://www.hikeoregon.net/dog-mountain.html). The wildflowers start blooming at lower elevations in April and progress up the mountain through June.

spring and fall best hiking seasons

Fall is another excellent time to hike Dog Mountain and take in the brilliant fall foliage displays of gold, orange and red leaves on the mountain slopes and in the Columbia River Gorge below. September and October are great months for fall colors.

It’s best to avoid hiking Dog Mountain in the winter due to potentially dangerous snow and ice conditions on the steep sections of trail. The mountain receives heavy snowfall from November through March, which can make the hiking trail extremely slippery and hazardous (https://www.oregonhikers.org/field_guide/Dog_Mountain_Loop_Hike).

Difficulty

Dog Mountain Trail is considered a difficult hike, covering 6 miles roundtrip with an elevation gain of 2,800 feet. The steep uphill climb earns it a reputation as one of the most strenuous hikes in the Columbia River Gorge area. According to the Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area, the average hiker takes 4-6 hours to complete the ascent and descent.

The trail starts off relatively flat and wide as it follows the Columbia River. However, around 2 miles in the path narrows, traverses up a ridge, and the incline sharply increases. Prepare for many switchbacks and stone steps cut into the mountainside. The upper section above the treeline is extremely steep, gaining 1,500 feet in just 1 mile.

Hikers should be prepared for a challenging cardiovascular workout. Proper footwear, hiking poles, snack/water breaks, and pacing yourself are highly recommended when tackling the uphill trek to the summit. The difficulty rating makes Dog Mountain suitable only for experienced hikers and those in good physical shape.

Trail Conditions

The trail to the summit of Dog Mountain is well-maintained but exposed in sections with some narrow and steep parts along the way. According to the US Forest Service, hikers should be prepared for drop-offs adjacent to the trail that can be risky, especially when carrying children.

Sections of the Dog Mountain trail can be muddy and slippery when wet. The steepness of the trail, combined with wet and muddy conditions, creates the potential for falls. As noted on the Washington Trails Association site, the trail to the summit has an elevation gain of 2,800 feet over 3 miles, making it a strenuous climb.

Proper footwear with good traction is highly recommended. Trekking poles can also help stabilize footing on the steep sections. Checking conditions in advance and avoiding the trail after heavy rains or snowmelt can help mitigate risks.

What to Bring

Make sure to pack the proper clothing and gear to have a safe and enjoyable hike up Dog Mountain:

proper gear needed for trail

  • Sturdy hiking shoes – The trail can be rocky and uneven in sections, so sturdy footwear with good ankle support and traction is essential.
  • Layers of clothing – With the variable spring weather, be prepared by dressing in layers. Bring items like a base layer, shirt, fleece jacket and rain jacket.
  • Rain gear – Even if the forecast looks clear, always pack a rain jacket and pants in case conditions change.
  • Plenty of water and snacks – There are no water sources on the trail so carry more than enough water. Bring high protein snacks to refuel during the demanding ascent.

Following proper preparation with gear can ensure you stay comfortable and safe during the full day hike up Dog Mountain.

Hazards

Dog Mountain Trail has some key hazards to be aware of before hiking. The trail gains over 2,800 feet in elevation in just 3.5 miles, so the grade is quite steep in sections according to KGW News. The steep slopes combined with loose gravel, roots, and rocks mean you need sturdy footwear with good traction and trekking poles are highly recommended.

Hikers should use caution near the edge of the trail as there are steep drop-offs and no guardrails according to the Smile4Travel guide. The trail is narrow in areas, so be prepared to yield for others passing. Sliding on muddy or gravelly slopes can be dangerous, so check conditions and only attempt the hike if properly equipped.

Summer thunderstorms are common in the Columbia River Gorge, bringing the danger of lightning strikes. If you hear thunder, turn around and get below tree line immediately. Do not seek shelter under trees or on exposed ridges. Be prepared to wait out the storm before continuing.

Trip Planning Tips

To have the best experience hiking Dog Mountain, plan your trip wisely. Arrive early, especially on weekends, to beat the crowds and snag a parking spot at the trailhead. There is a parking fee required, so bring cash (Gorge Friends). The lot can fill up early on sunny days. Make sure dogs are leashed, as the area is popular with pets but they need to be under control. Prepare for varied terrain with both steep sections and more moderate grades. Check the weather forecast so you can dress appropriately. Give yourself plenty of time to enjoy the stunning vistas at the summit meadow.

Nearby Attractions

There are several noteworthy attractions near Dog Mountain worth exploring either before or after your hike. Three popular nearby sights include:

Beacon Rock – This 848-foot volcanic rock formation towers above the Columbia River. It’s located about 30 minutes from Dog Mountain Trail in North Bonneville, WA and features a 1.2 mile trail with many switchbacks leading to the top of the rock. Beacon Rock provides excellent views of the river and surrounding cliffs.

Hamilton Mountain – Just across the Columbia River in Oregon, Hamilton Mountain is another short but steep hike, gaining 1,250 feet of elevation in just over 2 miles. The trail leads through mossy forests before reaching rocky outcrops with panoramic views. From the summit on a clear day you can see all the way to Mt. Hood.

Bonneville Fish Hatchery – Operated by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, this hatchery is free and open to the public daily from dawn to dusk. You can see salmon and steelhead on their journey upstream and learn about conservation efforts. It’s only 10 minutes from the Dog Mountain Trailhead.

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