- Associated Press - Saturday, May 3, 2014

BINGEN, Wash. (AP) - The west wind is a bit chilling, but it also circulates the sweet scent of the desert parsley.

Add in the eye-popping beauty of the arrowleaf balsamroot and lupine, and it’s like hiking in a florist shop.

And, yeah, the views of the Columbia River Gorge from the Labyrinth trail at Coyote Wall are special, too.

It’s late April and the best weeks of the year to hike the eastern end of the Gorge are upon us.

By mid-June, the hillsides above the river will have dried and returned to their familiar beige-gray.

But now, the grasses are verdant and the wildflowers are starting to bloom.

Ryan Ojerio, Southwest Washington manager for the Washington Trails Association, said the Coyote Wall and Catherine Creek areas in western Klickitat County are unlike any he’s seen the Northwest.

“The progression of spring wildflower blooms at Coyote Wall/Catherine Creek are a sublime beauty set against the dramatic rock outcrops and sweeping views of the Columbia River,” Ojerio said. “It is an incredibly unique and surprising landscape.”

WTA had 24 work parties between spring of 2013 and this spring and volunteered 1,915 hours restoring, rerouting and improving trails per the Forest Service recreation plan for the area.

The trails are enjoyable much of the year, but no season is quite like spring, he said.

“Spring is by far the best time to see nature’s color and vitality in an area that can be baking hot in the summer and bitterly cold and windy in the winter,” he said.

The trail network at Coyote Wall and Catherine Creek is a work in progress. A proliferation of user-created trails are being organized into a formal system, with some routes being closed for safety, private property or natural resource protection reasons.

“I wish that the Forest Service had funding to complete implementation of the Coyote Wall-Catherine Creek Recreation Plan,” said Susan Saul of Vancouver, who hikes the area fall through spring. “The trail system needs to be completed as authorized in the plan and trails need directional and identification signage and user information and orientation.”

To hike Labyrinth trail, park at the junction of Old Highway 8 and state Highway 14 at the west edge of Rowland Lake. Walk to the west on the closed and broken pavement past a waterfall to a signed trailhead at 0.44 mile.

Head up the trail, which leads 2.5 miles up the side of the Columbia Gorge to a junction with the closed Atwood Road. Head west on Atwood Road to Coyote Wall, then choose one of the routes that lead downslope to make a loop.

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