Columbia Hills Historical State Park
Columbia Hills Historical State Park puts the Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area at your fingertips. This 3,637-acre park is composed of four different sites which offer a range of experiences. Rock climbing, swimming and spring hikes through vast fields of balsamroot flowers make for an action-packed stay, not to mention the nearby attractions of Goldendale Observatory and Maryhill Museum.
Horsethief Lake caters to campers and water-lovers; amenities include tent and RV campsites, a watercraft launch and pedal boat and kayak rentals. A group of significant Native American pictographs and petroglyphs are located in this area of the park. The Temani Pesh-Wa exhibit is open daily for self-guided viewing. The world-famous Tsagaglalal, (She Who Watches) and other pictographs and petroglyphs can be viewed by making a reservation to participate in a regularly scheduled ranger-led tour (see Interpretive Opportunities below for registration instructions).
Columbia Hills is home to Horsethief Butte, a favorite among climbers of all abilities. This area also offers a short hike to sweeping views of the Columbia River and Mount Hood.
To the north of Highway 14, the Crawford Oaks Trailhead offers access to miles of hiking, biking and equestrian trails that crisscross the Columbia Hills with astounding views of Mount Adams, Mount Hood and the Columbia River Gorge. In the springtime, the hills are covered in places with colorful wild flowers, especially arrowleaf balsamroot and lupine.
To the north of Highway 14, the Dalles Mountain Ranch Area, a historic homestead ranch, features several historic buildings and farm equipment display. The Dalles Mountain Ranch trailhead allows visitors access to the same trails as the Crawford Oaks Trailhead and is also popular during wildflower season.
Please see recreation notes below for safety and recreation tips.
Columbia Hills Historical State Park is a 3,637-acre camping park with shoreline on the Columbia River. Horsethief Butte dominates the skyline like an ancient castle. Horsethief Lake is about 90 acres in size, an impoundment of the Columbia River. The lake was flooded into existence by the reservoir created by The Dalles Dam.
Discover Pass: A Discover Pass is required for vehicle access to state parks for day use. For more information about the Discover Pass and exemptions, please visit the Discover Pass web page.
Automated pay station: This park is equipped with an automated pay station at Horsethief Butte for visitors to purchase a one-day or annual Discover Pass and boat launch permit.
- Hiking trail
Use our interactive ADA recreation map to search for other state parks with ADA amenities and facilities.
Picnic & day-use facilities
There are 35 unsheltered picnic tables located around the day-use area at Horsethief Lake. Nine braziers are available. Facilities are first come, first served.
- About 7 miles of hiking trails are available from the Crawford Oaks and Dalles Mountain Ranch trailheads. A shorter hike is available from Horsethief Butte.
Water activities & features
- Boat ramps (2) at Horsethief Lake
- Fishing (freshwater)
- Swimming at Horsethief Lake
Horsethief Lake: Kayak and paddleboat rentals are available during peak season. Strong winds common in the area can limit rental boat availability.
Other activities & features
- Bird watching
- Horseshoe pit
- Rock climbing
- Wildlife viewing
- Horsethief Lake section of the Columbia Hills Historical State Park is a National Historic Site. Guided tours of the pictographs and petroglyphs, including the significant Tsalagal ("She Who Watches"), 9 a.m. on Fridays - Saturdays, April through October. Reservations are required. To make a reservation, call the park office at (509) 439-9032. Please leave a detailed message with your party size, the dates you have in mind, your name and phone number. Staff strive to respond to messages as promptly as possible but if your call is not returned within a week, please call the office again. Do not come for a tour without verbally confirming with staff that your reservation has been made. It is advisable to reserve at least two or three weeks in advance, as tours are limited to 20 people and fill up fast. For directions and additional information on the pictographs tour, visit the FAQ page.
- Horsethief lake also offers self-guided petroglyph and pictograph viewing at the Temani Pesh-Wa display which is open during daylight hours from April to October.
- Horsethief Lake offers self-guided interpretive displays related to the Lewis and Clark Expedition.
