Hikers explore Tom McCall Preserve at Rowena Crest in the Columbia River Gorge, Oregon.
Tom McCall Preserve At Tom McCall Preserve, spectacular spring wildflower displays grace this magnificent plateau overlooking the Columbia River. © Morgan Parks

Places We Protect

Tom McCall Preserve at Rowena

Oregon

A magnificent plateau overlooking the Columbia River Gorge is graced by spectacular wildflowers.

Why You Should Visit

The Tom McCall Preserve is open from March 1 to October 31 due to the high risk of erosion and ground disturbance in the wetter months. 

Located in the transition zone between the moist, heavily-forested west side of the Cascades and the drier bunch grass prairies of the east, Tom McCall Preserve comes into spectacular bloom every spring.

Lava flows, catastrophic floods and volcanic ash deposits shaped a mound-and-swale topography that perplexes the experts. Earthquake sorting, freezing and thawing, erosion, soil accumulations by plants and wildlife burrowing activities have all been suggested as having caused the mounds.

What TNC Has Done/Is Doing

The preserve is named for Oregon's late governor, Thomas Lawson McCall, whose commitment to conservation in Oregon remains an inspiration. A patchwork of ownership includes the Conservancy, Mayer State Park and national forest lands. The preserve is managed in cooperation with these agencies.

The rare plant populations are monitored by ecologists, and in spring and summer, volunteer docents lead interpretive hikes. Stewards and volunteers manage the weeds and maintain the trails throughout the year.

With assistance from the Portland Garden Club, Berry Botanic Garden, Native Plant Society of Oregon and others, the Conservancy also created a native plant garden in the turnaround at the viewpoint. 

What to See: Plants

From March through June, one of Oregon's most impressive displays of spring wildflowers is found amidst the mounds, swales and vernal pools of this grassland preserve. More than 300 plant species, including grass widows, prairie stars, shooting stars, balsamroot, lupine and Indian paintbrush thrive here.

The open grasslands are home to four plant species unique to the Columbia River Gorge: Thompson's broadleaf lupine, Columbia desert parsley, Thompson's waterleaf and Hood River milkvetch. Many of our wildflowers are very delicate and cannot survive even lightly walking on them. Please stay on the trails.

Spring wildflowers are most abundant in April and May.

What to See: Animals

The preserve hosts western meadowlark, Oregon's state bird, as well as horned lark, canyon wren and red-winged blackbird. Golden eagles and Bald eagles can be seen soaring above the point. The Pacific chorus frog and mule deer also thrive here.

At the top of the McCall Point trail, visitors are rewarded with expansive views of the Columbia Gorge and Cascade mountain peaks.

The preserve is often windy, and visitors should beware of ticks, rattlesnakes and poison oak.

Please observe the following guidelines while hiking

  • Stay on the trail. Don't collect plants, insects or other species or disturb soil, rocks, artifacts or scientific research markers.
  • No dogs. 
    •  The preserve is home to harbor ground-nesting birds and other wildlife that are extremely sensitive to disturbance. (Dogs are allowed at several nearby locations, including the lower Mayer State Park at the I-84 Rowena Exit.)
  • No bicycles or motorized vehicles. Native plants and research sites are easily trampled.
  • No hunting, camping or campfires.
  • During the wildflower-abundant months of April and May, the preserve can be extremely busy. To make your visit more pleasant, try to plan your visit early in the morning or later in the afternoon and avoid weekends.
  • For groups of 10 or more, please contact us before visiting a preserve (a volunteer naturalist guide may be available).
  • Please bring a bag and carry out any trash you find.
  • Please report to us any problems you observe (e.g., camping, plant removal, hunting, off-road vehicle damage, etc).

Trails (No Dogs or Bikes)

 

Tom McCall Point Trail: 650 ft-1,722 ft
(Open March 1-October 31st annually)

  • Distance/ Route Type: ~4 miles out and back
  • Elevation Gain: ~1070 ft
  • Difficulty: Moderate
  • Accessibility: The first half mile is moderately accessible with hard-packed dirt and gravel.  The remainder of the trail is not accessible to mobility devices due to the narrow width, steep slope, stairs, and rocky tread.
  • Hazards: ticks, poison oak, rattlesnakes, steep drop-offs, slippery trail
  • Trail Description: Starting at about 650 ft above sea level, this trail is relatively flat and open as it passes through mound and swale topography loaded with wildflowers in spring and views in summer and fall.  Then in around a half a mile it ducks into the shade of the Oregon white oaks and starts the switchbacked ascent to Tom McCall Point winding in and out of the oak savanna grassland that once covered vast areas of the Columbia River Gorge.  Once you reach the point, enjoy the views of the gorge, Mount Hood and Mount Adams.  This hike gets extremely crowded in the spring wildflower time, so please stay on the trail, don’t bring your dog, and leave the flowers for others to enjoy.

 

Plateau Trail/ Shasha Loop: 650 feet 

  • Distance/ Route Type: 2.6 miles out and back including Shasha Loop
  • Elevation Gain: ~250 ft
  • Difficulty: Easy
  • Accessibility: This trail is not accessible to mobility devices as the tread ranges from 1-3 ft wide.
  • Hazards: ticks, poison oak, rattlesnakes, steep drop-offs
  • Trail Description:  This 2.6-mile loop begins at the trailhead sign on Highway 30.  It crosses the plateau to cliff edges and encircles a permanent pond via the Shasha loop trail.  This hike gets extremely crowded in the spring wildflower time, so please stay on the trail, don’t bring your dog, and leave the flowers for others to enjoy.

Stand Up for Nature in Oregon

The mission of The Nature Conservancy is to conserve the lands and waters upon which all life depends, and for nearly 60 years, we've been working in Oregon to do just that. We're bringing people together to solve the biggest conservation challenges of our time by transforming policy, inspiring communities to take action, protecting vital habitats and natural resources and improving livelihoods.