For our day trips we try and keep our driving time time to trailheads under 3 hours (preferably two and a half or less). The one exception to that is Mount Adams which sits right around that 3 hour mark from Salem. Due to the distance we don’t get there as much as we’d like but we’d put it on this years schedule. We’ve been turning more to Matt Reeder’s guidebooks and hike #16 his “Off the Beaten Trail (2nd edition) was the hike that we’d originally planned on. While doing some research on the Riley Camp Trail I learned of a use trail not far from the that trail’s junction with the Pacific Crest Trail that led to Crystal Lake so we decided to extend his suggested hike a bit.
A very favorable forecast, sunny skies with a high in the low 50s, provided a green light for our plans and we made the long drive to the Riley Camp Trailhead.
The Riley Camp Trail (Trail 64) on the opposite side of FR 23.
A short distance up the trail we stopped to fill out a day use permit (free) and review the wilderness map on the signboard.
Trail 64 led gradually uphill through a nice forest.
A little over one and a quarter mile from the trailhead we came to a signed junction with the Riley South Trail (Trail 64A).
We weren’t aware that the Forest Service was employing wilderness greeters.
May I see your self-issued permit?
We had started to notice a fair number of mosquitos near the junction and were forced to turn to the Deet. We’d been pretty luck so far this year at avoiding the little blood suckers but not on this day. While they weren’t anywhere near as bad as we’ve had them before they were persistent between the Riley South junction and the end of the Riley Camp Trail at the PCT. With the bugs after us we kept a decent pace as the trail continued it’s gradual climb through the forest.
The trail was in pretty good shape with just a few downed trees to step over/under.
First look at Mt. Adams through the trees.
Near the 2.7 mile mark the trail briefly entered a 2015 fire scar.
We left the fire scar behind as the trail turned north passing by a series of ponds/lakes (mosquito breeding grounds).
More Mt. Adams.
Paintbrush and lupine
Beyond the mosquito birthing centers the trail began to curve back to the east and entered Riley Creek Meadows.
Sub-alpine mariposa lily
Riley Creek along the trail.
Just over 4.5 miles from the trailhead we crossed Riley Creek.
Riley Creek at the crossing.
Beyond the crossing the trail made a final 0.3 mile climb to the PCT.
A trail sign up ahead at the junction.
We turned right on the PCT which brought us back to Riley Creek after 0.2 miles.
PCT marker on the tree.
Riley Creek below the PCT crossing.
We detoured briefly upstream to revisit our dinner spot during an overnight trip in 2017 (post).
White mountain heather
A nice paintbrush
After the short detour we continued south on the PCT to Burnt Rock (just under half a mile from Riley Creek).
Mt. Adams behind us as we headed south.
Mt. Rainier behind a line of clouds.
Burnt Rock behind the snags left over from the 2012 Cascade Creek Fire.
Alpine false dandelion
Near Burnt Rock we looked for a user trail heading toward the mountain and took a left onto it once we spotted it.
It was another half mile to Crystal Lake. The use trail was fairly easy to follow. It did steepen just before the lake.
Hummingbird visiting paint.
On the final pitch.
Mt. Rainier and Goat Rocks
Not Crystal Lake, just a pretty little tarn nearby.
Fortunately mosquitos weren’t an issue up here so we were able to relax and spend a good deal of time exploring around the lake and a little beyond.
Just a bit of snow left around 6300′.
The little tarn we’d passed.
While not big Crystal Lake was deep.
View down from the rocky ridge on the south side of the lake.
The rocky ridge along the south side of the lake.
We continued a tenth of a mile beyond the lake for a dramatic view of Mt. Adams.
We could hear a waterfall below on Riley Creek.
Zoomed in on the waterfall below.
Crystal Lake from above.
Mt. Rainier with Goat Rocks to the right.
Some of Goat Rocks.
Golden-mantled grounds squirrel
After a good break we headed back down past the lake and back to the PCT.
Getting ready to drop down.
Butterfly on mountain heather.
I’m guessing a warbler of some sort. We saw quite a few of these little yellow birds but had a hard time actually getting a photo.
