HORSETHIEF LAKE STATE PARK
Columbia Hills State Park (which includes the Horsethief Lake area and Dalles Mountain Ranch area) is a 3,338-acre camping park with 7,500 feet of freshwater shoreline on the Columbia River. Horsethief Butte dominates the skyline. It stands over the lake like an ancient castle. The lake itself is about 90 acres in size and is actually an impoundment of the Columbia River. The lake was flooded into existence by the reservoir created by The Dalles Dam.
The Butte and the surrounding Columbia River channel were carved out of basalt rock by floods following the last ice age. For information on the floods, visit Sun Lakes State Park and the Dry Falls Interpretive Center.
The basalt rock resulted from a series of lava flows which emerged from cracks in the earth's crust and blanketed the entire eastern Washington/Oregon region long before the coming of ice-age floods.
When viewing the cliffs along the river, notice the stratigraphy highlighted by benches rising up the cliffs. Each of these benches, or layers, represents a different lava flow. Some lava flows were hundreds of feet thick in places.
The park contains Native American pictographs (paintings) and petroglyphs (carvings). Some of the oldest pictographs in the Northwest are found in this park. Artifacts associated with local tribes can be seen at the nearby Maryhill Museum of Art and the Columbia Gorge Discovery Center.
Archeological sites and artifacts are protected by both federal and state laws, and their disturbance and/or removal is illegal and carries severe penalties.
For centuries, the park was the site of a Native American village. The Lewis and Clark expedition camped at the village and described its wooden houses in one of their journals. The village was flooded by the waters of The Dalles Dam.
Oral history states that the park received its former name -- Horsethief Lake State Park -- from workers in the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers who developed the site. The workers thought the terrain was similar to that of horsethief hideouts in popular 1950s Hollywood westerns. The abundance of horses kept on the premises by local Indians apparently gave the workers their inspiration.
The commission combined the park with Dalles Mountain Ranch and renamed the area Columbia Hills State Park in 2003.
A Discover Pass is required for vehicle access to Washington state parks for day use. For more information about the Discover Pass and exemptions, please visit the Discover Pass web page
Horsethief Lake has four standard campsites, eight partial-hookup sites, four standard walk-in sites, two primitive hiker/biker sites, two rustic cabins, one dump station and one restroom. Campers should be aware that it can be very windy in the Columbia River Gorge and should be prepared for such conditions. The location on the Horsethief Lake campsites on the Columbia River means it is also close to active train tracks.