Hiking Dog Mountain Trail: Everything you need to know

Are you planning to hike Dog Mountain Trail to see the expansive wildflower meadows and panorama vistas of the Columbia River Gorge? Dog Mountain is an extremely popular hike, especially in spring when the yellow balsamroot is in peak bloom.

Dog Mountain wildflower meadows in spring
Dog Mountain’s meadows turn into a yellow carpet of wildflowers in spring.

Don’t let popularity fool you: Dog Mountain is considered one of the most challenging hikes within the Portland Metro and Columbia River area. So you better come prepared. In this article, I tell you everything you need to know before hiking Dog Mountain, Washington State.

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#1 How to get to Dog Mountain Trailhead?

The good news: Dog Mountain Trail is an easily accessible trail, only 1 hr away from Portland, Oregon. The trailhead is located right off Lewis and Clark Highway (Highway 14) on the Washington side of the Columbia River Gorge. There is a parking lot with space for appr. 70 cars, not too bad for Gorge-conditions.

Distance & driving time to Dog Mountain from:

  • Portland, Oregon: 55 mi / 90 km, 1 hr
  • Eugene, Oregon: 165 mi / 265 km, 2.5 hrs
  • Seattle, Washington: 215 mi / 346 km, 4hrs
  • Olympia, Washington: 155 mi /250 km 2.5 hrs
Hiking Dog Mountain, Washington State, USA
This view attracts thousands of visitors hiking to the summit of Dog Mountain in Washington State.

#2 Permits, parking & fees

Permits through spring wildflower season 2024

During peak wildflower season permits are required. In 2024, permits are required on weekends (Saturday and Sunday) between April 27 and June 16, including Memorial Day, May 27th. You need to obtain one permit per vehicle through Recreation.gov and pay the non-refundable $2 reservation fee.

The permit is valid for one day and allows you to enter any time of the day you reserved. From what I have heard, rangers are present to check permits. So make sure you have it printed or on your phone.

Parking at Dog Mountain Trailhead

Please note that the timed-entry permit does not guarantee a parking spot at the trailhead. If the lot is full there is a little more space a couple of feet down the road. Don’t park your car outside of designated parking lots or along Highway 14 as you will get towed.

Dog Mountain trail sign

Parking fees

In addition to the timed-entry tickets on weekends, a daily, per-vehicle fee of $5 is required anytime. You can buy them on-site, through recreation.gov, or use your Northwest Forest Pass or America the Beautiful Pass by displaying it on your windshield.

How to avoid parking struggles and permits for Dog Mountain Trail?

In case you don’t want to deal with any of the above, you have 3 options:

  1. If you don’t care about the wildflowers too much: Hike Dog Mountain Trail outside the busy season.
  2. During the busy season, hike Dog Mountain Trail on a weekday.
  3. OR: Use the shuttle from Stevenson!

The Columbia Area Transit (CAT) provides free shuttle service on weekends during the busy season (departs at Skamania County Fairgrounds gravel parking lot at 518 SW Rock Creek Drive in Stevenson).

The best part: They will provide you with a FREE daily permit for the Dog Mountain Trail System and you do not need to purchase one upfront.

#3 Dog Mountain trail stats

  • Distance: 7.6 miles / 12 km
  • Elevation: 2,988 ft / 911 m
  • Trail type: loop trail or out & back (depending on what you choose)
  • Difficulty: challenging
  • Features: meadows of wildflowers on steep hills, Gorge(ous views) from the summit
  • Location: Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area near Carson
  • Parking pass/fee: NW Forest Pass or America the Beautiful Pass and permits on weekends between April 29 – June 19, 2023
  • Pets: Dogs on a leash are welcome

#4 Hiking Dog Mountain

No sugar-coating here! Dog Mountain Trail is a leg-burner! And the trail starts out pretty steep, you will feel your hamstrings and calves right away.

Part 1: Hiking through the shady forest

After 0.6 mi (1 km) you get to a sign making you choose between the „difficult“ and the „more difficult“ route. This sign is no joke! Most people do the more difficult route up and the „difficult“ down to get to the summit faster and save their knees on their way down. This also allows you to hike the loop trail (which I always prefer over in & out).

The first part of the trail is a mix of temperate, high-desert flora while hiking through Pacific Northwest forest as you climb up the mountain. The good part: You’ll be hiking under the shade of moss-covered trees.

First viewpoint

If you decided on the „difficult“ way up, you will be rewarded with your first vista point after 2 miles (3 km). Here you get a first glimpse of what wildflowers to expect further up, before diving back into the forest again. This is a great spot for a first snack break.

First viewpoint from Dog Mountain
My first hike up Dog Mountain with Women Who Explore: We took the difficult route.

Part 2: Wildflower meadows

As you get to the higher elevations, you’ll find yourself surrounded by alpine meadows as you leave the forest behind. This is where the wildflowers pop as soon as the spring sun warms up the ground.