We turned right on the PCT and followed it back to the Riley Camp Trail and then followed that trail back to our car.
Mt. Adams from the PCT.
Riley Creek at the PCT crossing.
Wildflowers along the PCT.
Bee on valerian
Butterfly on valerian
Another butterfly on valerian
Looking back at Mt. Adams from the Riley Camp Trail.
Passing through Riley Creek Meadows.
We only saw a couple of beargrass blooms.
Pollinators on fleabane.
Luna Lake and Mt. Adams from the trail.
The mosquitos remained a nuisance as we made our way back to the car so we kept a brisk pace. When we arrived back at the car there was a family preparing to set off for an overnight stay. They had an extra half of a pizza due to getting a free pie after the pizzeria initially made the wrong one. They offered us the extra since they couldn’t take it with them and we gladly accepted. Lunch was solved and dinner wound up also being solved when my parents took us and our Son (who was visiting for our Nephew Tyler’s 4th birthday party) out to Gilgamesh Brewing’s The Woods. It was a great ending to the day.
Our hike to Crystal Lake came in at 12.6 miles with approximately 2900′ in cumulative elevation gain. While I typically don’t share tracks for off trail hikes this one is listed on several prominent hiking websites so am including it below. If you do visit please be respectful, tread lightly, and Leave No Trace. Happy Trails!
The late snow melt in in SW Washington had prompted us to push a planned hike to Silver Star Mountain at the end of June to next year but when we found ourselves in need of a substitute for another hike we took the opportunity to pull it back into this year. This would be our fourth visit to Silver Star Mountain having previously taken Ed’s Trail in 2013 (post), the Bluff Mountain Trail in 2015 (post), and the Grouse Vista Trail in 2019 (post). Those hikes had taken place on July 1st, June 27th, and June 24th respectively so this was a later visit for us, but we knew that the late snow melt had delayed the wildflower display so we still expected to get to experience that.
Our inspiration for this visit came from Matt Reeder’s “Off the Beaten Trail” (2nd edition) which was printed in 2019. Reeder calls the hike to Silver Star Mountain via the Starway Trail as “by far the most difficult….”. He also mentions that the last two miles of driving on FR 41 to reach the trailhead are “potholed and rocky” while the Forest Service states “Trailhead is best accessed by high clearance vehicles due to rough road conditions.” The Washington Trail Association also mentions that “…most of the roads accessing the trailhead have been severely degraded…” This last description was probably the most accurate description of what we encountered for the final 3 miles on FR 41. The road didn’t have pot holes, it had craters. Our Outback scrapped the ground twice emerging from said craters and I can’t imagine how a low clearance vehicle could make it given the current condition of the road. In fact there was a sign at the Sunset Falls Campground with slash going through a low clearance vehicle. We parked at a pullout near a gate at the FR 41/FR 4107 junction. Reeder mentions that you can drive 4107 approximately a half mile to the start of the actual Starway Trail at Copper Creek but if the gate gets closed your stuck. Looking at the gate we weren’t sure if it even still closed but we were more than done with driving at that point.
We headed down this one lane road approximately a half mile to a small parking area near a bridge over Copper Creek.
It was an overcast morning which was a welcome sight for this hike. Reeder had recommended not attempting this hike on warmer days due to the steepness of the climbs. The forecast for Silver Star was for a high in the low 60’s with partly sunny skies. We hopped that by the time we reached Silver Star we’d be greeted by those partly sunny skies, but the low 60’s temperatures were what we were really after. Beyond Copper Creek the trail followed an old road bed as it gradually climbed for a little over a quarter of a mile to a fork.
Overgrown roadbed that is now the Starway Trail.
The fork with the Starway Trail to the right.
The trail began to steepen here but didn’t really pick up steam until reaching a couple of switchbacks 0.4 miles from the fork.
Taken from the first switchback this gives a little reference for how steep the trail was.
The switchbacks only lasted a tenth of a mile and then the trail shot almost directly uphill. The grade varied between steep and really steep for three quarters of a mile where it finally leveled out for a bit on a bench along the ridge we had been following.
