The Walla Walla region is blessed with numerous trails that offer you the opportunity to reap the numerous benefits of hiking. No gym membership or elaborate equipment is required, just a good pair of shoes.
Numerous studies have shown that hiking, like walking, can lower your risk of cardiovascular disease, reduce blood pressure, build strength, lessen anxiety and stress, build bone density and help you control your weight.Providence St. Mary Medical Center even has a hiking club for its staff as part of efforts to promote greater health among its employees.
Below are six hikes close to Walla Walla selected by the leader of the Providence St. Mary Hiking Club. The hikes below offer a wide variety of scenery and environments. If you hiked them all, you would see beautiful forests, desert sand dunes, sage brush and the massive Columbia River.
These particular hikes were chosen based on being fairly easy to hike and easy to find. With one exception, these hikes also are easy to navigate, meaning your risk of getting lost is low. None are loops, so you go in and out on the same trail, allowing you to hike as long as you wish before turning around.
Horseshoe Prairie Trail, Tollgate, OR. This area is well known to snowshoers, but it is equally beautiful in the summer with an abundance of wildflowers and sweeping views of the mountains. Horseshoe and the Umatilla Rim Trail listed below are near each other, and are favorites of the Providence hiking group. The trail is hilly, but not unduly so. There are several small stream crossings. Distance from Walla Walla: 50 minutes. Directions: Take Highway 11 toward Pendleton. Near Weston, turn left on 204 and climb up the hills to Tollgate. Pass the Spouts Springs ski area. On your left, watch for the Andies Prairie Snow Park, a large parking lot with restrooms. You can park here, or drive to the trail head. Directly across Highway 204 from Andies Prairie is a dirt road. Less than a quarter mile up it, turn on the first road on your right. You will see the large sign for the trailhead immediately after you turn.
Umatilla Rim Trail, Tollgate, OR. The trail travels along the ridge, and is surprisingly flat with a few very mild ups and downs. This is a particularly good hike for someone who wants to start hiking but is concerned about their fitness level. The views are breathtaking. Distance from Walla Walla: One hour. To reach the trail, follow the directions above, but continue past the Andies Prairie Snow Park. The next road to your right is Skyline Road (also called Forest Service roads 360/362). Around three miles up, watch for a brown sign on your right indicating the Umatilla Rim Trail. There’s a big parking area and a pond. The trailhead is on the far side of the pond. The trailhead sign has a different trail name, but if you start down that trail and stay right when it Ys, you are on the Umatilla Rim.
McNary Wildlife Refuge at Madame Dorian. While not a traditional hiking hotspot, this sandy, sagebrush trail that is great for those winter and early spring days when everything else is just too muddy. The trail is mostly flat with a few brief climbs, but the sand can make walking a little more difficult in places. The trail follows the Walla Walla River. The trail splits and reforms in places, but in the end it doesn’t matter which one you take. The river is always beside you, helping you maintain your sense of direction. Distance from Walla Walla: 40 minutes. Directions. Take Highway 12 West toward the TriCities. At Wallula, turn right into Madame Dorian Park. The Road Ys immediately. Stay left on Shore Road. You can park at any of the little parking pull-outs along the road, and walk down the hill toward the river to pick up the trail. Hazards: ticks in the spring. Avoid during duck hunting season.
Juniper Dunes Wilderness Area. Known for its massive sand dunes, Juniper Dunes is like a visit to a foreign land. There are several entrances, but for hikers the best is the entrance on private property on Joy Road that goes directly into the wilderness area and rewards you immediately with huge dunes. (The other, more commonly known entrance requires you to pass through a raucous dune buggy area and has very few impressive dunes.) The Joy Road entrance is open from March to May through the kindness of the private land owner, and is closed the rest of the year. When visiting, please remember this is private land, and be exceptionally considerate about leaving nothing behind and ensuring the gates are left exactly as you find them. The ranch near the entrance is key to your navigation once you are in the dunes. It would be easy to get lost amid the dunes, but if you climb to the top of any tall dune you can see the ranch and use it to head back to where you parked. Because of the sand, hiking can be somewhat difficult, but you don’t have to go far to see amazing dunes. Distance from Walla Walla: 1 hour, 37 minutes. Directions: Drive west on Highway 12 to Pasco. Take the Commercial Ave/Kahlotus exit, and turn right on the Pasco Kahlotus Rd. Go 28 miles, then turn left on Snake River Road. Drive 3.5 miles, then left turn on the East Blackman Ridge Road. In another 2.4 miles, turn left on Joy. Joy is just 2 miles long. It passes by a ranch and ends where you park.
Lewis and Clark Trail at Hat Rock State Park. This hike is very weather dependent, but on a nice day that isn’t hot or windy, it’s gorgeous. This is a Rails-to-Trails area, where the former railroad tracks have been removed and replaced with a wide, flat trail notched into the cliff above the Columbia River. It offers sweeping, unobstructed views of the gorge. Hazards: Rattlesnakes and falling. The trail is nearly as wide as a road, but stay away from the cliff edge. It’s a long way down. Distance from Walla Walla: 45 minutes. Directions: Drive west on Highway 12. At the Wallula Junction, stay straight onto Highway 730 toward Umatilla. Shortly before the turnoff to Hermiston, look for the Hat Rock State Park sign on your right. Turn right on Hat Rock Road. Stay left when the road diverges. The road ends at a shady park by the river. As you face the river, the trail is up the brief hill to your left.
South Fork of the Walla Walla River. Simply gorgeous. The trail follows the path of the South Fork of the Walla Walla River through a canyon of evergreens. The trail is hilly, but the climbs tend to be brief and there are long, flat sections. Travel distance from Walla Walla: 45 minutes. Hazards: rattlesnakes. Directions: Take Highway 11 to Milton-Freewater. At the end of town as the road is about to go up a hill, take a left onto 15th Ave. You’ll see a Harris Park sign. Follow the S curve onto the Walla Walla River Road. It passes by a school and crosses a river. Brown signs will lead you to Harris Park. At the Y, stay right. The road dead-ends at the trail head in Harris Park after a brief gravel section.