Sauvie Island: Warrior Rock Lighthouse Hike

These hot days in the northwestern region of the US may not be as hot as in the south, but for the people who live here it sure feels hot. One of the closest beach areas is the Sauvie Island Beaches, but for a bit of adventure I like to go to Warrior Rock Lighthouse. The trek to Warrior Rock isn’t as easy as it would seem. The trail head isn’t well-marked or managed, the grasses are nearly as tall as I am, and depending on the tides, you could find yourself hiking in mud and muck.

To get to Warrior Beach, start by taking Hwy 30 and follow signs to Sauvie Island. Make sure to stop at the little store on the left just after the bridge to get your parking permit for the day. If you want to make a day of it, you should stop at one of the farms for fresh produce or picnic items. Then continue on down the winding road. Take a right when the road splits onto NW Reeder Rd and then follow Reeder Rd to the left at the next split in the road. [See map below]

This road is very busy with cyclists, cars, and people. As you get closer, you will see the parking areas for the beaches. On a hot day, they are very crowded. For a quick trip to the beach, park on the left and climb the stairs on the right over the dune to the beach. All warriors should continue down the road onto the gravel stretch, all the way to the end. Park and head to the beach.

Walk north along the water until you can’t go any further. There are a couple of little trails along the eight-foot cliffs at the edge of the beach here. This is the hard-to-find trail head. Many people hug the cattle fence to find the old farm road. That’s what I recommend, too. From here, the trail is obvious, but not always clear. Most of this hike is shaded by trees, but the stretches through the overgrown grass fields can be pretty hot. Watch out for the raspberry prickers that reach out along the trail to grab your ankles. Along the way, you will need to cut to the right to find off-shoots of the trail to avoid the swampy parts. Some shoots are more obvious.

The distance from the parking area to the lighthouse is about three miles. The trail ends at a small beach that is usually very quiet. Look over to your right and there is the Warrior Lighthouse. The little beach area is great for fishing, sunbathing, dipping in the water, and picnicking.

Warrior Rock Lighthouse helps guide river traffic on the Columbia River. It once contained the Pacific Northwest’s oldest fog bell. It is Oregon’s smallest lighthouse and one of only two Oregon lighthouses still operating which are not on the Pacific Ocean

The fog bell was cast in 1855 in Philadelphia and first installed at the Cape Disappointment Lighthouse at the mouth of the Columbia River. It was retired for a louder model and subsequently was installed at the West Point Lighthouse in Seattle, but removed in 1887 to make way for a steam whistle.  It was installed at Warrior Rock in 1889.

The lighthouse was struck by a barge on May 27, 1969, destroying the foundation and disabling the light and bell. While the Coast Guard was evaluating whether to repair or replace the tower, the fog bell was removed. It fell into the river and cracked, putting it out of commission. It is now outside the Columbia County Courthouse in St. Helens. Sauvie Island Visitor Information

Behind the lighthouse in the woods is what’s left of a small building. All that you see is the foundation, basement, and fireplace. It is now owned by some local folks who often come to camp out in their little house without a roof. They arrive by kayak and canoe and are very friendly. If you use their little shelter, please pick up after yourself. After all, there isn’t anyone but you out there to keep this area clean.

Occasionally, you will see Sea Lions swimming in the fast current around the lighthouse. This area of the water is very deep and holds many salmon, trout, and sturgeon. I wouldn’t swim near this part of the river, but you can swim near the beach. I hope you take the warrior challenge and enjoy it as much as I did.

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