Tam-a-Láu Trail

  • Distance6.79 miles, round-trip
  • Hike TypeLollipop Loop
  • DifficultyEasy
  • Elevation Gain922’
  • Trail Condition: Well-maintained, exposed, rocky
  • Trail HighlightsWalk around the rim. Views of Seekseeksqua – Mount Jefferson, the Sisters, The Island + Lake Billy Chinook and the state park. Wildlife: deer, birds, rattlensakes+. Lots of geological interest.
  • Trailhead(s)Tam-a-láu Trailhead
  • Pass NeededOregon State Park Pass
  • Dogs Allowed: Yes, leashed
  • Crowd LevelLow
  • Recommended FootwearTennis Shoes or Hiking Shoes/Boots
  • Vehicle Clearance NeededLow, paved all the way
  • My Favorite Season To GoFall

Jump ahead to the trail description!

At Cove Palisades State Park you’ll enjoy views of the Cascade mountain range, high-desert scenery, “The Island” and the reservoir of Lake Billy Chinook.

Even more interesting than the scenery is the man behind the name of Lake Billy Chinook, Guygo – a Wasco Native.

Guygo – the man behind the name

When the Wasco Tribe made first contact with European settlers along the imał (Columbia River in Chinook), it was peaceful. Later interactions were different.

Nearly the whole village went to the shore and met the settlers who brought “gifts” for them. Settlers brought clothes: pants, coats, dresses, different colors of cloth that were contaminated with smallpox – killing Chief Guygo and Young Guygo. The only survivors of the family were Guygo’s wife, their unborn child and his slave girl, Lytigh. Guygo’s wife gave birth to a son (1823) and named him after her husband and his grandfather, Guygo. The mother passed shortly after his birth and told Lytigh

“You must be good to my son and be sure to take him back to his Uncle Wasco. But be sure to take something to his uncle to identify him as his nephew.”

A rare white beaver pelt was given to Lytigh and was told that the other half was with Uncle Wasco. Rather than giving the child (which she also loved) to his uncle, Lytigh raised him as her own until she fell ill and then revealed her secret to Wasco. Wasco took Guygo in and brought him back to his home with his wife and 9 sons. Years later General Fremont traveled through the area and wanted a young Native to assist them. That ended up being Guygo – whose named was then changed to Billy Chinook by General Fremont.

The stories slightly differ, but according to one, Guygo was living at a Methodist Church for a few years when he met General Fremont and his crew as a teen. At this age young Guygo had a lot of strength and skills that were useful to the group. He fished, hunted, gathered, and built things for Fremont and his crew. Guygo became so famous among the European men that his name was spoken back on the east coast. At this time in history – the mid-1800s – the area wasn’t part of the United States yet.

Years on Guygo eventually made his way back to the Wasco area and represented the Tribe. The remaining years of his life were full of activism and he was a well-respected member of the Tribe. He was viewed as a sub-Chief, like a Vice President today. You can find Guygo’s signature on the Tribes of Middle Oregon 1855. Guygo passed away in 1890, but his legacy lives on in the name Lake Billy Chinook.

Crooked River Canyon before the Round Butte Dam.

Other History

  • Tam-a-láu = a place of big rocks on the ground. Also, the name of an ancient trail that passed through this area as part of a trade route to the imał (Columbia River in Chinook).
  • Native Americans originally inhabited Crooked River Canyon, and a petroglyph can be seen in the park.
  • Cove Palisades State Park is 4,403 acres.
  • Crooked River Canyon was acquired by lease agreement with the U.S. Department of Agriculture in 1940.
  • Palisade” refers to the tall columnar basalt and rimrock formations around the park. And “Cove” refers to an outcropping halfway down the Crooked River Canyon wall, which was visible before the dam.
  • Lake Billy Chinook isn’t a lake at all. It’s a reservoir created from the Round Butte Dam (built in 1964).
  • Before the dam, the area was used for admiring geological formations, camping and day-use. Now the canyons are flooded up to 800-900’ behind the dam.
  • Lake Billy Chinook get its waters from 3 different confluences: Metolius, Deschutes, Crooked River Arm.
  • Metolius = “white fish” in Sahaptin. Referencing light-colored Chinook Salmon. This area has been used as gathering, hunting, and fishing area for the Northern Paiute, other peoples of the High Desert and Cascade Mountain regions.
  • Lake Billy Chinook is the 2nd largest recreational body of water in Oregon – behind the Willamette River.
  • Round Butte Dam is one of the few Native and Non-Native operating agreements in the country.
  • “The Island” (seen from the trail) is a 200-acre plateau that was designated as a Research Natural Area in 1986. And one of the few remaining examples of pre-settlement ecology in the west and closed to visitors in 1997.The canyons were created about 10-12 million years ago. Alternating layers of basaltic lava, stream sediments and volcanic debris flowed from the Cascade Mountain Ranger into a huge basin. The exposed material you see is called the “Deschutes Formation” and were capped by lava flows about 3 million years ago. Basaltic lava flows occurred here in the last 50,000 years.

