Hiking Dog Mountain

On Friday, May 20, I celebrated the release of Harry Styles’s new album, which he released that day, by taking the day off work and hiking Dog Mountain—and listening to the album on repeat for the entire 7-ish miles (I didn’t use GPS to track this hike and the mileage I’ve found online is inconsistent so—oops/oh well—I don’t know exactly how long I hiked, distance-wise). The album is all bops, no skips. Every track is my favorite. And now, every track can be your favorite too! YWFMS.

The hike is mostly bops, a few skips.

Dog Mountain is a very popular—and very (VERY) crowded—trail on the Washington side of the Gorge, about an hour from Portland. I’ve hiked popular trails. I have never in my life hiked a trail this crowded. Ever. And certainly not on a weekday morning. It was…not for me. I am not a social or leisurely hiker/person. Skip number one.

I got to the lot just before 9:00 am and it was already full. I got one of the last makeshift parking spots, fully in the treeline. Admittedly, 9:00 am isn’t that early. In fact, it’s the latest I’ve ever started a hike. Usually I’m well on my way back, sometimes even finished, by 9:00 am.

Still, I was surprised that it was so busy already on a weekday morning. Friday is almost the weekend, sure. But it’s not actually summer yet, and it was pretty windy and chilly the day I went. I really didn’t expect it to be quite as busy as it was. You live and you learn!

This 2017 blog post from Paul Gerald has a photo of the parking lot on a Friday at noon. Had I found his post before I did this hike, I would’ve adjusted my start time. You live and you learn—again!

A brown and green wooden sign marking a trailhead. It reads "DOG MOUNTAIN TRAIL. TOP OF MOUNTAIN 3.8 MI". There are tall green trees and a bright blue sky in the background. On the right of the photo, a dirt trail leads into the forest.

Originally, I’d planned to hike this trail the following day, Saturday. On Thursday I found out that you need a permit to hike Dog Mountain on the weekend during peak wildflower bloom, which is…now. Permits are limited (200 per weekend day), each hiker needs their own permit ($1 each), and all the permits for that weekend were already gone. So Friday it was.

There are three basic ways to summit Dog Mountain. A western route, a central route, and an eastern route. The map below is taken from NW Hiker’s Dog Mountain page. I did a mash-up of the central and eastern routes, which are listed on AllTrails as, respectively, Dog Mountain Trail loop and Dog Mountain out-and-back.

A topographic map annotated with the three main routes to hike Dog Mountain.
Source

I started at the Dog Mountain trailhead, went right at the choose-your-own-adventure “difficult/more difficult” junction (a little more than two miles in), took a left at Puppy Dog Lookout, kept going straight up to the summit, then accidentally started on the western route (Augspurger Mountain Trail on AllTrails) on my way back down. Which: extremely on brand. I realized my mistake about 10 minutes in, and turned around and got my ass back on track.

The Augspurger trail would’ve taken me back to the parking lot. I just wasn’t prepared/hadn’t planned to hike it. So I didn’t.

A small wooden sign is nailed to a tree in the forest at a point of divergence in the path. The sign reads "DOG MT. DIFFICULT [arrow points to the right] MORE DIFFICULT [arrow points to the left]". Tall trees stretch upward. The blue sky is visible in patches through the canopy of the trees.

This hike is all lungs and legs. It’s like being on an Assault or Echo bike—for centuries, and under load. The ascent is immediate and relentless, which means it’s also a steep descent. I thought it was easier to run down much of the trail on my way back than it was to try to walk/hike it.

I tried to get a photo or video that captured the steepness of the canopy-covered part of the trail. My iPhone camera simply doesn’t do it justice. Please accept this photo of these cute lil blooming wildflowers instead.

Small purple and white wildflowers in tall green grass on a hillside. The forest is visible in the background.

The trail is completely covered by tree canopy for the first 2.3-ish miles. Once you hit the hills of wildflowers (you’ll know), you lose cover and the trail narrows the rest of the way to the summit. This is also where the best views begin.

Yellow and purple wildflowers on a hill. The dirt hiking path is on the right, and tall trees are in the distance.

Before you hit the wildflowers, most of the trail looks like this, except way steeper:

A dirt hiking path cuts through the forest. Tall trees and shorter plants line both sides of the path. Patches of the partly cloudy sky are visible through the canopy of the trees.

You hit Puppy Dog Lookout pretty quickly after emerging from the forest. The views here are amazing, and there’s space to pose for photos, eat a snack, or sit down and chill out for a bit.

I'm standing on a steep portion of the dirt trail, looking to my left and smiling. To my left is a hillside covered in yellow and purple wildflowers. Tree-covered mountains are in the distance. The sky is bright blue and partly cloudy.

I didn’t take any photos of/at Puppy Dog Lookout. I did take photos just before and after though. For reference, the lookout is where the trail fades from view in the photo above and the one below. The photo above was taken before I hit the lookout. The photo below was taken after I passed it and was on my way to the summit.

Views of the Columbia River and the Oregon side of the Gorge from halfway between Puppy Dog Lookout and the summit of Dog Mountain. The narrow dirt path is on the left in the photo, a steep hillside, covered in grass and, lower, fir trees, is to the right. The Columbia River and the Oregon side of the Gorge are in the distance. The sky is bright blue and partly cloudy.

The rest of the way to the summit is steep and narrow, but relatively straightforward. There are a few sections with *some* loose rocks, but I personally didn’t think it was technical or rugged.

