Dog Mountain, Revisited

Screw you, weather man! Despite the dismal weather forecast for the weekend, we sucked it up and headed out on Sunday.

At about this time last year, we embarked on the ever-popular Dog Mountain hike for the first time. There is a small window of time (around late May and early June) in which Dog just erupts in the bright yellows, blues and reds of the Gorge wildflowers. We happened to catch this hike during prime time last year, and I was determined to do the same this year. I think we hit the sweet spot again this time, with all the balsamroot, lupine and paintbrush in full bloom… we even caught some chocolate lillies!

Sadly, given the tree- and cloud-cover, our GPS just didn’t perform at its best. Our track got really messed up somehow (unless we actually did somehow dart into the middle of the river and back mid-hike), so we don’t have the GPS data for this one. 😦

Dog Mountain
Columbia River Gorge (WA side)
Summit at 2,948 feet
Total hike distance: 7 miles
Total elevation gain: + 3,000 feet
Hike time: 3.5 hours (including about 20-30 minutes at the summit)

Click on the image for the full Google Map

We were joined on this hike by our friends Kelly and Eric Fischer and their Vizsla puppy named Pinot (also known as Buckley’s girlfriend). Kelly and Eric also hail from Michigan, although we didn’t meet until we all lived in Portland. They joined us and the local MSU alums on the South Sister summit last year; actually, Dog Mountain was also the first hike we all did together last year when we were training. Here’s to tradition!

Trying to take a photo with Buckley in hand, behind Kelly and Pinot.

I mentioned there is a relatively small window of time in which to enjoy Dog in full bloom. Unfortunately, this means that everyone and their mother (and grandmother, seriously) hits this hike at the same time. And on a Sunday, ugh… it’s a good thing we started somewhat early, because this trail was packed. Although I will say, I think it was more crowded last year (we also started early then and beat most of them), so I think the crummy weather worked to our advantage. If you don’t mind shimmying yourself around slower trail-goers or leap-frogging other hiking parties as you alternate photo stops, it’s not too bad.

Given the other hikes we’ve accomplished this year, on paper Dog Mountain doesn’t look too intimidating. Seven miles, 3,000 feet? Easy! But for some reason, this one kicks my butt. I forgot how tough it is. A serious quad-burner for sure, it had my legs trembling almost the whole time. Do not let the short distance fool you! After warming up your calves on the initial climb, the trail soon comes to a fork, where you can choose the “less difficult” trail which is 2.6 miles to the summit, or the “more difficult” which is 2.2 miles. While the more difficult route will give you the benefit of a more strenuous climb (if that’s what you’re into) through the trees, the less difficult is much more scenic as it takes you out to a mountain-side ridge, allowing for a bonus Gorge viewpoint.

At one of the first lookout points over the Gorge.

View of the summit in the background.

Boys and the dogs…

And I’m sorry, but can we zoom in on that one for a sec? I find this to be completely hilarious. Pinot has such a crush on Buckley.

Red Paintbrush

If I had only one mission today, it was to see some chocolate lilies. As far as wildflowers go, these are pretty cool, but kinda hard to spot. Luckily Kelly was on the lookout too and spotted this one (she says it’s because she’s closer to the ground :)). I’m glad she did, as I only saw one other one for the rest of the day and it wasn’t as pretty. We overheard someone saying that the week before was prime week for the chocolate lilies… oh well. I’m not particularly happy with the way the pictures turned out; it was kind of dim and windy in that spot, so I kept getting blurry shots. I didn’t have time to mess with settings (since there were so many other hikers hot on our tail) so I ended up using the flash.

Sort of harsh lighting with the flash, but you get the idea.

A little blurry, but you get a truer sense of the color.

After some more climbing, we finally reached the holy grail, the mountain-side meadows overflowing with balsamroot, paintbrush, larkspur and phlox to name a few. The photos really can’t do it justice (especially since the overcast sky managed to wash out many of the photos), but it is really cool to stand there and just stare at this wash of yellow.

After floating through the flower meadows a little longer, the trail turns toward a rocky ridge which gets you to the summit in .4 miles (or .6 if you choose the easier route). This brings you to the very top of the meadow with a sweeping view of the Gorge in both directions. Of course, on this particular day the view was a little cloudy, and the summit was very cold and windy (I ended up piling on all 4 layers I had with me, plus a hat). We had a quick lunch and headed back on our way, since the conditions were not particularly enjoyable.

The Fischer clan.

Getting ready to head back down.

From this summit viewpoint, we were able to see that there was a pretty mean-looking wall of rain headed down the Gorge in our direction. Ack! We kind of hightailed it back down to beat the rain, and went at a very past pace. On the way down, we took the alternate “more difficult” 2.2 mile section that we opted out of on the ascent. My knees and back are still thanking me. Since we were moving at a pretty quick pace, I didn’t stop to take too many photos… but I did get some. 🙂


More Balsamroot!


Trying to keep the dogs moving fast by throwing sticks. Totally worked.

Just some trees


We finished this one in no time. Good thing too, because once we got a mile or two down the road, the sky opened up and it downpoured. We watched comfortably from the front booth of the Big River Grille. 🙂

If you are taking on Dog Mountain anytime soon, if at all possible, go on a weekday. If you have to be a weekend warrior, go early. We got there at 9:30am and they were already directing traffic in the trailhead parking lot, which was almost full. This is a wonderful hike for wildflower enthusiasts during these few weeks. Aside from that it is a great workout hike with a nice payoff viewpoint, although I’m not sure I would do this hike without the flowers. Maybe next time I have the urge to punish my knees.

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