- Dalles Mountain Ranch features historic farm equipment displays.
- Some rattlesnakes live in the area, but they are fairly rare. The bullsnake is more common. Its color and markings are similar to a rattlesnake's, but they don't have rattles and they are not venomous.
- The Tsalagal ("She Who Watches") trail and tour are closed to pets to protect park resources.
- Printable park brochure (PDF).
- Be aware that park conditions are often extremely windy.
- The tour to Tsagaglalal, (She Who Watches) is closed to pets to protect park resources.
- A recreational license is required for fishing and shellfish harvesting at Washington state parks. For regulations, fishing season information, or to purchase a recreational license, visit the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife.
- In the Horsethief Lake day-use area, large shady, grassy lawns are suitable for croquet, soccer, etc. Visitors must bring their own equipment. No horseshoes are provided for the horseshoe pits.
- The lake is usually open for fishing the fourth Saturday in April through Oct. 31. Anglers should consult regulations to be sure of the dates.
- Horsethief Butte is a very popular rock-climbing location. Two areas are signed no climbing for cultural resource protection. Climbers are directed to limit their use of chalk when climbing at the butte.
- Watch out for poison oak in the rock climbing areas of the butte. They appear as woody shrubs along the base of some rock walls. When foliated, they have glossy leaves in groups of three and little round white berries.
- Archaeological sites and artifacts are protected by both federal and state laws, and their disturbance and/or removal is illegal and carries severe penalties.
Crawford Oaks Trailhead
- Spring is tick season. Ticks vary in color from brown to green. Be sure to check for ticks when visiting the park.
- This trailhead can be crowded during weekends of peak wildflower season (April to May). Weekday visits during peak season allow visitors more solitude.
Horsethief Lake has two boat ramps; one to Horsethief Lake itself and one to the Columbia River. Kayak and paddleboat rentals are offered at the lake during peak season, however, strong winds common in the area can limit rental boat availability.
Horsethief Lake is the only lake entirely within a Washington state park that allows motorized boats. Due to its small size, there is a 5 mph speed limit and waterskiing/wake boarding and similar speed required boating activities are not allowed.
Launching a boat at a state park requires one of the following:
- An annual launch permit (Natural Investment Permit; or
- An annual Discover Pass and a daily launch permit; or
- A one-day Discover Pass and a daily launch permit. A daily permit is available for watercraft launching and trailer dumping at the park. Annual permits also may be purchased at State Parks Headquarters in Olympia, at region offices, online and at parks when staff is available. Additional information can be found in the Boating Program.
Latitude: 45º 38' 36.6" N (45.6435)
Longitude: 121º 6' 12.24" W (-121.1034)
Horsethief Lake has four standard campsites, eight partial-hookup sites, four standard "walk-in" sites, two primitive hiker/biker sites, two rustic cabins, one dump station and one restroom. Maximum site length is 60 feet (limited availability). Campers should be aware that it can be very windy in the Columbia River Gorge and should be prepared for such conditions. The location on the Horsethief Lake campsites on the Columbia River means it is also close to active train tracks. Campers should be aware that trains pass along the edge of the park throughout the day and night.
Check-in time is 2:30 p.m.
Check-out time is 1 p.m.
Reservations & fees
Columbia Hills Historical State Park is layered in natural and cultural history. The end of the last Ice Age saw catastrophic floods sweep through the region, carving and scouring features that still can be seen in the basalt formations and walls of the Columbia River Gorge. Prolific salmon runs provided sustenance for the Native American tribes who lived along the shores of the Columbia and for others who traveled hundreds of miles each season, passing through Columbia Hills on their way to fish at Celilo Falls. In October 1805, the Lewis and Clark Expedition camped by Horsethief Lake on their way to the Pacific Ocean. In the mid-1800s, Euro-American settlers began establishing homesteads in the hills above the river. Their land claims were eventually combined into the Dalles Mountain Ranch, which became a state park in 1993.