McKinnley Ridge in Southwestern Washington
This fine flying site is located in Southwestern Washington. The site features relatively easy road access, great lift, and decent landing zones. The ridge can be flown in west or east winds, although I personally prefer winds from the east at this location. The east side of the ridge has less trees and more open terrain upwind of the slope. And when flying in an east wind, the sun is at your back instead of in your eyes all afternoon. Although I haven’t explored it, I would think there would be good potential for dynamic soaring here. The top of the ridge is rather sharp in places, which can set up quite a rotor.
Directions: To get to McKinnley Ridge, drive north out of Battle Ground, Washington on Highway 503. Just past milepost 13 take a right on Rock Creek Road (watch for the sign for Lucia Falls). Head east on Rock Creek Road (which eventually turns into Lucia Falls Road) for about 8 ½ miles. Just past Moulton Falls Park, turn right on Sunset Falls Road. After another 7 ½ miles you should reach the Sunset Falls campground. Make a right turn into the campground. Go straight through the campground and cross the bridge. The pavement ends at this point. Go left and stay on Forest Service Road 41. This road really isn’t too bad. There are some potholes and washboard, but I’d take the family car without a second thought. After about 10 miles, you will reach the ridge. The road opens up into a good-size parking area, you can fly here if you want to. But the best flying is farther south on the ridge. You can drive south on the ridge, but you have to get your rig up a little hill at the south edge of the parking lot. The brush is starting to encroach on the road south of the parking lot, so you might not want to take your new Mercedes SUV past the parking area.
There are a couple bowls on the east side of the ridge, I prefer flying at the southern bowl. The ridge top is wider there, which makes landings a bit easier. There are plenty of rocks and brush around, but also enough grassy areas to land a nice plane in without too much trouble. The lift is great and there’s plenty of space to really wring out a plane. And there’s a great view here of Mt Hood, which also makes a nice background for photos.
Driving time from Portland is about 90 minutes. When the winds blow from the west, I prefer to fly at Hood River because the driving time is actually about 20 minutes less. Time to the top is about the same due to the hike required at the Hood River site. But when the easterlies blow, I’ll be making plans for McKinnley Ridge!
Note: This site is at about 4200 ft elevation, and tends to be snowed in from December through April. The latest I’ve flown here is November 30, and the earliest I’ve flown is April 10.