White Bluffs – Hanford Reach is a high desert hike in Eastern Washington that should be on everyone’s “to-do” list. With gorgeous views of the Columbia River Basin, beautiful cliffs and unique plant and animal life, this hike is truly unique. I found that Washington Trails Association had the most up dated information on the trail.
Read up on the Hiking Essentials: 10 Hiking Essentials
Region: Eastern Washington
Distance: 7 miles
Elevation Gain: 500 ft
When to go: Year-Round
Dogs Allowed: Yes
When to hike White Bluffs - Hanford Reach:
This high desert trail is accessible year-round, but it is the perfect trail to get you outside in the winter with the moderate climate. Temperatures in the summer are hot and arid and require proper preparation for heat. Hikers in early spring can expect to see flowering plant life!
White Bluffs - Hanford Reach Trail Description:
The North White Bluffs – Hanford Reach trail is an unmarked, unofficial trail. The trail is within the Mid-Columbia River National Wildlife Recreation Complex. Getting to the trailhead requires the use of a GPS as there are no signs and no established parking lot. The GPS coordinates are: N 46 40.630, W 119 26.673 .
Parking under locust trees, hikers will find a sign indicating that horses are not allowed on the unofficial trail. That is where the adventure begins! The trail begins with an initial ascent up the bluffs. The trail is sandy and dry. Hikers should be wary of the bluffs edge as the sheer cliff is fragile and unforgiving.
Due to the unofficial nature of the trail, the trail is often lost and challenging to follow. Hikers should know that this is an extremely fragile ecosystem. The plant life in this area takes a significant amount of time to recover so stepping on carefully is imperative to preserving this sage-steppe ecosystem.
A sage-steppe ecosystem is a widespread yet fragile ecosystem that is characterized by abundant sagebrush and a vast array of native shrubs, grasses, and flowering plants in spring months. These habitats are local only to Eastern Washington and one Canadian Province.
Hiking along the bluffs hikers can expect to see a variety of animals including eagles, pelicans, sparrows, and deer. Rattlesnakes are also native to the area and can easily blend into the flora. Hikers, especially hikers with dogs, should be aware and recognize the signs of rattlesnakes in the area. When I hiked this trail, there were signs of large cats with kittens!
After about two and a quarter miles of walking along the bluffs, hikers reach white sand dunes. There is not a trail on the dunes and hikers can continue along or reach a stopping point.
Across from the trail visitors will see the Columbia River and Locke Island stretching parallel along the white bluffs. Past the Columbia River hikers will also see tall structures. These historic structures were part of the Manhattan Project.
Check out another Eastern Washington Trail: Badger Skyline Trail
Should White Bluffs - Hanford Reach a 100 Classic Hike of Washington?
Absolutely, this should be a 100 Classic Hike of Washington. Protected as a national monument, this area was used as one of the sites for the Manhattan Project during World War II. The processing of plutonium used in the project required the vast area of the Columbia River Basin which forever preserved the 195,000 acre area.
I completed White Bluffs - Hanford Reach.
Before leaving the Wildlife Recreation Complex, hikers should drive to the end of Road 24 SW to the lookout point of the Columbia River Basin. This area also provides visitors with a history of the Manhattan Project and the important role that this area played during that time.