Pictures never do justice to just how steep trails are.
Almost to the bench.
A section of trail on the bench passed through a carpet of foam flower. We’d never seen so much of that flower in one area.
Inside out flower
For about a half mile the trail avoided any overly steep climbing and then it once again headed uphill in earnest.
The trail starting to steepen again.
Every website I checked agreed with Reeder that the Starway Trail didn’t see a lot of use. They all mention the steepness of the trail and that the trail was faint and could be difficult to follow. After having hiked the trail we can confirm the steepness but it appears that someone or some agency has put a good deal of work into improving the trail. We had no trouble following the tread and there were a couple of places where a series of short switchbacks appear to have replaced sections that went straight uphill.
The first set of what appeared to be fairly recently built switchbacks.
At the top of the switchbacks the trail emerged in a small meadow where it once again leveled out.
Approaching the little meadow.
A little bit of blue overhead through the fog.
I had gotten to this level section first and looked for a place to sit down and wait for Heather but the meadow was too wet so I found a log in the trees at the far end and had a seat.
Into the trees to look for a log.
For a little over a half mile the trail climbed gradually alternating between forest and small meadows before arriving at its high point just below the wildflower covered Point 3977. Along the way we emerged from the clouds and got our first glimpses of Silver Star Mountain and Mt. St. Helens.
Silver Star Mountain
Our first view of Mt. St. Helens
Zoomed in on Mt. St. Helens.
Arriving below Point 3977.
Pollinator on catchfly
The pink vetch was very bright.
Silver Star Mountain from the trail below Point 3977.
Wildflowers on Point 3977.
Bluebells of Scotland
Sub alpine mariposa lily
Checkerspot on Oregon sunshine
Lots of purple larkspur amid the other flowers.
A few columbine were hiding in the mix.
We surprised a fellow hiker as he rounded Point 3977 from the other side. He said he hadn’t expected to run into anyone on the Starway Trail. He’d started at the Ed’s Trail Trailhead and was doing a big loop using the Starway Trail and then road walking FR 41 & 4109 back to his car. He climbed up Point 3977 and we continued on planning to do that same thing on our way back. On the far side (south) of the point the Starway Trail suddenly dropped heading steeply downhill through a meadow.
Looking back up.
For nearly the next three quarters of a mile the trail alternated between steep descents and more gradual downhills losing a little more than 500′ in the process. Then the trail shot back uphill gaining over 300′ in the next 0.3 miles before arriving at a junction with the Bluff Mountain Trail.
Stars on the trees marked the Starway Trail at times.
Pinesap emerging from the ground.
A cairn at the end of this brief level section marked the start of another steep descent. By this time we’d lost enough elevation to be back in the clouds.
Part of the elevation loss was to drop below some interesting rock outcrops.
Fully back in the fog.
Time to climb again.
Big root balls.
Trail sign near the Bluff Mountain Trail junction.
Final pitch to the Bluff Mountain Trail.
On the Bluff Mountain Trail at the junction.
We turned right on the Bluff Mountain Trail which steadily climbed for nearly three quarters of a mile to a fork.
Lots of nice wildflowers along the Bluff Mountain Trail.
We just couldn’t quite shake the fog.
First sighting of Mt. Rainier.
Mt. St. Helens to the left with Mt. Rainier to the right.
Getting closer to Silver Star.
Crab spider on fleabane
Spirea along the trail.
Bistort and mountain goldenbanner
First Mt. Adams sighting.
A crescent on bistort.
Wallflower with beetle.
Passing below Silver Star Mountain.
Rock arch below Silver Star’s summit.
At the fork we turned uphill to the left leaving the Bluff Mountain Trail.
This short connector trail climbed 0.1 miles to an old roadbed.
Fading avalanche lily.
The old roadbed.
We turned left and followed the roadbed 0.2 miles to a saddle.
The summit to the left with Mt. Adams in the distance.
Mt. Hood to the right at the saddle.
