On the Road: Hat Rock State Park near Hermiston, Oregon

hat rock state park in oregon

 

Type

Day-use State Park

Location

Near Umatilla and Hermiston

Special Features

Rock formations
Interpretive signs
Picnic areas
Pond
Fishing
Hiking
Boat launch

Entrance

North side of Highway 730, 9 miles east of Umatilla and 8 miles northeast of Hermiston.

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Introduction

Hat Rock State Park is a 719 acre day-use recreation area next to Lake Wallula, a Columbia River reservoir created by the nearby McNary Dam. The park was first established in 1951 and has been expanded in size more than once since then.

There are two unique basalt formations within the park, Hat Rock and Boat Rock. The basalt bedrock in the area is the result of lava flows around 12 million years ago. The two formations were created by the Missoula Floods during the Ice Age, the same floods that were responsible for creating the coulees in Central Washington.

Hat Rock looks like a mini version of Devil’s Tower in Wyoming. It isn’t nearly as impressive at only 70 feet high, but it’s still a distinctive landmark. It received its name from William Clark of the Lewis and Clark expedition, obviously based on its tophat shape. Boat Rock is similarly named by its obvious resemblance to a boat.

I visited the park on my Boise roatrip in November when I spent the night in Hermiston on my way back to Seattle. It was a highlight of my trip, but unfortunately I had to rush through because it’s a very large park and I arrived when the sun was already low in the sky. If I’m ever in the area again I would love go back to hopefully experience a more leisurely visit and see things I missed.

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Preview

Hat Rock State Park is a green oasis in dry, rocky shrub-steppe country, with expansive picnic lawns and shade trees. It is open year-round and there is no park fee or pass required.

After you turn onto the road to the park from Highway 730 (a sign on the highway shows you where to turn) you’ll see Boat Rock right away, and after going around a curve you’ll get your first clear view of Hat Rock.

The monolith is visible from numerous places within the park. A housing development on its other side clutters up photography from some vantage points, but there are many places where you can get a clear shot free of human intrusions.

After you drive down the road for about a mile you’ll see the large Hat Rock State Park sign. On your left is Hat Rock Campground. It is a private campground next to the state park and not actually in or operated by the park. No overnight camping is allowed within the park.

Even though the campground does offer tent sites it’s mostly an RV park, with quite a few permanent residents. It has the typical amenities of electric and water hookups, laundry, showers, dump station, and swimming pool.

Of more general interest, the campground has a convenience store in case you need last minute picnic supplies or sunscreen for your visit to Hat Rock. The store also has a grill if you are in the mood for breakfast on your way into the park or a burger after hiking the park trails.

At the state park sign you can either curve to the right or continue straight ahead to get to the developed areas of the park. I went right first, so that is how we’ll start our tour.

The road goes down a short hill and you’ll see what I’m calling Parking Lot #1 on the right side of the road. Like all of the parking lots in the park it is very large and has a few handicap spaces.

On your right is a huge lawn area with picnic tables, a food prep shelter with electricity and water, shade trees, and a volleyball net. Some picnic tables are alone and others arranged in larger groupings. At least one of the park’s four reservation picnic sites is located here.

This section is the least scenic in the park, but it is still very pretty and is the best area for large groups like family parties or company picnics. There is plenty of lawn available for throwing a Frisbee or setting up organized games and activities.

There is a bathroom with flush toilets closer to the far end of the parking lot.

 

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When you drive past Lot #1 the road comes to an intersection. Going to the right takes you out of the park and into the housing development.

Go to the left and you’ll enter Parking Lot #2. Here you will find some interpretive signs about the Native peoples of the area, a nice close view of Hat Rock, and the start of Hat Rock Trail which will take you the closest you can get to the rock. Handicap parking is available next to the trailhead.

The trail slopes up from the lot, but not too steeply. However, according to the trail map there are switchbacks further in which indicates the trail probably gets steeper in that section. Those with significant mobility issues probably won’t find it very accessible, especially since I don’t think there are any benches along the way. (I didn’t go up the trail at all to check for myself.)

The trail takes you up to an open, close view of Hat Rock. The rock itself is completely fenced off for safety reasons, so you can’t go right up to the base.

You can either return back down to the parking lot the same way you went up, or you can continue on the trail past the rock for a longer walk. The trail makes a large loop down to the pond in the other developed part of the park, travels along the pond, and then eventually heads back up to where you left your car at Lot #2.

 

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Lot #2 is a dead end for vehicle traffic, so to see the rest of the park you need to drive back out past Lot #1 to the large park sign. At the sign go right. The road curves down a hill and then you’ll see Parking Lot #3 to your right.

A bathroom with flush toilets is located close to parking in the middle.

In front of the lot is a large lawn area on a slight slope with shade trees, picnic tables, and a view of the pond and Hat Rock. This is a very pretty area and would be my first choice if I were coming to the park for a picnic or an afternoon of reading and enjoying nature.

The pond is fed by a natural spring and is separated from an inlet of Lake Wallula by an earthen dike. It is stocked with rainbow trout for fishing and is very popular with waterfowl, especially Canada geese. When I was here in early November I also saw mallards, buffleheads, American wigeons, and hooded mergansers.

