Castle Rock

Beacon Rock
Photo of Castle (Beacon) Rock about 1900.1

Six years after Parker, the United States Exploring Expedition to the Northwest led by Charles Wilkes, passed through this area late in June of 1841. In the map of the lower Columbia River that accompanied his published report, the landmark was labeled "Castle Rock."  It may be that he had heard about the rock from oral reports of Alexander Ross's name for it, or he may have considered it his own, for Wilkes wrote, "The country bordering on the river is low until the Cascades are approached, with the exception of several high basaltic bluffs. Some of them are...pointed like turreted castles."2

When Olin Wheeler passed by it a few years before the centennial anniversary of the Lewis and Clark Expedition, it was still known as Castle Rock.

View from the Top

View from the Top

View east across Ives and Hamilton Islands into the Columbia Gorge
from the summit of Beacon Rock.

The rock and the property surrounding it were privately owned from the 1850s, for a time by Jay Cooke, the Philadelphia financier. The first climbers ascended the rock in 1901, leaving anchors and ropes that encouraged more climbers. In 1915 Henry J. Biddle, a descendant of Nicholas Biddle, the first editor of the Lewis and Clark journals, purchased the rock, and to preserve it from further defacement, built a 4,500-foot-long, four-foot wide trail to the top. He also persuaded the Board of Geographic Names to restore Lewis and Clark's name.3

In 1916 the U.S. Boaard on Geographic Names officially restored Lewis and Clark's name, Beacon Rock. In 1935 the heirs to the Biddle estate deeded to the State of Washington 260 acres of land on which the landmark stands as the centerpiece to a state park.


1. Wheeler, The Trail of Lewis and Clark, 1804-1904 (2 vols, New York: G. P. Putnam's Sons, 1904), 2:77.

2. Charles Wilkes (1798-1877), Narrative of the United States Exploring Expedition during the years 1838, 1839, 1840, 1841, 1842 (5 vols. and atlas, Philadelphia: Lea & Blanchard, 1845), 4:379.

3. Henry J. Biddle, "Beacon Rock on the Columbia: Legends and Traditions of a Famous Landmark,"  Reprint, Lewis and Clark Trail Heritage Foundation, Inc., WPO Publication No. 3, July 1978, p. 5.