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Trip Report

Klickitat Rail Trail - Swale Canyon

Southwest Washington

Trip Report By

Hiked Apr 5, 2009

Type of Hike

Day hike
On the first glorious spring weekend of the year, we headed east out the Columbia River Gorge, then north from Lyle, WA, to the Klickitat Rail Trail. The trailhead we started from is just off Centerville Hwy. There is another trailhead off Harms Rd (currently closed for construction on a new bridge) that gets you closer to the Canyon entrance by a roundabout detour. This first, completely flat 1.5 miles meanders along Swale Creek, amid gently rolling hills and meadows, a few farms, and views of Mt. Adams' summit peeking over the ridge to the west. At the trail's intersection of Harms Rd, you come to the entrance to Swale Canyon and the first of many old railroad trestles to cross - after navigating the construction equipment putting in the new bridge. Across the first trestle, the trail begins a very slight descent into the canyon, keeping to the creek the whole time. Exposed outcrops of colorful volcanic caprock give the canyon its geologic story. We passed through two cattle control gates - this is rangeland, after all. The trail is mostly exposed, offering little shelter from warm, midday sun, but a scattering of oak and ponderosa pine along the streambank offer some shade, as well as some narrower sections of the trail with large boulders make fine rest stops. About a mile from the first trestle, you come to the second - a small one that crosses a tiny inlet stream. Still being early in the season, wildflowers were scarce. We spotted a hillside covered with Columbia desert parsley and a scattering of another small, unknown, vibrant pink flower. Later in the season, the area is supposed to put on a showy display of lupine and balsamroot. At 3.5 miles (2 miles from the Harms Rd crossing), we came to the third railroad trestle. This one is a long, curving trestle over Swale Creek in a narrow section of the canyon. The wood retains the pungent smell of railroad grease. From this crossing, the trail continues down the canyon, now to the right of the creek, past several large outcrops of ancient lava flow. At just under 5 miles, a small waterfall cascades down out of adjoining Stacker Canyon, into Swale Creek. Then, 5.2 miles from the starting point, the creek begins flowing over smooth, bare bedrock, creating small chutes and sheet falls, connected by small pools. This is the "bedrock pools" area. Several slabs of smooth rock line the streambanks around the chutes and pools. This made a fine place to stop for lunch and dip the toes. This was also our turnaround point for the day. There is an option to continue another 8.5 miles down Swale Canyon to the small town of Wahkiacus, but this would require some shuttle transportation. Overall, a fantastic stroll on a nice, even trail, with plenty of colorful scenery - and hardly any company!. Only wish we would've seen more flowers.