Warrior Rock Lighthouse: top secret adventure at Sauvie Island

Did you know there’s a lighthouse on Sauvie Island? It’s one of two Oregon lighthouses that are not on the Pacific Ocean, the other being Willamette River Lighthouse — which actually burned down in the 1950s and doesn’t exist anymore. So that alone makes Warrior Rock Light kind of a cool deal.

It’s also cool because at least right now, it seems that not so many people know about it. I remember learning about its existence about a year and a half ago when a berry-picking ride to Sauvie Island later prompted me to look up island info, and bam! It turned out there’s a lighthouse there! I even wrote at the time that I’d have to go back and see about that, since even though it’s clearly on the website I kind of didn’t believe it. A river lighthouse? On Sauvie Island? Maybe 35 miles from my house in Portland? How come I had never heard of it?

Sauvie Island Mt St Helens(this is more what I think of when I think of Sauvie Island: agriculture and mountains. Not lighthouses)

As things go, I sort of forgot about it after that, but come new year’s eve, when I was contemplating a bring-in-2016 adventure and brainstorming some natural areas I could bike out to with my winter-bird-scoping binoculars, I turned my eye to Sauvie. Right! The lighthouse! I had some unfinished adventures there!

I remembered that my friend Shawn of Urban Adventure League fame had also semi-recently biked out there and written about it, which was convenient: always nice to have an idea of what to expect from someone who’s already done it (thanks, Shawn!). Because of his post, I knew which of the Suavie Island roads to take, that I would lose the pavement near the end, and also that once I got to the end I was in for a three-mile-one-way hike if I wanted to actually get to the lighthouse (some places call it a 3.5-mile hike, though I suppose it’s all about the same). I brought my non-cleated shoes, just in case.

sauvie island soma(even though this is no longer novel, I still love that I can strap my shoes or anything else on top of my rack in a way I never could with my old bike)

Despite how I’m presenting it now, when I left my house I wasn’t necessarily intent on making it all the way to the lighthouse. I wanted to adventure; I wanted to birdwatch; I wanted to have a nice day on my bike in the sunshine to bring in the new year. I didn’t necessarily want to hike. I figured if I got out there and felt like lighthousing, so be it; if I didn’t, that was fine too. So I took my time, not leaving until a little after 8:30 and then having to turn around 10 minutes later since I realized I’d forgotten my binoculars. I stopped to take pictures or look more closely when I was so inspired, and I hoped with all my hoping that the ridiculous tailwind pushing me along would die down by the time I decided to turn around and come home.


highway 30 icicleshighway 30 ice sculptures(I was pretty into all the crazy icicles and ice sculptures along Highway 30)

It was pretty quiet on the roads, perhaps a collective sleeping off of new years’ over-festivities, and once I got to Sauvie Island I was excited to sink into the soundtrack of sandhill cranes and to spy on the twenty bazillion immature bald eagles sitting around in the trees that, without their leaves, I could actually see them in. (I’ve since learned that “sub-adult” is the better birding word than “immature,” at least when you’re talking about birds like eagles that take a while to get their adult plumage — so there you go;). I stopped at random beaches along the Columbia and for a peregrine falcon that bombed over my head. I never stopped for too long because it was fricken cold, but the relative niceness of the day kept impelling me down Reeder Road until, sure enough, I got to its end.

The fact that you can actually see Warrior Rock Lighthouse in the distance from the trailhead is perhaps what made up my mind that I should definitely go check it out. Eh, who are we kidding — since I’d already come all that way it would have been a huge waste not to. But the definite goal in the distance helped. I knew from Shawn that there would be signs at the trailhead prohibiting biking, but I also knew that he had biked it anyway to save himself time. I considered it too, but was ultimately super glad I left my bike behind: the trail was a mess of frozen mud-ponds and there were so many trees and branches fallen all over from our recent superwinds. As I scrambled through yet another tangle of fallen cottonwood, I was definitely glad that I wasn’t portaging my bike. Plus, it was a super lovely trail, great for wandering.

warrior rock light trail(the only fork in the trail is well-marked with a sweet hand-made sign:)

warrior rock light trail blowdown(just another scramble through a fallen tree or five)

warrior rock light trail views(lovely views of the Columbia River along the way, plus, here, Mt St Helens and the bitty shoulder of Mt Rainier)

It took me about 35 minutes to walk/jog my way out there — the age-old tension between wanting to see everything around me and wanting to get to that far-away goal faster. As I went, I kept getting random glimpses of the lighthouse, always so far away, until I finally turned a corner and there it was, a short walk down the beach in the direction I’d come from.

Warrior Rock Lighthouse Sauvie Island(Warrior Rock Lighthouse! The smallest lighthouse in Oregon, and the only freshwater one)

Despite all the cars at the trailhead parking lot, there was no one out there with me. I suspect everyone else had been a hunter and had gone the other direction into the wildlife refuge where, oddly enough, hunting is allowed. I relished the sunshiney solitude and had a frozen banana-and-nut-butter lunch, enjoying the views of all the mountains across the Columbia River. And then my 35-minute commute in turned into an hour-and-fifteen-minute commute out as I listened, noticed, bird-watched, and picture-took my way back to my bicycle.

Sadly, the wind stayed true, and from then on, I biked my way into a very cold, very strong, rather disheartening gale for the next three hours. But! I made it home, only slightly frozen and ravenous (I should have brought more food!) and pretty dang excited to have fulfilled so many different new years aspirations: adventure, time in nature, seeing new things, days spent outside.

(For a few more pictures of new years adventure, see here.) Yay 2016!


  1. Yeah, you finally made it out there! It’s cool, huh?

  2. We love that hike! It’s perfect for young kids, because it’s flat and there is so much to look at. My boys found three snakes while we were hiking out to the lighthouse last Spring Break. The only negative was that I found stinging nettle off trail… while I was taking a bathroom break… THE HORROR!!!!

    • HA! Oh, man. That is NOT the most ideal way to discover stinging nettle!! But the rest of it sounds awesome! Snakes and kiddos? You’re right: it IS a perfect hike for little ‘uns!

  3. I so enjoyed your adventure, especially the lighthouse and your narrative about the birdwatching. Your photos are wonderful, but what a trek! And so very cold!

  4. Can one bike to the lighthouse in the summer?Considering taking 11 year olds?

    • Ooh, I’m not sure right now. When I was there before, there was a “no biking” sign, though also ample evidence that people had biked. Probably it’s a be considerate kind of thing more than a hard and fast rule?

  5. Nice write up! thanks. I really want to ride that trail, but seems like it might not be the right thing to do….

    • Yeah, I agree with you. I originally wrote this in 2016, and I imagine usage has gone waaaaaay up since then. I wouldn’t recommend biking it if it still says no biking. Likely there are more people around such that rogue biking is obnoxious and rude. (Plus, it’s a super nice walk:)

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