- Round-trip mileage: ~6.4 miles (variable with no specific trail established)
- Difficulty: Moderate
- Elevation: Start 485 feet, Summit: 1194 feet, Total Ascent 1629 feet (one-way).
- Warning: hunters use this area during hunting season which starts in October. Hike with caution wearing hunter orange for visibility during this time.
- Warning: Rattlesnakes have been spotted in this area during warm, summer months.
- Also: steep cliffs line this hike with loose rocks.
View Wallula Gap trailhead in a larger map
The trailhead is east of Kennewick, past Finley. One of the easiest ways to get to the trailhead I used is taking highway 397 exit off I-82 (the newer Finley Intertie). Go east for about 10.4 miles to an overpass where you’ll turn right on Piert Road. You can also get to this point by taking Chemical Drive south from Kennewick’s Columbia Drive (basically the base of the cable bridge in Kennewick). Take Chemical Drive (also known as Gum Street and Highway 397) south to Finley. Stay on this main road for about 7 miles, you will make a sharp turn to the right and pass Sandvik Special Metals plant on the left. Continue over the overpass and take a left on Piert Road.
Stay on Piert Road for about .7 miles where Piert goes to the right, stay to the left onto Toothaker Road. In 1.3 miles, Toothaker goes to the left, stay to the right where the main road turns into Meals Road. You’ll pass Hover Road in about a mile (don’t turn here, keep going straight.) 2 miles more and you’ll gain elevation and crest the ridge top and reach Ayers Road. Turn left on Ayers (gravel), go about 1.2 miles and you can park in a little pull-out area.
The Wallula Gap Hike is a very satisfying journey, especially when you get to the top and look down over the 1100 foot high cliff to the Columbia River. The view here is spectacular as you look upriver to the Tri-Cities and south into Oregon.
From the parking pullout, cross the fence line and you’ll see some old cement foundations. Head south, up the small hill. If having no set trails makes you nervous, remember you have the river bordering one side so you should be able to use this landmark to help you navigate.
Continue south, you’ll find some miscellaneous trails along the way but the key is to keep working your way southward. You will reach a couple ridgetops before you come to the point where you can see a communications tower. Follow this ridge top toward the tower and you’ll hopefully find this erratic which looks out of place as granite deposited on top of a field of basalt.
This large, granite boulder is believed to have been deposited during ice-age floods which broke loose from Lake Missoula, flooding this area with “Lake Lewis” and gouging out the “Channeled Scablands” which give us most of our area’s geologic wonders and created such a rich beauty which particularly benefits those of us who love to hike. Without much more detail, I have a link on hiketricities.com which goes into much more detail on the floods and channeled scablands if you’d like more information.
From the erratic (or from wherever you can see the communications tower), head to the tower which is close to the edge of the cliff .
To get to the tower, you’ll have to go down another ravine and back up the ridge but navigating should be fairly easy. From the tower, you can look south about 2/3rds of a mile to your goal, the Wallula Gap Overlook. You can also look across the river to a beautiful geologic feature, Twin Sisters basalt columns.
From the tower, take the overgrown road to the south. Look off to the east just a short jaunt from the tower for a unique cut through the basalt that looks down to the river and the marina on the opposite shore.
The overgrown road winds around a bit and you’ll have to go cross-country again toward the lookout but you should have it in sight now so continue navigating the dips and valleys to the lookout. Once you get there, you’ll know it. This is the highest point around 1194 feet and the sheer drop-off can be a bit scary. A highway runs on the opposite side of the river and railroad tracks run on both sides.
While you’re at the Wallula Gap Overlook, you might want to do a little geocaching (click here if you are thinking, what the heck is geocaching?) I loaded the Wallula Gap geocache on my GPS before setting out and located it without too much difficulty. This geocache was placed by Bruce Bjornstad who included a nice, laminated explanation of the geologic formation of this area along with an extensive logbook of many visitors. Bruce is an expert on the formation of the “Channeled Scablands” and has even written a book about it called On the Trail of the Ice Age Floods.
Spring is a wonderful time to enjoy this hike, it took me about 3.5 hours for a 6.4 mile round-trip but I was stopping for pictures and sight-seeing and GPS stuff. Make sure you stop to enjoy the beautiful flowers along the way, there’s wildlife to be seen too.
One wonderful thing about this hike is that traffic is very light. There is no specific trail to the overlook so you’ll need to do some cross-country trekking. A GPS or at least a compass would be helpful as you follow these instructions. On your way back from the overlook, you may notice a trail that goes around the plateau which houses the communications tower and erratic. This trail can get you most of the way back to the trailhead.