Hiking the Ginkgo Petrified Forest
by WenOut Staff
Passing by the little desert town of Vantage on the I-90 might not provoke many questions in the minds of the car-laden besides perhaps “Who possibly lives here in this sleepy town?” and “Is your only choice for employment growing in Vantage working at a restaurant or gas station?”, if you even get so far as realizing that you’re passing it by. But one that has actually crossed my mind most every time I snap out of the monotonous zone I get while driving is “What is a Ginkgo Petrified Forest?”. And for the others that have thought this too and have never gotten a chance/felt the strong desire to merge through lanes for the stop, let me share what you are actually missing.
The word “forest” here might be a little misleading. Being on the eastern side of the Cascade mountain range, the only “forests” we typically have consist mainly of greenish sagebrush and brownish grasses. But for those that take the time to visit the Ginkgo Petrified Forest, this area is actually considered to be a national landmark that holds an amazing history and is considered one of the most unusual forests in the world. Sounds pretty regal, but so how is the Ginkgo Petrified Forest considered a forest?
The first unusual thing about this “forest” is that, despite the lack of large, gangly, green leaved species within a hundred mile radius, you will instead find the remains of trees that would typically be seen in more forested areas – maple, spruce, douglas fir, and the old man ginkgo scattered to the left and right of the interpretive trails. But seeing as they are located near the desert town of Vantage, there certainly hasn’t been a forest here for a very long time. But the second unusual thing about this forest is what makes it a fairly well-known and well-visited attraction – something I couldn’t understand until I actually got up close and personal with the tree stumps locked in their metal cages. The trees themselves have been petrified into mineral rock, become fossils. Thus the name “Petrified Forest”, as if these trees have all been cast the Petrify Spell. So the idea behind the forest is that this area is a “fossil forest” – a forest that was either here hundreds of years ago and has since been turn to stone, or this forest once existed elsewhere, and the rising tides of the Columbia all those years ago had uprooted them and brought them to be abandoned in the sands.
The Ginkgo Petrified Forest is now known as one of the largest petrified forests on the planet, making it a common attraction for random passerbyers on their way to bigger and better things as well as monument-fiends scouring the globe of historical monuments to stop at. Whether this description has been intriguing or discouraging is up to you – for those looking for a long strenuous hike with amazing panoramic views of beautiful mountains and wishing to wade through mountain water streams filled with local wildlife, this is the wrong choice. We have other guidebooks for those hikes, but this isn’t it. But for those who love staring at rocks, boulders, and stones for hours in the hot sun to discover what they are made from and those who thrive off disciphering how nature works, you would fit in well at the Ginkgo Petrified Forest.
Attractions: There are two options out at Ginkgo Petrified Forest:
The first option is the Ginkgo Interpretive Trails, an easy hike showcasing a number of petrified ginkgos (one of the oldest tree species in the world) as well as a “rock forest” of mineralized Douglas-firs, spruces, walnut, and elm trees. The trail has easy access to springtime flora and fauna known in the region and is a great place for a family nature walk or a geological junkie. The second option is the Ginkgo Petrified Forest Backcountry, a 7,470-acre state park with freshwater shoreline on the Wanapum Reservoir on the Columbia River. This is a more moderate trail compared to the Interpretive Trails, and provides views overlooking those trails and forest region, in addition to Wanapum Break, Vantage Bridge, and Wanapum.
Map. See the attached map.
Distance: 3 miles for Interpretive Trails, 5 miles for backcountry
Elevation Gain: 200 ft for Interpretive Trails, over 600 ft for backcountry
Fees: Discover Pass required
Access: To access the Backcountry Trail:
-Take I-90 to Exit #136
-Head north for 1 mile before turning right onto Recreation Road
-Continue 0.8 mile and park on the left where you see the trail heading up the slope
To access the Interpretive Trail:
-Take I-90 to Exit #136
-Head north for 2.3 miles through Vantage to Interpretive Trails parking lot (located at the park ranger building)
-The Interpretive Trails are straightforward and easily accessed
-The Backcountry Trails requires hiking up the old roadway with a well-trod footpath that will reach the highlands above the Columbia River
Leave It Better Than You Found It. This should be every outdoor user’s goal. Pick up trash left by others, pull some noxious weeds along your route, throw branches over unwanted spur trails, don’t ride or walk wet trails when you’re leaving ruts/footprints deeper than ¼ inch…
Disclaimer. Treat this information as recommendations, not gospel. Conditions change, and those contributing these reports are volunteers–they may make mistakes or may not know all the issues affecting a route. You are still completely responsible for your decisions, your actions, and your safety. If you can’t live with that, you are prohibited from using our information.
Note: This article was originally posted on 03/06/2015.