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What to know before hiking Dog Mountain

Wildflowers are a main draw of the popular Dog Mountain trailhead in the Columbia River Gorge. A summer permit system is meant to prevent overflow parking on SR-14.

COOK, Wash. — In this week's Let's Get Out There, we head to the popular Dog Mountain trail in the Columbia River Gorge. Wildflowers are a main attraction, but an increase in traffic has seen cars park along the highway, prompting the implementation of a weekend summer permit system.

If you’re looking for a sign to head to the Columbia River Gorge, you’ll find one on Washington’s SR-14. A huge message board near the Bridge of the Gods reads “Dog Mtn permit required weekends Apr 23-June 12.”

“We've just seen some really significant increase in growth in that area over the past 15 years,” said Stan Hinatsu, a recreation staff officer with the U.S. Forest Service in the CRG National Scenic Area. He’s talking about one of the area’s most popular trails, Dog Mountain.

“Especially as we get towards the wildflower bloom, that's what really attracts so many people,” said Hinatsu.

Credit: Jon Goodwin, KGW

If you’ve never hiked it, maybe you've heard of Dog Mountain. It’s about an hour drive from the metro area, near Stevenson, Wash. 

“It is a pretty grueling hike for the, I would say, average hiker,” Hinatsu said. “But the rewards are definitely worth it when you when you get to the top.”

“Just know your own ability know the physical shape you're in because you're gaining almost 3,000 feet and three miles so that tells you how steep the trail is,” he added.

Ralph and LeeAnne McAfee live in Gresham. They like the challenge. “We might do it once every year or once every couple years. But it is one of the tougher ones, so it's a good milestone to get us going,” Ralph said.

When underestimated, the path may make you question many things — perhaps, ‘What was I thinking?!” There are other questions you’ll need to ask yourself before you go, like ‘what do I need to know before I get out there?’

During peak times, Hinatsu recalls seeing over 200 cars crammed into the parking lot of only 70 parking spaces with even more spilling out onto the highway for a mile in each direction, posing dangers to both visitors and highway traffic.

Credit: U.S. Forest Service - Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area

“All of that just really highlighted the need for us to figure out how to manage that use,” Hinatsu said. “So that so that we're not running into these safety issues.”

A Dog Mountain permit system has been implemented on weekends through June 12 (to include Memorial Day Monday). It’s not to keep you away, it’s to keep you safe.

A CAT shuttle runs between the Skamania County fairgrounds and the trailhead about every 20 minutes to help alleviate parking overflow. If that’s the route you take, make sure you’re back down in time for the last shuttle from the trailhead, which leaves at 5 p.m.

“We only have a limit for the number of cars that can park on site, but there are no limits for the folks who choose to ride the shuttle,” Hinatsu said.

Credit: Jon Goodwin, KGW

If you’re on the hunt for wildflowers and perhaps Dog Mountain is a trail too tough to tackle, Memaloose State Park in Oregon is a great alternative.

Let's Get Out there airs once a week on KGW's 4 p.m. newscast and The Good Stuff, which airs Monday-Thursday at 7 p.m. We're including viewer photos for this series. You can text your photos to 503-226-5088 or post them on the KGW Facebook page.

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