If you’re looking for a nice day trip from the Tri-Cities, Hat Rock State Park east of Umatilla is a good bet with plenty to offer.
Sweeping views of the Columbia River. An unusual landmark noted in the journals of explorers Lewis and Clark. A scenic mile-long loop trail. A spring-fed fishing pond. Boat access to the river.
Rising about 70 feet from its base, the monolith that the park is named for is a remnant of a 12 million-year-old basalt lava flow, according to Oregon State Parks.
Capt. William Clark mentioned Hat Rock on Oct. 19, 1805, saying it resembled “a hat just below a rapid at the lower point of an island in the (middle) of the river.”
Interpretive signs throughout the park explain the area’s rich geological and human history.
An easy hike up a gravel path leads to the base of the rock, which is fenced off. Another monolith — Boat Rock — is visible from the top of the hill to the east.
The trail continues down the hill and loops around a pond stocked with rainbow trout. Families with young children will appreciate the bridge and dike for exploring the water’s edge.
If you’re looking for a longer hike, you can easily pick up a spur near the boat launch area beside the restrooms that connects to the 10-mile Umatilla County Lewis and Clark Commemorative Trail and an overlook of the river. Even if you skip this longer hike, do take the short walk up to the bluff for a stunning view of the river. When the trail forks, head left, up the hill.
About 110,210 people visited the 719-acre park last year, according to Oregon State Parks.
But on a recent spring Sunday, the park was mostly empty. It’s a good time of year to visit since wildflowers are in bloom — their bright colors a lovely contrast to the brown desert landscape.
Pack a picnic lunch and hang out in the well-maintained grassy picnic area that’s perfect for tossing a Frisbee or baseball, or for kicking back on a blanket to watch the clouds roll by.
-- Kristina Lord: 582-1481; firstname.lastname@example.org; Twitter: @klord