View toward the summit of Dog Mountain from halfway between Puppy Dog Lookout and the summit. The steep and narrow trail is partially rocky, and on the right on the photo. To the left is a steep hillside, covered in grass and purple and yellow wildflowers. Views of the Gorge are in the distance. The sky is blue and partly cloudy.

The next two photos were taken about midway between Puppy Dog Lookout and the summit. I think this stretch of the trail had the best views, and I was kind of underwhelmed when I reached the summit. Not that it wasn’t a great view. It was. It just wasn’t much different from the view at the lookout, or anywhere along the trail between the lookout and the summit.

Also, it wasn’t a great vibe (for me). There were A TON of people at the summit. It felt crowded and busy, it was loud, and there were a couple of people—I shit you not—smoking cigarettes. Which: free country, sure. But also: read the room? Skip number two.

View from halfway between Puppy Dog Lookout and the summit of Dog Mountain. In the background, the Columbia River and tree-lined mountains of the Oregon side of the Gorge. In the foreground, a peek of the hillside, the upper portion covered in grass and yellow wildflowers, the lower portion covered in fir trees.
View from halfway between Puppy Dog Lookout and the summit of Dog Mountain. In the background, the Columbia River and tree-lined mountains of the Oregon side of the Gorge. In the foreground, forested area of the Washington side of the Gorge.

One more gripe: Several people hiking this extremely crowded trail with large and/or high-energy dogs that were not leashed, despite it being clearly posted that dogs must be leashed. Skip number three.

Overall, a good hike. My total time was 2 hours, 58 minutes. That includes several stops to take in the view and take photos, 10-ish minutes of hanging out at the summit, and a solid 20 minutes of accidentally taking Augspurger Mountain Trail back and then turning around and making my way back to the trail I meant to be on: Dog Mountain Trail.

I would do this one again with two changes—start early in the morning on an earlier-in-the-week weekday, and take the “more difficult” trail up and Augspurger trail down.

A view of the Columbia River and tree-covered mountains on the Oregon side of the Gorge, framed by tall trees in the foreground. The sky is bright blue with some clouds.

I recommend this hike with caveats:

  • If you’re not a social person/hiker, this might not be the trail for you, especially on a weekend day. If you hike it on the weekend, start early. If you have the flexibility in your schedule, avoid hiking it on a weekend day—try it early or mid-week, and start early. Like, well before 9:00 am.
  • If you have cranky and/or janky knees, this might not be the trail for you. Trekking poles might help. Lots of people were using them, and seemed to find them helpful.
  • If cardio isn’t your jam, this might not be the trail for you. If you choose to try it, factor in extra time for rest and water breaks, bring electrolytes and snacks, and carb up the night before and morning of.

And fucking please, people: If you’re hiking with your dog—especially a large and/or high-energy one, especially when hiking a very crowded trail, especially when hiking a trail that explicitly states dogs must be kept on leashes—keep them on a leash.

*

A few more details, for those who are interested:

Permit: Required on weekends during peak wildflower bloom. Reserve online. $1 each, nonrefundable.

Parking: Gravel lot. There are a lot of marked parking spaces—far more than I’ve ever seen at a hiking trailhead, but nowhere near enough to hold 200 vehicles on the weekend. (Not that everyone who hikes this trail drives alone or hikes at the same time. I trust you get what I mean.)

There’s an overflow parking area just west of the main lot. If you’re coming from Portland, this overflow parking area is just before the main lot. It might be marked, but I don’t recall seeing any signs for it on my way in. I only noticed it on my way out because a small clusterfuck of vehicles were crammed in there.

If you’re hiking on the weekend, consider taking the Columbia Area Transit shuttle. Find that schedule here.

Fees: If you drive, $5 day-use recreation fee per vehicle. Cash. Seal your cash in the paper envelope, tear off the piece that goes on your dash (and put it on your dash), and deposit the sealed envelope in the secure box at the trailhead. If the box is full, put your sealed envelope on the top of the box, find a heavy rock, and put the rock on top of your envelope. That’s what everyone did the morning I was there. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

If your directions take you over the Bridge of the Gods in Cascade Locks, you’ll need $2 toll each direction (cash or card), or $1.25 if you have a BreezeBy pass.

So: Up to $9 per vehicle if you drive. Plus $1 per permit if you hike on a weekend during peak wildflower season.

Bathrooms: There are two vault toilets at the trailhead, about 100 yards from the parking lot. Neither had toilet paper the morning I was there. Bring your own. Just in case.

There are some places along the covered part of the trail that you can pull off to pee, but there are SO MANY people on this trail that you don’t really have many options that afford any privacy. Especially if you’re someone who needs to pull their pants all the way down and crouch/squat to pee.

Once you hit the wildflowers (you’ll know) there’s nowhere to pee with privacy for the rest of the ascent.

There’s some overgrowth (or whatever??? I don’t know all the correct hiking terms yet, OKAY?) at the summit that you can probably sneak off to, to pee. Maybe give a quick shout to see if anyone else is back there first though.

Cell phone service: I have Verizon and had enough service on this trail to receive a couple texts while I was hiking. There are so many people on this trail, though, that if something went wrong and you needed help and your phone didn’t have service (or was dead (or you forgot it in your car (or you don’t own one (or whatever)))), you’re not totally shit out of luck.

Water source: None. Bring your own.

Summit: Crowded. Noisy. Windy. Cold. Gorgeous. Beautiful. Stunning.

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