Dog Mountain view across the Columbia River Gorge
Majestic views while hiking through wildflower meadows

The higher up you get, the narrower the trail becomes. Also, expect to be exposed to (extreme) weather conditions. You will be fully exposed to the sun and the wind can get really strong, especially at the summit.

Part 3: Dog Mountain Summit

As you make your way towards the top, you hike along steep drop-offs: Please keep this in mind if you are afraid of rights.

At the top, you can find a spot to sit, take your well-deserved break and enjoy the view across the expansive wildflower meadows, and the Columbia River Gorge. If the conditions are perfect, you can even spot various peaks of surrounding volcanoes Mt.  Hood, Mt. Saint Helens, and Mt. Adams.

Descend from Dog Mountain during sunset
Descend from Dog Mountain right after sunset. Can you spot the peak of Mt. Hood behind the Columbia River Gorge?

#5 How to dress for Dog Mountain Trail?

Most important: Bring layers! As mentioned, approx. two-thirds of the trail leads through the forest, so you aren’t exposed to the sun and wind too much. But as the trail starts out steep and leads uphill the entire hike, you will potentially be hot quite fast.

As soon as the trail opens up to the wildflower meadows, you are exposed to the sun and wind. Especially at the summit, it can get extremely windy. Bring sun protection in the form of a hat, sunglasses, and sunscreen. Also don’t forget to bring warm layers, even a puffy jacket and windbreaker for the summit.

Hiking boots with good traction are highly recommended as well as hiking poles.

If you plan on a sunset hike, make sure to bring your headlamp as you will be hiking down in the dark.

View from Dog Mountain after sunset
Headlamp, a puff jacket, hiking poles, and boots are essential for hiking Dog Mountain.

You are best off if you bring your 10 essentials. REI has a great overview and make sure to download any kind of offline map to your phone. I use All Trails Pro.

#6 Any animals on Dog Mountain besides 🐕?

Yes! Watch out for black bears and rattlesnakes along the trail. In case you are planning to hike (back) in the dark: keep your eyes peeled for scorpions! This might sound crazy as Dog Mountain is located only 1 hr away from Portland, but all these animals live hear and you should definitely be aware.

#7 Best time to hike Dog Mountain Trail

Technically, Dog Mountain Trail is open year-round, but expect extreme summer and winter weather around the exposed summit of Dog Mountain. The trail is also subject to closure during the spring shoulder season as snow melts. Personally, I would not recommend hiking Dog Mountain during or after heavy rain. As the trail is super steep in parts, sliding down muddy slopes can be dangerous. Always check trail conditions before you go!

View from Dog Mountain, Washington

Hiking Dog Mountain is generally great from spring through fall with springtime being the most popular season. Between late April and early June, the meadows are carpeted with yellow balsamroot, which attracts plenty of visitors to the Columbia River Gorge in general and Dog Mountain in particular.

Considering the popularity of Dog Mountain Trail, I recommend hiking on a weekday, if you have the opportunity, especially if you are aiming for a wildflower hike in spring. This also helps you avoid the day visitors and the purchase of a permit upfront.

#8 Best time of the day to hike Dog Mountain

Although a fair amount of the trail leads through shady forests, you shouldn’t underestimate the heat during summer. I’d rather hike in the morning instead of heading out mid-day. If you are confident to hike down in the dark, you could consider a sunset hike. And soak in the literally gorge(ous) views. Just be aware that sunset hiking became popular, especially during the wildflower season in spring.

As the parking lot fills up fast, even on weekdays, try to arrive before 8 am or after 5 pm between March and July to avoid frustration and losing time waiting for a spot.

#9 Facts about Dog Mountain Trail

  • Dogs are welcome on Dog Mountain but must be on a leash.
  • There is a vault toilet is located at the trailhead (400 ft. uphill from the parking lot)
  • If you are afraid of heights Dog Mountain might not be your best choice.
  • There is poison oak in the lower section of Dog Mountain, so be careful when taking a pee and think twice before going off trail.
Hiking up Dog Mountain, Washington State, USA

#10 Trail Netiquette

As on every trail, please be respectful of nature and other visitors. Do not pick flowers or trample on them so that future hikers can appreciate the beauty. Just follow the leave-no-trace principles.

Dog Mountain is overgrown with yellow wildflowers in spring

Things to do nearby

  • Visit Hood River, Oregon – only 14 mi / 22 km and 25 minutes drive via Hood River Toll Bridge
  • Drive the Hood River Fruit Loop
  • Explore the Columbia River Gorge including Oregon’s tallest waterfall Multnomah Falls

For alternative wildflower hikes, check out my blog post: 20 epic wildflower hikes in Oregon and Washington State. This covers more details about wildflower season in the Pacific Northwest and additional 20 wildflower hikes in Oregon and Washington State, including a map for better orientation and trip planning.



Have you ever been to Oregon or Washington and were looking for colorful flower fields like tulips, lavender, or sunflowers? Leave me a comment! Do you like the article, or still have any suggestions, feedback, or recommendations? Feel free to share this article with your friends!



Dog Mountain Trail, Washington, USA

Dog Mountain Trail hiking guide



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