One of the nicest things about this wonderful area is that you can have great views, spectacular waterfalls, wildflowers and marvelous hiking trails. And a big bonus is the early appearance of wildflowers. From late February into early March, there are nice displays of grass widows, yellow bells, and the showy Columbia desert parsley in the lower section of The Nature Conservancy’s Tom McCall Preserve. This preserve is located at Rowena Point on old Highway 30 between The Dalles and Mosier. Below are some of the flowers you might find there in the early part of the season.
By late March and well into April, flowers are blooming in profusion on the upper trail which starts at the Rowena Point parking lot. One of the showiest blooms I saw there once was the surprising raceme of a stunted Western Big-leaf Maple.
There are several varieties and lomatiums (desert parsley), more than one species of balsamroot, and lots of lupine. The Columbia desert parsley blooms up here too, along with paintbrush.
The views from here are pretty special as well!
At the same time that flowers are good on the Oregon side, things are popping just across the river on the Washington side. Catherine Creek State Park is a great place to visit. It is located just west of Lyle on a section of the old Highway 14. There are two trails there. The lower trail is mostly paved and not very long, but there are a lot of flowers there, particularly common camas, plectritus, death camas and naked broomrake. There is more room to wander and find more wonders on the upper trail.
As one travels west from the Rowena Point area on the Oregon side of the Gorge, the waterfalls appear one after another and there are many trails that lead you to more falls upstream. Some of these hikes can be made into loops. I recommend the guide book 35 Hiking Trails Columbia River Gorge.
There are lots of other great things to enjoy as well. For instance, Vista House and the Mosier Tunnel.
My favorite things about these wonderful waterfall hikes are the wildflowers. (Would you have guessed?) The Eagle Creek trail may be the most popular hike in Oregon and has great flowers, but most of the other trails have good flowers and a lot less hikers. I saw many, many species blooming at the end of April, and I would guess that mid-April to Mid-May would be the best in most years.
The flowers found in this more westerly area of the Gorge are definitely the kind one would be likely to find on the west side of the Cascade Mountains, while in the Rowena Point and Catherine Creek areas are the species usually found on the east side. The Columbia River has gracefully led you through that transition without a mountain pass to negotiate.