We headed for the summit to start and met a couple with a cute puppy named Hazel, the same name as our cat that we’d lost a year ago nearly to the day (post). The puppy even shared similar colored fur to our Hazel’s.
The view from the summit was a good one on this day. The clouds were low enough that we could see all five of the Cascade volcanoes: St. Helens, Rainier, Adams, Hood and Jefferson.
Mt. St. Helens, Mt. Rainier, and Mt. Adams.
Goat Rocks (between Mt. Rainier and Mt. Adams)
Mt. Hood and Mt. Jefferson
Mt. Jefferson. If you enlarge and look closely you can also make out Three Fingered Jack and the North Sister to the far right.
Wildflowers at the summit.
Bug at the summit.
After a nice break at the summit we dropped back down to the saddle then climbed to the southern high point just to say we did.
Point 3977 is the the island surrounded by clouds.
There was a lot of butterfly action here.
After tagging the southern point we headed back the way we’d come.
The only beargrass bloom we saw all day.
As we were passing below Silver Star we kept our eyes out for our favorite trail animals, pikas. We’d heard a few from the summit and we were rewarded with spotting one of the little rock rabbits in a talus slope.
The talus slope.
Pikas are not easy to spot.
As always we kept our eyes out for other things we’d missed on the first pass.
Making the steep climb back up to Point 3977.
We did wind up making the short climb to the top of Point 3977 even though the clouds had risen enough to effectively block most of the views.
Looking toward Mt. St. Helens and Mt. Rainier.
Looking toward Silver Star.
The views weren’t great but the wildflowers were.
Possibly a Native American vision quest pit.
Bluebells of Scotland with at least three visible insects.
Some bright paintbrush.
A brief appearance by Silver Star’s summit.
After a short break on Point 3977 we began the relentless descent to Copper Creek. The long steep descent was not a friend to the knees but we managed to make it down in one piece. Just before reaching the bridge we passed just the second hiker on the Starway Trail for the day.
A little blue sky in the afternoon.
We walked back up FR 4107 to our car and began the tedious drive back down FR 41 and made our way safely home.
Salmonberries along FR 4107. I may have eaten a few as well as some red huckleberries along the lower portion of the Starway Trail.
Both of those berry types are too sour for Heather who prefers thimbleberries but alas those were only beginning to show signs of ripening.
Looking back at the hillside the Starway Trail climbs from FR 4107.
In my research I’ve seen several different distances listed for this hike. In Reeder’s book he lists the hike to Silver Star as 10.2 miles. Our GPS units recorded 11 miles though. Some of that may be due to going to both ends of Silver Star and some additional distance may be due to the newer switchbacks (assuming they really are new). Regardless of the actual distance I think everyone agrees that the total elevation gain is right around 4200′.
I’m not sure we could have asked for a better day to do this hike on. We got some big views and lots of wildflowers while the temperature remained mild thanks to the low clouds and we saw our first pika of the year. I don’t know that either one of us would ever want to try that drive again but the hike itself was worth the effort. Happy Trails!
After a wet and mild Spring, Summer announced its arrival with our fist 90-degree temperatures just in time for the weekend. When it gets that warm we typically turn to the mountains for relief but that’s a little trickier this year due to there being quite a bit of snow still up in the Cascades. Even some of the lower elevation mountains are still in the process of melting out. For instance our original plan for this hike had been to visit Silver Star Mountain (post) via the Starway Trail, an approach that we haven’t done yet. While this mountain is accessible recent reports showed several remaining snowdrifts but more importantly the wildflower show is running late. To decide where to go I turned to my spreadsheet looking for hikes that I had scheduled in coming years around the end of June. Goat Marsh Lake was on the schedule for next year and while the Goat Marsh Research Natural Area is located with the Mt. St. Helens National Volcanic Monument. It sits at a low enough elevation that there was a chance that snow wouldn’t be an issue. Using NOAA’s NOHRSC snow depth layer on the PCTA’s interactive map confirmed that snow shouldn’t be an issue at the lake or along the loop we were planning after visiting the lake using the Kalama Ski and Toutle Trails. With a forecast high of 78 degrees it would be warm but not unbearable so with that as our plan we got an early start and headed north to the Goat Marsh Lake Trailhead.
