WHY IT’S GREAT: Thick spring wildflower blooms and abundant wildlife converge on this lonely slope above the Columbia, just north of The Dalles on Washington’s side of the Gorge. Set on the western fringe of 3,300-acre Columbia Hills Natural Area Preserve, Stacker Butte cradles Washington’s best-known collection of obscure buttercups, Douglas’s draba, and hot-rock penstemon (all rare or endangered wildflowers), not to mention yellow balsamroot, blue lupines, and snow-like phlox. Ascend 1,200 feet—past oaks, basalt cliffs, natural springs, and numerous false summits—on the way to a ridge decked with radio towers and one cone-shaped antenna. (The vistas of the Three Sisters, Mounts Hood, Adams, St. Helens, and Rainier, the Columbia, and Swale Canyon compensate for the manmade distractions.) Keep a sharp eye for rattlers and, if it’s rained recently, fresh coyote, deer, and even mountain lion tracks.
DON’T FORGET: More wildflower splendor can be had by continuing on Dalles Mountain Road, approximately 10 miles past Dalles Mountain Ranch.
POST-HIKE WATERING HOLE: Clock Tower Ales
If more than 20 brews on tap inside this 1880s-era redbrick courthouse produce indecision, order up a six-beer sampler for less than 10 bucks. The cheeseburger’s sweet, doughy pretzel bun is, itself, a revelation. 311 Union St, The Dalles; 541-705-3590; no website. Closed Mon
TRAILHEAD DIRECTIONS: From Portland, follow I-84 east to The Dalles. Take exit 87 and turn left on Route 197 and cross the bridge. Drive 3 miles to Highway 14 and turn right. Go half a mile and turn left up Dalles Mountain Road. Continue approximately 3 miles up the dirt road to the old Dalles Mountain Ranch, and follow the gravel road to the left to the well-signed Columbia Hills NAP trailhead. No fees or permits required.