Rowena Crest is a fabulous place to pull off the road and enjoy the sweeping views of the Columbia River.
The Tom McCall Preserve trail offers grasslands, basalt cliffs, and scrub oak forests form the landscape you'll hike through on a trail that climbs steadily with ever-increasing views.
The first mile or so of this Nature Conservancy-administered trail climbs moderately. At times it follows an old wagon trail and at times it turns to single track that works it's way up the ridge line. After about a half-mile of meandering along a meadow, the trail changes character, diving into trees that reach for each other over your head as the route steepens and directly follows the south-trending ridge line. In a few spots the trail almost runs directly on top of a significant cliff towards the east.
After climbing onto a steppe, the trail turns back on itself and trends west, making long switchbacks through scrub oak forest and more meadow. Views continue to improve; as you turn away from a dramatic upriver view including the town of Lyle, the downriver section of the Gorge sprawls below your feet. Turn your eyes skyward to find birds playing in the drafts of this always-windy area.
The open grasslands are full of arrowleaf balsamroot, bachelor's button, and other fantastic flowers. Scrub oak groves are interspersed along to the way to provide some welcome shade. Notice how the oaks are almost reduced to krummholz (trees stunted by wind, usually found in alpine areas) near the top of the trail from the incessant winds.
Spring may be the best time of year for this hike as the flowers are spectacular. Summertime in the Gorge can be quite hot, and shade is sparse. Fall and winter mean mud and snow on the trail, so watch your step and maybe save it for another day if the trail is wet.
The summit of McCall Point is rounded and grassy with 270 degree views, including Mount Adams and Mount Hood. A trail is easily visible heading through the saddle south of the summit for those who want to explore further. McCall Point is named in honor of a former Oregon State governor who championed land conservation causes.
If you have time, stop at Rowena Plateau -- a flatter trail that meanders along the top of the Plateau across the road from the main parking area. In spring you'll be rewarded with a myriad of wildflowers as the trail leads you closer to the edge of the plateau.