We parked a little up FR 8123 from the trailhead and walked back down to the start of the trail.
This was the Kalama Ski Trail (Trail 231) and part of the loop we were planning as well as the way to reach the Goat Marsh Trail in a quarter mile.
We followed this path to the junction where we turned right to visit the lake.
It appeared the trail had been rerouted at least a couple of times to cross this dry creek bed.
This trail led slightly uphill for 0.5 mile to our first view of the lake. Along the way we’d spotted a cow elk in the trees but she disappeared before we could take a picture.
Fence at the boundary for the Research Area.
Goat Mountain and Goat Marsh Lake.
The trail continued around the lake for a little over three quarters of a mile. We spotted two more cow elk and moments later noticed a whole heard, including several calves, further to the north.
Mt. St. Helens
Frog on a log.
The two cow elk in the middle of the grassy area.
Calves lined up, this one is a bit blurry due to them moving and the amount of zoom used.
The elk herd not zoomed in.
After watching the elk for a while we continued on.
Mt. St. Helens
Frog under a log.
Sign near the end of the trail.
At the end of the trail.
Duck and ducklings
Geese out in the grass.
We returned to the trailhead and crossed FR 8123 to stay on the Kamala Ski Trail.
The road crossing.
We had a little trouble picking up the trail beyond the sign because there was also a campsite here with several use trails radiating from it. We used our GPS while we looked for the blue diamonds that would identify a ski trail. Heather was the first to spot one and we were soon on the ski trail heading toward Mt. St. Helens.
In the campsite trying to decide which way to go.
Once we found it the trail was pretty obvious, at least for a while.
Approximately three quarters of a mile from the road we came to a junction with the Blue Lake Horse Trail. The horse trail can be used to reach Blue Lake (post) to the north via the Toutle Trail or the same Toutle Trail to the south near the Kalama River (post) which we could have done here to shorten our loop. Instead we stayed straight on the ski trail.
We had remarked several times during our Ashland vacation about the lack of mosquitos, and really insects overall, but that was not the case here. While they weren’t a big issue it was noticeably buggier here than it had been in Southern Oregon. The local birds were busy doing their part to reduce the number of bugs.
Gray jay with a snack.
Western tanager. Right after this photo he flew straight at us snatching an insect out of mid-air.
Four tenths a mile from the horse trail the ski trail made a turn away from the mountain and headed SE.
The trail became a little more overgrown then came to a series of dry creek beds where we again had to hunt for signs of the trail.
Butte Camp Dome in front of Mt. St. Helens.
Crossing another dry bed.
Where is the trail?
In one of the creek beds. We were using the GPS along with looking for cairns and/or flagging.
You can’t really make them out in the photo but there is a pink flag and a blue diamond (on a downed tree) near the edge of the green trees.
We were now entering the section of trail that the NOHRSC indicated there could be some lingering snow patches.
There was another short brushy section before the forest opened up.
One of the strangest snow sightings we’ve come across.
My theory was bigfoot hung this.
The NOHRSC estimated 2″-3.9″ of snow and that seemed to be about right.
Unlike in the Siskiyous this melting snow had produced a fair number of mosquitos so we hustled through this section even though it was scenic.
We encountered the first other hikers we’d seen when we arrived at the junction with the Toutle Trail (Approx 3 miles from the Goat Marsh Lake Trailhead). The junction was unsigned and they were considering which way to go to find the Loowit Trail. We pointed them north (left from the direction we were coming, straight for them) on the Toutle Trail and then turned south (right) ourselves onto the Toutle.
Looking back at the junction from the Toutle Trail. The post with no sign is the continuation of the Toutle while the trail on the left is the ski trail.
We followed this trail south for half a mile passing through a beargrass meadow that appears to have bloomed heavily last year and a lava flow with excellent views of Mt. St. Helens before dropping to FR 81 at the Red Rock Pass Trailhead.
Last years beargrass.
FR 81 below the trail.
