Eastern Washington has interesting terrain with rolling hills of canola and garbanzo beans tucked beneath the snowy Blue Mountains. I experienced a short heat wave while in Dayton with three days of near 90 degree weather in town and snow so deep in some areas of the mountains that the trails were inaccessible.
That said, I still managed to knock out a handful of hikes during the week I visited. They ranged from easy to hard, and I can’t claim any were spectacular after my recent hikes in Idaho.
Palouse Falls (Easy)
Palouse Falls is Washington State’s official waterfall. Given the Palouse Falls State Park extremely remote, it is a bit surprising that its namesake is the official state waterfall. But a group of elementary school students lobbied their state legislature and succeeded in getting the falls so named.
The cataract falls cascade 200 feet into a basalt gorge created 13,000 years ago in the ice age. An overlook with an interpretive trail affords visitors a handful of views of the beautiful falls and the surrounding jagged rocks. For better photos, visit in the afternoon so the sun is not glaring into your camera lens.
There is another trail out to the falls, but 4 people have died and 17 people have been life flighted out in the last few years. Someone fell off the cliff just days before I arrived which is probably why the trail was closed, so Annie and I couldn’t venture out for a closer look.
At any rate, watch your footing should you venture beyond the parking, toilets, and overlook area.
Airplane Crash Site (Inaccessible in Early June)
One reason why I decided to check out Dayton is I saw this Airplane Crash Site hike on AllTrails. While I’ve been diving down to planes in the Solomon Islands, I don’t think I’ve ever done a real hike to a plane crash. I thought it would be different and wanted to try it out.
Fortunately, the three days of hot weather melted the intermittent snowbanks on the dirt road enough to get within a mile of the trailhead. I had scoped the road out on my e-bike the previous day. Given the hike was only 3.7 miles, I didn’t mind taking a stroll up the road which provided some magnificent views of surrounding snow-capped peaks. Not to mention, there is not a parking area at the trailhead, so this was the best spot to pull off the narrow road.
The trailhead is hardly recognizable. A faint trail lightly ascends into the trees. As I was walking to it, I thought to myself, I should have scouted that too, in case there was a lot of snow. I had my microspikes though, so I figured I could tough it out.
The trail turned to snowpack quickly. The snow was very hard and somewhat icy. Surprisingly, the path was relatively easy to find through the cut swath of trees. That said, it was a slow traverse. I got to the ridge where the trail drops down the side of the mountain.
To my surprise, a hiker with his two dogs came bounding out of the woods. Of course, he couldn’t get his dogs called back, but I was happy to see him and find out the conditions because the beginning of the hike at least seemed challenging.
He said he missed the trail and ended up on the ridge. Then he pointed out where the snow stopped which wasn’t that far, but he said that coming back on the trail was very hard. He really had to dig in to keep from sliding down the mountain.
Judging that he was twice my size and strength, I replied, “I’ll give it a try, but I will likely give up.” It took about ten steps! I was already sliding and wasn’t in the mood to die quite yet. I also wasn’t as keen on going to the site once he told me it was only part of a wing. Though there are supposed to be some beautiful views. Kudos to him for making it. It will be another time for me as early June proved too soon.
Rock Hill Loop (Easy)
While snow packed the Airplane Crash Site Trail, wildflowers packed Rock Hill Loop. The trailhead begins at the industrial park at the end of town. I felt a little awkward parking in the business center to access the trail.
I’m uncertain how this 1.4 mile loop trail along the hillside earned its moderate rating on AllTrails. Perhaps it is the almost 300 feet of elevation gain in 0.7 miles?
The hardest part for me was following the trail as the grass was overgrown in sections. In fact, it is likely easier to follow in the clockwise direction, but counter clockwise provides nice views of Dayton tucked in the rolling fields of farmland.
I never expected this little jaunt that I could hardly call a hike, to be my favorite hike near Dayton.
Middle Point Trail to Ski Bluewood (Moderate)
The Middle Point Trail to Ski Bluewood is located about 30 minutes outside of Dayton on N Touchet Rd in the Umatilla National Forest.
Parking and a pit toilet are on the side of the road. The trail crosses the bridge over the North Fork of the Touchet River and gradually ascends through lush forest and wildflowers for the first mile to a nice overlook. If I were to hike this over again, I’d stop there.
The trail then turns up the ridge and the grade increases. Toward the top, bushes encroach on the path, so it is best to wear long sleeves and pants. On AllTrails, the hike ends at a knoll for a 4.2 mile roundtrip, but the trail continues for several more miles.
The knoll provides additional views, but I found the view at mile one to be better. The hike gains 1,400 feet in two miles, with most of it being in the second mile. Though steep, the short distance made it a moderate climb, though AllTrails marks it as hard.
Panjab Trail (Hard)
As the crow flies, Panjab Trail is probably only 18 miles from Dayton, but the drive on the winding roads is more like 24 miles and takes about an hour. Be suspect of the google maps directions as it takes you on a rough, cliffside road rather than along the longer, smoother route.
I can’t report anything glowing about this 9.3 mile trail. It follows a creek for the first several miles, but the massive amounts of fallen trees prevent any kind of nice picture. Eventually it climbs to a view through a stand of dead pine trees and ends at a trail intersection in a high meadow.
Perhaps it is good for a backpacking loop, but as a day hike, I found it far from enjoyable. I would have ranked it only one star except there were hundreds of butterflies which was fun to see. Regardless, I don’t know how it earned a 4.5 star rating on AllTrails.
In all, I think I was in Dayton a little to early for hiking season in the Blue Mountains. On the positive side, on these hikes near Dayton, I only ran into six people, four uncontrolled dogs, and four horses during my days hiking. Uniquely, they were on the trails that I didn’t expect to see anyone. While the hiking wasn’t my favorite, I still enjoyed my visit in town, an incredible sunset and a first try at nighttime photography at my amazing camp spot on Chase Mountain. ETB