"Famous for Stone Artwork from Centuries Before" Horsethief Lake State Park by glabah

Horsethief Lake State Park Travel Guide: 17 reviews and 91 photos

NOTE: As of July 1, 2011, a day use fee has been implemented at many Washington State parks. This fee is $10 per day, or a $30 fee for a year pass. There is a $5 fee in addition to the annual pass fee if purchased at one of the many resellers. Please see my Discover Pass tip for a little more about this. For a bit more about Washington State parks in general, please see my Washington State Parks tip.

Horsetheif Lake State Park (the name is in the process of changing) is in the "dry" section of the Columbia River Gorge. East of the Cascades, there isn't anywhere near as much rain as there is on the west side of the Cascades. Thus, much of the area has a dry grasslands environment.

60 years ago, the area was very different than what you see today. In 1956, the Dalles Dam created a huge lake out of the Columbia River and raised the water level a huge amount. Entire communities were relocated out of the way of the new water level. Two entire railroad lines were moved up the sides of the canyon. Horsetheif Lake was a dry canyon until the water level rose and the railroad was relocated across the edge of the canyon, creating a lake where before there was only dry grass.

A number of trees grow on the camping area of the park, creating an Oasis in the Middle of the Desert appearance, as seen in the photo above.

Horsethief Lake state park is most famous for its Native American artwork. This is divided into two basic sections: rock carvings (petroglyphs) that were removed from their location in 1956 and put on display in the park very recently, and paintings on the rock surface (pictographs) that have always been at this location. The petroglyphs are on display in a publicly accessible spot of the park and can be viewed any time the park is open for visitors. The pictographs must be viewed by making a reservation to visit them.

One of the pictographs here is extremely well known and can be seen on a number of T-Shirts and other memorabilia for sale all over the Pacific Northwest. However, few of those who see her know her significance or even her location. In English, she is called "She Who Watches".

However, she is not the only Native American artwork in this area. In fact, one rock face has over 80 different pictographs from a number of different generations.

When the Dalles Dam was built, a number of Native American petroglyphs were found to be in one of the canyons near the dam. A select few of the hundreds that would soon be covered in deep water were removed, and for a very long time were stored. In the 1970s they were put on display at the Dalles Dam.

After some years of negotiation, in 2003 the rocks with the petroglyphs started to be put on display (with video surveillance equipment to keep them from being damaged or stolen) at Horsetheif Lake, which is much closer to their original under water location than the dam is, and is also much closer to their original environment rather than the industrial environment of the dam.

Additions and improvements to the petroglyph display continues as this is written in 2008. As best as possible, the rocks are being oriented in the way they once were, and in groupings similar to that of their original placement.

Reproductions of some of the artwork (both petroglyphs and pictographs) have been places in Washougal, in the Downtown to Steamboat Landing Tunnel and it may be interesting to take a look at those as well if this type of artwork is of interest.

The Various Other Activities - Horsethief No More

Camping and Fishing are also popular activities at this location, and the park has two boat ramps. One boat ramp leads into Horsetheif Lake itself, and another one is located at the end of the park road and goes into the Columbia River (or rather, the lake formed by the Columbia River created by the Dalles Dam).

Until approximately 2007, the hiking activities here were quite limited. The were the two boat ramps, the camping area, the petroglyphs, and a day use area along the lake. For the adventurous there was the rock climbing of Horsethief butte itself.

However, a significant chunk of land was obtained uphill from the lake when The Dalles Mountain Ranch was added to the State Parks system, adding a whole new dimension to the park. It is thought that this will one day add some 12 miles (20 km) of hiking trails and places to explore in the big hills that rise above the Columbia River at this location. Ultimately, it was felt that Horsethief Lake State Park no longer suited the expanded area, so the new name of the park became Columbia Hills State Park.

The area that makes up the Columbia Hills section of this park also includes a ranch that has withstood the tests of time, and exists much as it did when it was first built - though some modernizations have happened. This ranch area forms the center of the new area that is undergoing development. However, it is best to visit when it is known it will be open. Right now, it is only open on an occasional basis and the trail system isn't complete and due to budget constraints it won't be open for some time yet.

Pros and Cons
  • Pros:Scenery that is not the stereotypical wet forests of the Pacific Northwest. Variety of activities including hiking, camping, boating. Unique First Nations artworks on display.
  • Cons:Huge, harsh wind blowing out of the east on most days, making the non-summer months cold. Park is closed during winter. Nearest services of any sort (gasoline, food, lodging other than the park campground, etc.) are fairly far away.
  • In a nutshell:If you happen to come by here at least take a look at the First Nations rock carvings.
  • Last visit to Horsethief Lake State Park: Apr 2013
  • Intro Updated May 9, 2016
  • Add to Trip Planner (?)
  • Report Abuse

Reviews (17)

Comments (5)

  • Odiseya's Profile Photo
    Mar 10, 2016 at 5:00 AM

    Excellent page! I also wrote many new VT guides and I like your presentation of your country.

  • balhannah's Profile Photo
    May 26, 2010 at 8:51 PM

    Nice page! A very interesting park, but what a shame that they didn't save more, oh well, I guess a few is better than none at all!

  • aussirose's Profile Photo
    Feb 24, 2009 at 2:52 PM

    Wow! Beautiful photos Glenn :o) Cheers, Ann.

  • christine.j's Profile Photo
    Nov 9, 2008 at 4:35 AM

    This is a great page,Glenn! It's a pity that a park this special has a problem with vandalism and need 24 hour video surveillance.

  • atufft's Profile Photo
    Nov 7, 2008 at 9:17 AM

    Wow! Outstanding VT FIRST Contribution Glenn. I've got to see she who watches original...


“Do something every day that scares you - even if just a little bit.”

Online Now


Top 1,000 Travel Writer
Member Rank:
0 0 1 6 9
Forum Rank:
0 0 0 5 8

Badges & Stats in Horsethief Lake State Park

  • 17 Reviews
  • 91 Photos
  • 0 Forum posts
  • 639PageViews

Have you been to Horsethief Lake State Park?

  Share Your Travels  

Travel Interests

See All Travel Interests (5)