The Trail

Your adventure begins right at the Upper Deschutes Day-use Area boat trailer parking lot. Or you can start from the trailhead in the Deschutes Campground. From the parking lot, you’ll see big rocks around the trail sign.

Walk over some small hills, through a few large boulders and by Juniper trees with views of Lake Billy Chinook before reaching SW Jordan Road. The trail is mostly flat for the next half a mile. Cross the paved road, towards the lake, and follow the paved path to the right. And walk across the road again. There are small trail signs to guide you.

After the road you’ll walk through a fence and see the campground. A large information board and trail sign will be on your right. Read over the information board to get a background on the area’s geology, history and any seasonal warnings.

the second trailhead sign.

The trail sign says you’ve walked a mile from the Upper Deschutes Day-use Area, but you’ve only walked 0.50 miles.

From here the trail climbs for a little bit before dropping again through large boulders. At about the mile mark you will hit a couple switchbacks. This area has more Juniper trees and other brush than the beginning of the trail. After the 3rd/4th switchback the trail heads west. 

This is where you’ll gain most of the elevation, but there are views and spots to take a break if needed. The trail becomes narrow, and you’ll have to walk in a straight file line. This section has the best geology– in my opinion. And awesome views of Lake Billy Chinook, Seekseeksqua (Jefferson) and The Sisters on a clear day. Just be sure to keep your eyes on the trail as it is exposed, and a fall could potentially be fatal.

You’ll see soft sedimentary stone visible underneath the newer layers of basalt. The result of floods, volcanic ash, and lava over millions of years is seen everywhere. Geological history here goes back 50 million years, but everything that you’ll see is from 10-12 million years ago.

When you are no longer on the exposed section the trail levels out for a bit through some Juniper trees. You’ll be able to see the last switchback leading to the top of the plateau from here. Once you reach the top of the plateau, you’ll have gained around 743’ and 2 miles, according to my GPS.

At this point there will be a small, brown Tam-A-Láu Trail Loop sign coming out of a pile of rocks. You can either go right or left from here.

trail sign at the top of the plateau.

Going left will take you closest to the plateau’s edge first. However, I suggest going right/straight and saving the best views for the end. The trail is a loop up at the top, so going either way is fine. The top loop is about 3 miles total, but mostly flat. There’s a little over 100’ of elevation, but you won’t notice. Large, twisted Juniper trees, wildlife, sagebrush and rabbitbrush are everywhere.

Going to the right, you will cross what looks like a recreational vehicle trail twice before reaching the rim. The first view will be of Culver, green farmlands, the Crooked River and bridge you drove across to get into the park! You’ll also come across rock walls that were once built by the ranchers in the area. Along with old metal cans. Please do not take anything home with you as these are all artifacts. The amount of the cans found along the trail a couple years ago is significantly lower than it is now – such a shame.

the bridge you drove over to get to the TH!

Follow the trail to the very end of the plateau with a front row view of The Island. This area is open and flat, so there are plenty of spots to hang out and enjoy the views of the park. The Crooked River is on your right side and the Deschutes River is to the left. Behind “The Island” is where the 2 rivers meet the Metolius River in front of the Round Butte Dam.

view of “The Island.”

When you are ready to head back look for the small trail along the rim towards on the opposite side of where you just came from. On this section you’ll be closer to the rim and have views of the Cascade Mountain Range and Deschutes River. Eventually you will come up the little brown Tam-A-Làu Trail Loop sign. Head back down the trail to get back to the trailhead – with awesome views of the canyon! It isn’t all downhill from here though. Don’t forget about the little gain through the rock section before the campground fence.

trail around the plateau’s rim.

On Your Way Back

After the hike make a few pitstops on your way back home.

  • Petroglyph of SW Jordan Road
  • Round Butte Dam Overlook Park
  • Crooked River Trail
  • Twisted Teepee – food
  • Kalama Frybread – food
  • Rose’s Gift & Consignment Shop – retail
  • Painted Pony Expresso – coffee
  • Metolius Balancing Rocks – natural landmark
  • Warm Springs Museum
petroglyph found in the park.


Google Maps

  • From Portland: 134 miles, 2h 45m.

Get on I-84E and take exit 14 Fairview Parkway. Left on Glisan Street in about a mile. Turn right on SE 223rdAve in 1.1 mile. Left on NW Fairview Drive shortly after. Left again on NE Burnside Road in 1.7 miles – pass by the Del Taco on your right. Continue on US-26 for the next 101.3 miles – don’t forget to head east towards Madras (not Hood River!). Once in Madras, take a right on D Street – after Taco Bell. It turns into OR-361 S and Jefferson Ave through Metolius. Then straight on SW Gem Lane for 1.5 miles. Left on SW Frazier Street then right on SW Peck Road shortly after. After 1 mile the road turns into SW Jordan Road and you’re in the park! Follow the paved road to the Upper Deschutes Day-use Area boat parking for about 5 miles.

  • From Vancouver: 137 miles, 2h 46m.
  • From Bend: 44.4 miles, 1h.
  • From Hillsboro: 146 miles, 3h 13m.
  • From Hood River: 115 miles, 2h 16m.

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