What should have been my 7th trek, an easy 2.25 mile loop that takes you to a scenic viewpoint turned into 45 minutes of confusion and exasperation. On the upside, I now know where to find a nude beach on the Columbia Gorge.
Up until now I have been very lucky finding trailheads. Directions I’ve found either online or in my trail books have been pretty straightforward, with trailhead signage just a few feet from the parking area. My luck ran out today at Rooster Rock. I foolishly consulted only this website instead of my trail book, which gave detailed if not mildly complicated directions to the trailhead. My second mistake was leaving my trail book at home, feeling confident this would be simple to find. Epic rookie mistake.
Getting to the Rooster Rock State Park itself was incredibly simple — it’s right off exit 25 on I-84, a mere 20ish minutes from my apartment. Immediately after pulling off the exit, it all went to hell. First, this state park does not accept the Northwest Forest Pass, so if you have one, be prepared to pay the $5 park fee anyway. There is a pay booth manned with a ranger as soon as you enter the park. After paying, you will find yourself entering what feels like the world’s largest state park parking lot. From one end to the other, it is over a mile long (I know, because I traversed it many times), and you don’t know which end begins the trail. Since you can see Rooster Rock driving eastbound on 84, I drove all the way to the left end of the lot, since it seemed the most logical start point. However, what you come upon is a boat launch and no semblance of a trail. I decided then to drive to the far right end of the lot, since there seemed to be a lot of park signage, and assumed perhaps that was the trailhead markings. All I could find on the signs were rules to obey for the nude beach. There was a man and a woman walking by the sign, so I asked them if they knew where the trailhead was for Rooster Rock. The man told me if I went down to the nude beach, I could find the trail, though he wasn’t sure it was the trail I was looking for, and the way he pointed seemed to go in the opposite direction of where I knew Rooster Rock was. But he seemed sure there was a trail there, so off I went. There’s a little gravel trail that takes you straight down to a beach, with helpful signs telling you where clothing is optional and where clothing is not optional. However, I could find zero trail. By this point I spotted someone walking by, so I asked if he knew where the trailhead was. He told me it was out by the far left end of the lot, the exact opposite direction from where I was, but also where the boat launch is and where I couldn’t find any trace of a trail (after coming home and consulting my books, it turns out both men were way off).
It was at this point I decided I’d go back to the pay booth and ask the ranger where the trailhead was, something I would have done when I drove in had I known finding it would be such an ordeal. However, I came upon the booth to find it inexplicably boarded up with a “Be Back Later, Enjoy the Park!” sign. Frustrated, I decided to go to the middle of the lot area, where there were some signs about Lewis and Clark and Rooster Rock itself. And then, lo and behold, I saw something trail-like! Excited, I followed it down a staircase to: water. The staircase literally dead-ends in the river.
It was at this point I realized I was never going to find the trailhead on my own, so I drove around this 2 mile loop of a parking lot like a crazy lady asking people if they knew where the trailhead was. I asked, in total, 15-20 people. A grand total of exactly no one knew where it was, and more than half didn’t even know there was a trail. One woman told me if I find it, to let her know because she was also looking for it, and a group of college-y guys didn’t even know there was a Rooster Rock (despite it being the name of the park). After 45 minutes of searching in vain for the trailhead, I decided to call it quits.
It’s worth mentioning, to defend the fact I’m not entirely incompetent, that there is not a single sign anywhere in the entire park that points to the trailhead. There are signs for the nude beach, the boat launch, the disc golf course, the picnic area, and everything else, but not for the actual hiking trail. As a matter of fact, there’s no mention of a trail at all. And considering how many people in the park didn’t know that there was a trail (most) or where it was (all), I almost started to think I was mistaken about a trail, until my guidebook gave directions for it. And even those directions are mildly confusing. Super frustrating.
I think I can find it now with my trail book, but I refuse to go back unless it’s with someone who actually knows where the trailhead is. There’s no way I’m going back to the Dante’s 7 layer inferno of parking lot/nude beach/boat launch/stairway to water hell again by myself.
Treks Down: Still 6, Hikes to Go: Still 46.