Sunday, June 2, 2024

Peak Bloom at Tom McCall Point

Who doesn't love fields of colorful wildflowers?  I'm definitely a fan - and if you've followed my blog for any length of time you know that come April I spend a lot of my time in the eastern Columbia River Gorge, chasing the annual wildflower bloom.

Wildflower bonanza!

In early April, the eastern reaches of the Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area begin erupting into acres of brilliant blooms.  The predominate wildflower is the Arrowleaf balsamroot, whose cheery blossoms look like small sunflowers.  These prolific flowers seem to be everywhere, carpeting slopes and meadows yellow.  Thanks to social media, throngs of people now flock to the Gorge to experience this yearly event. 

Lovely flower field

By late April I'd already visited many of the well-known spring Gorge wildflower spots - Memaloose Hills, Rowena Plateau, the Dalles Mountain Ranch, and even hiked the Lyle Cherry Orchard Trail.  But last year I'd missed my annual trek up Tom McCall Point.  Rising 1,722 feet over the Oregon side of the Columbia River, it's slopes come alive with colorful blooms in the spring.  Sweeping views of the river and adjacent foothills can be seen from the summit.  One of the best places (in my opinion) for scenery and wildflowers, I wasn't going to let another year creep by.  

This colorful meadow made me whoop with joy

Now that I'm retired, I try to avoid hiking popular trails on the weekends.  However, the weather and my schedule dictated that if I was going to get up Tom McCall Point in time to experience this year's peak bloom I had to go the last Saturday of April.  It was now or never!

From on top I could see the rain clouds approaching

So in an effort to avoid some of the Saturday crowd, I rose early and hit the trail by 7 am.  From the parking area, I first meandered through a flower-filled meadow, bright with technicolor blooms.  It wasn't long before I was stopped in my tracks with camera out.  A young man, the only other hiker here at this hour, passed me by and agreed it was hard to make much forward progress with so many lovely wildflowers in bloom (we'd end up leapfrogging each other the entire way).

Sensational Gorge views

I did finally tear myself away from the meadow and begin to climb.  Balsamroot blooms lined the trail practically every step of the way.  I loved how the Columbia River slowly revealed itself the higher I ascended.  There was no shortage of spectacular scenery here!

Lupine blooms

Despite the many, many photo stops I did manage to make forward progress.  About 2/3 of the way to the summit, I passed by a sharp bend in the trail.  Off to the side was a huge mass of color.  I recognized three types of wildflowers here - yellow balsamroot, purple lupine, and orange Indian paintbrush.  This meadow was so stunning, I couldn't help but whoop for joy.  And I'd hit peak bloom!

Lots of orange Indian Paintbrush joined the flower show

Another reason for my early start - rain was forecast to begin by afternoon.  The wind was already blowing quite strongly, making close-up flower photography nearly impossible.  The sky, partly cloudy when I had first arrived this morning, quickly became overcast.  Trudging uphill, nearly to the top, I noticed dark, threatening clouds to the west, hanging over the Columbia River.  The predicted rain was on its way! 

Gnarled oak trees brightened by wildflowers

I was greeted at the summit by cold gusts.  After donning jacket and knit hat, I snapped a few wide-angle scenery images and then decided to head back down out of the wind.  Besides, the rain clouds looked like they were coming fast.

Flower-lined trail

The return trip didn't take quite as long, but I still stopped at all the extra lovely spots again and snapped more images.  Things always look different from the opposite direction, and sometimes the shots I like best are from a different perspective.  (And yes, I often get duplicate photos from both directions of travel!)

A big happy bunch of wildflowers

The overcast skies gave even light and I thought it really made the colors pop.  I got so many images I really liked (it was hard to chose a few for this blog post!)

Yellow everywhere!

The abundance of so many yellow flowers was astounding.  I think it was one of the largest blooms I'd seen here recently.  Certainly won the prize for best Gorge wildflower display this year!  It made my heart sing to be walking amongst so much beauty.

Some purple larkspur blooms in the mix

My downhill trip was much different from the ascent.  I'd been passed by a handful of other people on the way up but coming down, I was constantly stepping aside for uphill hikers.  At one point I could see quite a ways down the trail and the switchbacks were lined with people, all heading to the summit.  It was practically a conga-line of hikers!  Now I was doubly happy for the early morning start.

Columbia River, looking east towards Washington

When I finally reached my car, the parking area was overflowing with vehicles lining both the entrance road and intersecting highway.  Time to get outta dodge!  I stopped at the nearby town of Mosier for a latte and bagel, and by the time I'd finished this second breakfast, raindrops were beginning to dot the windshield.  Good timing on my part.

The happy photographer

Another wonderful spring morning spent amongst the wildflowers of the Columbia River Gorge.  I hope you've enjoyed reading this recap as much as I did capturing it in photographs.


  1. ...Mother Nature is a fabulous gardener!

  2. Oh my goodness, what a gorgeous hike! The early bird gets the best conditions!

  3. Your photos look like paintings, so beautiful to see.

  4. As often as I've been there, it's always never been when the wildflowers are out. Thanks for this post.

  5. I think I say this everytime I look at your photos of wildflowers that I would love to go on a walk with you to see those fabulous flowers.

  6. No wonder you were whooping and your heart singing! An absolutely stunning display with the fabulous Columbia as backdrop!

  7. Whoop whoop... Absolutely stunning! So wonderful to see red, blue, and yellow flowers together in the same photo!


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