Rowena is one of my favorite places to hike and photograph in springtime, not only in Oregon but anywhere. Around Easter the showy yellow blooms of the arrowleaf balsamroot appear, and they are soon joined by lupine, paintbrush and other more subtle flowers. It’s a show that shouldn’t be missed if you happen to be in the Pacific Northwest in spring. It is very popular with photographers and hikers both.
To get there, take Interstate 84 east of Portland all the way out past Hood River to the town of Mosier. Get off the freeway and turn east on the Dalles-Mosier highway. This is an extremely scenic two-lane that winds up through the hills toward Rowena Plateau (also known as Rowena Crest). When the road tops out and the trees thin out, look for a turnoff and parking to the right. What a view!
Note also that there are wide spots to pull off along the road before you get to the official viewpoint. But please don’t drive off the gravel; this is fairly delicate terrain. After your visit, you can keep going on this road as it winds spectacularly back down to the Columbia River, where you’ll be able to access the freeway again for the return. I’ve seen car companies shooting commercials here. It will take about an hour and a half to drive here from Portland.
Trails head in both directions from the viewpoint at the crest, and you can’t go wrong with either one. If you take the trail that heads north toward the river, you’ll pass fields of wildflowers and a small lake. It’s less than a mile to the cliff-edge, where you can look straight down on the freeway and the river. Use caution!
If you go the other direction, toward the south, wildlfowers will again greet you as you climb toward McCall Point. Making the short <2-mile climb to this point will reward you with views of both Mounts Hood and Adams. Please stay on the trail, and avoid stepping on the plants. Some are quite rare, even endangered.
This whole area is a preserve named for Tom McCall, a former governor of Oregon known for his environmental stewardship. He was also famous for his unofficial motto “Oregon, enjoy your visit but please don’t stay!” He did not want his beloved state to become California, and a sign was even posted with this motto on the main highway near Oregon’s border with our southern neighbor.
The area is preserved because of its unique botanical treasures. The showy sunflower-like balsamroot and lupine are very common of course, but there are smaller, less noticeable plants here that are rare and make botanists go giddy with pleasure. It’s a gorgeous place, especially at sunrise. I camp here in my van so as to be here at daybreak. It’s one of the few places I go that I share with a good number of other photographers. It’s just too good to miss.
If you come here note that it can often be very windy (see image at bottom). When the sun shines and temperatures rise (which often happens on this drier side of the Cascades), watch for snakes. Rattlesnakes, which are potentially dangerous, are not as common as gopher snakes but the two can be hard to distinguish. This is not least because the non-venomous gopher snake has some tricks up its sleeve that it uses to mimick the venomous rattler. The triangular-shaped head of the rattler, along with its well-known method of warning hikers, should be enough to tell the difference. Various birds (including raptors), lizards, wild turkeys and deer also frequent the area.
Rowena would definitely be high on my list if I was visiting the Hood River/Columbia Gorge area. I hope you enjoy the images. Please be aware that they are copyrighted and not available for free download, sorry. Click on any of the pictures to go to the main part of my website, where there are purchase options for high-resolution images. Please contact me if you have any questions. Thanks a lot.