Filed Under (Boating Destinations) by Debbie on 11-06-2007

Beacon RockBeacon Rock State Park is a wonderful international destination, many boaters from around the world make it the end of their up river cruise.


We made our trip at the end of summer 2006 and I’m looking forward to this year’s trip as well.  We had hoped for a north wind so we could sail up the Columbia River but the morning brought an east wind smack on our nose.  If you’re a power boater only, this means you can’t sail because you can’t go straight into the wind.  So, coffee mug in hand we fired up the iron jenny (motor) and headed up river first thing in the morning.


Motoring past Government Island, we found the salmon fishermen out in force, everyone ‘on the hook’ and lines in the water.  You need to understand that I’m not talking about four or five boats.  I’m talking 30 to 40 boats in a fairly concentrated area.  The excitement of the salmon being landed crackled through the morning air like a wild electric current, every cry of ‘fish on’ had us rubber necking with binoculars to see if they landed the darn things.  There were real good sized salmon being landed, destined for smokers and b-b-q’s.  I’ll tell you…I wanted to drop a line myself!


Lady Island is a good location to start really paying attention to the wind and water conditions.  This area is where you enter the lower Columbia River Gorge.  Strong currents combined with winds in the gorge can pose cruising dangers.  The currents can run with considerable intensity, especially in the main channel and around floats and pile dikes.  Mornings are your best times to travel.  Be sure to use the range markers so you stay inside the margins of the barge channel.  If you decide to anchor (drop the hook) along the channel then be sure to use a float on the anchor line and provide 7 to 10 feet of line length for every foot of water depth.


Remember too, the barges have the right of way.  They are huge…quiet…and move much faster than you’d think.  I have a mirror mounted on the dodger so I can see behind me without having to turn around.  There is quite a bit of commercial traffic on the Columbia River so keep your eyes peeled!


As we cruised up the Columbia River the winds became stronger, reaching 30 knots with gusts to 38 knots.  The river became very rough with three to four foot swells and frothy white caps that blew off their tops and flew over the bow of our boat.  The dodger proved to be invaluable for keeping us dry.  It was pretty exciting to have that much spray thrown at us.


About one half mile east of buoy 65 on the west side of the river, you’ll find Rooster Rock.  The name has been changed from the more colorful four-letter word for the male chicken first given to this phallic shaped rock.  It is definitely a unique rock and impossible to miss.  Rooster Rock



It wasn’t too long after Rooster Rock that we entered what must be the holy grail of wind surfing on the Columbia River Gorge.  This was probably the most exciting spot we passed through!  I’ve tried to wind surf…I do a fantastic job of giving myself bruises and exhausted muscles.  These guys (sorry ladies, didn’t see any women there) were really amazing.  They were ripping along, just screaming past each other, looking for all the world as if they’d run into each other.  I had the camera out and snapped tons of pictures.


At one point I started getting extremely nervous that we were going to hit one of them with our boat…or maybe that he’d hit us.  We were going straight through and this guy headed straight for our starboard side.  I started thinking we needed to veer off but just then he waved at us and shot off to the stern to catch our wake.  It was pretty kewl!  I followed him with the camera and got a great, if not somewhat, blurry shot of him airborne.

Wind Surfer




Cape Horn, across from Sand Island, is a very impressive rock face, 500 feet high.  I referred to it as ‘The Cliffs of Insanity” which is of course from the movie ‘The Princess Bride’.  Our daughter looked at me with a very puzzled face then asked if it really was the cliffs of insanity….


Early voyageurs traveling this section of the Columbia River gave it the name of Cape Horn due to the strong headwinds they fought while rounding the cape.  I felt it was worth the trip just to see Cape Horn.

The Clifts of Insanity


We kept motoring up the river keeping an eye on the channel and barge traffic.  Keep your eyes out for unlighted buoy 74 and lighted buoy 76 to safely navigate around Fashion Reef which projects out from the Oregon shore.  About buoy 79 you can see Multnomah Falls, this is probably the best-known waterfall in the gorge.  It has a drop of about 620 feet and is absolutely beautiful. 

Beacon Rock is one of the few places on the Columbia River you can see long before you get there.  The 848-foot rock is said to be the second largest monolith in the world after the Rock of Gibraltar.  The entrance is just before Pierce Island.  Be sure not to cut to the down riverside when you enter, especially in a sailboat.  The channel to Beacon Rock is directly south of the rock between Pierce Island and the Washington mainland.  Channels east of Pierce Island should not be considered navigable, even if the water is high.  Also, there is a strong southerly current in the moorage until late summer or early fall.  Try to keep to the middle of the channel as you enter.


Entry and Docks

The moorage is smaller than I’d thought but still extremely nice, our club managed to tie up five 30-40 foot boats on each side of the main dock.  There were eighteen boats all toll when we were there, our club ‘rafted up’ to get more in.  The east side of the main dock has shore power available, a very nice feature indeed for those of us with shore power capability.  There is no day use fee but there is a fee enforced between 3PM-9AM, it’s based on how long your boat is and then there is an extra per day fee for power.


Just up the ramp from the dock is a wonderful facility, clean toilets and showers!  Showers have a fee, drop in a quarter and you get nice hot water for so many minutes.  I found I could wash my hair, shave and clean up for two quarters.  This was definitely a great surprise, as all the information I’d found about the park said no facilities.


We went the end of August and I found the blackberries bushes in the area were full of juicy berries.  I spent a bit of time with a container and picked enough that I surprised my family with a fresh berry cobbler….yummy!  There are picnic areas and b-b-q’s and also a couple of tent sites, although I’ve heard the tent sites are being removed.


Head out from the park on foot and hang a right once you reach the highway to reach the bottom of Beacon Rock.  The 4,555-foot trail that leads to the top of the rock is well worth the effort.  The trail is pretty good and there are handrails for parts of it.  A few areas are kind of steep but as long as you aren’t running a race it’s a very nice walk.  The views all along the walk and particularly at the top are amazing.

Beacon Rock


Beacon Rock on the Columbia River is definitely one of those see before you die places.  I think the next time I’ll pack a lunch and spend a bit more time at the top.

1 Comment posted on "Beacon Rock State Park"
marine toilet problems on October 4th, 2007 at 7:37 pm #

[…] Our Newport 30 sailboat was very much used when she came to us and there have been many systems we’ve had to fix up.  At the end of last summer we took her on the longest trip so far.  We went to Beacon Rock.  Which was a great destination which you can read about it here. […]