The White Bluffs of the Hanford Reach National Monument offer a unique hiking experience in the shrub-steppe. Instead of the usual cliffs and boulders of basalt, this area features bluffs and badlands of the Ringold Formation, ancient river and lakebed sediments laid down by the Columbia River system between 8.5 and 3.4 million years ago.
The south section of the White Bluffs in particular contains so many possible routes and variations that it would take numerous visits to explore them all. On this hike you’ll drop down through the bluffs and walk along the last free-flowing stretch of the Columbia River, climb to a ridge walk with panoramic views, and perhaps visit a sandstone pillar. You’ll likely see flocks of water birds, tracks of the myriad denizens of the shrub-steppe, and, if you’re here in the evening, hear the songs of coyotes.
The trail begins atop the bluffs at the White Bluffs Overlook with its sweeping view of the entire White Bluffs – Hanford Reach area. To begin your hike, walk around the gate and follow the old paved Ringold Road as it descends the bluffs. Watch for ripple patterns and multi-hued depositional layers in the cliffs beside the roadway. This is one of the best and most accessible exposures of the Ringold Formation to be found anywhere.
After about a mile the road crosses a bench and then descends to river level through a large cut. Follow the road below towering bluffs until you’re a couple of hundred yards from the power lines (approximately two and three-quarter miles from the trailhead), then head left across the flats to the trail that climbs into the broad saddle in the low ridge about 100 yards away. If you continue ahead on the pavement, in less than a quarter mile you’ll come to a gate across the road and the south trailhead, easily accessible from the Tri-Cities via Taylor Flat and Ringold Roads.
From the saddle go straight ahead on the obvious trail that climbs into a saddle in the higher ridge beyond. Here is a spectacular view across what some call the Great Valley to even higher bluffs. At this point you have a number of options. You can turn right and follow the trail southeast along the crest of the ridge to the high point just beyond the power lines, then drop into the valley for a mile or so of easy walking beneath 300 – 500 foot cliffs and badlands.
A second option is to follow the trail that traverses from the saddle into the valley. And finally, you can turn left and follow the trail northwest along crest of the ridge to another high point. This makes a great lunch spot. After soaking up the views, continue along the ridge crest, gradually descending to the northwest end of the Great Valley, and then follow the trail as it traverses below the bluffs back to Ringold Road where the road crosses the bench. If you have time, you can easily combine the ridge walk with a tour of the valley.
Once back on Ringold Road, it’s short mile back to the trailhead, but if you want a little more, continue across the road to a fainter trail leading to the obvious sandstone pillar above the river. The area around the pillar is very hummocky (evidence of an ancient landslide) with many game trails providing lots of interesting terrain to explore.
When you’ve had your fill, make your way back to Ringold Road and climb the final half-mile or so back to the trailhead and the conclusion of another scenic walk in the shrub-steppe.
White Bluffs - South Slope
- 10.0 miles, roundtrip
- Elevation Gain
- 530 feet
- Highest Point
- 900 feet
Hiking White Bluffs - South Slope
White Bluffs - South Slope
Map & Directions
Co-ordinates: 46.6388, -119.3893 Open in Google Maps