At the far end of Lot #3 you can get on the trail that travels around the end and far side of the pond before eventually linking up with Hat Rock Trail.

 

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Back out at the main park road, if you go past Lot #3 you’ll reach Parking Lot #4 where the road ends. Single vehicle spaces are on the right side of the lot and boat trailer spaces are on the left.

This part of the park is similar to the area around Lot #3, but is probably busier on a nice day. In addition to the lawn, trees, and picnic tables there is a boat ramp and the pond dike.

A paved path crosses the dike. Even though it is paved, it looks to be in rough condition from the annual freeze/thaw cycles so wheelchairs might not have an easy time of it.

At some point the paving ends beyond the dike, but I’m not sure how far because when I got to this part of the park I didn’t have enough time or energy left to do the exploring I’d wanted to do. I was tired and hungry from the day’s drive up from Boise, it was cold with a breeze blowing, and the sun was starting to go behind the nearby hills.

A short distance after crossing the dike the trail forks. Going right will take you around the pond trail until you end up at Lot #3. The left branch is this end of Hat Rock Trail, which takes you past the rock to Lot #2.

The boat launch ramp is located at the far end of Lot #4 and includes two floating docks. The ramp is on an inlet of Lake Wallula (the Columbia River), and launching here gives boaters easy access to the lake for fishing and water sports.

Across from the boat ramp at the end of the lot is an ADA pit toilet. All water is shut off in the park in winter to prevent pipes from bursting, but this toilet is open year-round even when the others are closed.

To the right of the toilet is the access path that links up to the Lewis and Clark Commemorative Trail. (See below.)

 

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In addition to the two official trails I’ve mentioned (Hat Rock and pond trails), there are unofficial trails all through the undeveloped areas of the park. You can even hike out to Boat Rock and climb to the top if it takes your fancy.

If you decide to hike these trails make sure you have a good sense of direction because as far as I know they aren’t marked. Looking at an aerial view of the park using an online map is helpful. (In my experience Bing Maps is better than Google Maps for detailed aerial views.) From late spring through early fall the sun is intense so take water with you, even on overcast days.

Hat Rock State Park is large and scenic. While the area closest to the rock isn’t very accessible for those with mobility issues, the park as a whole is quite accessible. There is plenty to see without needing to venture far from your vehicle. (Or even leave your vehicle at all if you don’t feel like it.)

The park is a great place to visit any time of year. In the summer it is a lush oasis of green lawns and shade trees in the developed areas, though it can get quite hot. In the fall I imagine the park is gorgeous with the trees turning color, and based on online photos I’ve seen it’s quite pretty in winter when it snows.

Even though I was here on a cold day in November with leafless trees I was still very much taken in by the rugged beauty. If you are ever in this part of Oregon and you have the time I definitely recommend a side trip to Hat Rock State Park.

 

hat rock state park in oregon

Final view of Boat Rock as I was leaving.

 

Lewis and Clark Commemorative Trail

The Lewis and Clark Commemorative Trail is a 7.6 mile multi-use trail that passes through Hat Rock State Park. The trail is open to pedestrians, bicycles, and horses.

Much of the trail travels along an old railroad bed on the bluffs above Lake Wallula/the Columbia River with great views. The trail has end points at McNary Beach to the west of the park and Warehouse Beach to the east of the park.

Venturing out on this trail expands your hiking opportunities during a visit to the park and greatly enhances the amount of scenery you can experience.

There are several places within the park where you can connect with the Lewis and Clark Trail. (Download the park map from the link below.) If you want the most direct route up and out to the bluff above the river use the access trail at the end of Lot #4 next to the toilet.

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Things to Know

Hours

Dawn to dusk

Seating

I didn’t see any benches, but there may be a few tucked away somewhere.
Picnic tables at Lots #1, 3, and 4.

Bathrooms

Full bathroom near the far end of Lot #1. Closed in winter.
Full bathroom at the middle of Lot #3. Closed in winter.
ADA pit toilet near boat ramp in Lot #4. Open year-round.

Parking

Four very large paved lots. All lots have handicap parking spaces.

There is an additional lot not mentioned in the preview that is across the road from Lot #3. This is an overflow lot with double-length spaces for vehicles with boat trailers.

Most of the time, even on busier nice weather weekends, parking should be easy to find. The exception might be Lot #4 which has fewer single vehicle spaces and probably does fill up on busy days.

Usage

According to online reviews Hat Rock State Park is rarely crowded, even in good weather. From the size of the parking lots one would assume the park is hit with throngs of people in good weather, and maybe that is true at times on summer evenings and weekends. But the impression I get is that most of the time usage is light to moderate. Crowding is likely kept down by the fact that there is no swimming area.

I was here in late afternoon on a chilly but sunny Monday in November and there was almost no one else in the huge park. I saw only 9-11 other vehicles between all four areas of the park during the hour I spent here.

Birds I’ve Seen

American wigeon, bufflehead, hooded merganser, mallard, Canada goose.

Photo Ops

Basalt rock formations, pond, birds, wildlife if you’re lucky.

Best light: afternoon.

Web Resources

Map location

Oregon State Parks Hat Rock site (includes downloadable map of the park).

Lewis and Clark Commemorative Trail info

Hat Rock Campground website

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