Trail sign at the trailhead.
We crossed FR 81 and continued on the Toutle Trail.
After 100 yards we came to a familiar fork where we had turned uphill in 2019 on our Cinnamon Ridge Hike linked above.
We were going in the opposite direction of what we’d done in 2019. Bugs were a bit more of a nuisance here so we kept a steady pace as we made a little climb then descended to McBride Lake and the Kalama River.
One of several side creeks we crossed.
Goat Mountain beyond McBride Lake.
A little west of McBride Lake the Toutle Trail crosses the Kalama River on a closed road bed.
Kalama River from the road bed.
Our original plan was blown up here. We had intended to follow the Toutle Trail to the start of the Kalama Ski Trail and then take that trail back uphill to the Goat Marsh Lake Trailhead. The problem was I had already forgotten about the Blue Lake Horse Trail and when I had glanced at the GPS and saw a trail extending north from the end of the road bed I mistook it for the ski trail so we followed the road bed a quarter mile to FR 81. (We had a paper map with us but didn’t pull it out to confirm.)
The Blue Lake Horse Trail on the far side of FR 81.
When we crossed FR 81, two things that should have tipped us off to our mistake. First the sign clearly said “Blue Horse Trail” and second instead of blue diamonds there were orange diamonds with arrows marking this trail.
The sign did show FR 8123 which was the road the trailhead was on so that fed into us not realizing our mistake at first.
We followed this trail for a third of a mile before we realized what we’d done. We stopped and considered our options. We could back track three quarters of a mile to the Toutle Trail or a third of a mile to FR 81 and follow one of them west to the ski trail. Another option was to continue uphill on this trail to the junction we’d passed earlier and retrace our steps on the ski trail from there back to the trailhead. All of those options meant adding distance and retracing steps. Heather suggested another option, simply heading cross-country for FR 8123 and the trailhead.
An orange diamond on a tree ahead.
The forest was definitely conducive to cross-country travel so we struck off in a WNW direction. The cross-country hike was about as easy as we could have hoped for and after 0.7 miles we arrived a FR 8123 just 0.2 miles from our car.
Where we left the horse trail.
Typical terrain for the cross-country walk.
It seems like every time we go off-trail we come across a mylar balloon. We’ve really come to despise those things. We packed it and the ribbon out.
The trickiest part was crossing this dry stream bed but we fortunately came to it at a spot that was perfect for crossing.
Coming up to the Goat Marsh Lake Trailhead (and our car) on FR 8123.
I had estimated a 10-12 mile hike with only about 800′ of total elevation gain and we came in at 10.8 miles.
While it had been a warm day, the combination of shade provided by the forest and a fairly steady breeze, it hadn’t been too hot. The hike had provided a lot of diverse scenery and great views of Mt. St. Helens. The wildlife was a big bonus along the Goat Marsh Trail too. It seems like we can always count on hikes in Mt. St. Helens area to be great ones. Happy Trails!
Another rainy weekend was in the forecast which had us questioning whether or not it was worth heading out. Our original plan had involved a hike with mountain views so we wanted to save that for a day with a clearer forecast. This had us looking for something that wasn’t view dependent. The Julia Butler Hansen Refuge a.k.a the Columbian White-Tailed Deer Refuge fit that bill and was on our schedule during the month of June in 2025. I had it penciled in for June due to one of the trails in the refuge, the Center Road Trail, only being open to hiking from June through September. While a refuge hike is typically okay on a rainy overcast day it had poured Friday and we were expecting Saturday to be similar and weren’t keen on driving over two hours to be drenched for an entire 12 mile hike. Friday evening we had all but decided to take the weekend off but just to be sure I pulled up the NOAA forecast for the refuge. To our surprise there was just a 10% chance of showers in the morning followed by partly sunny skies and a high in the low 60s. That sold us and we got our packs ready for a 5am departure the next morning.
After a brief conversation with a very friendly Washington State Trooper (I completely missed a 45mph sign and was given a warning) we pulled into the refuge HQ (open Mon-Fri 7:30am – 4pm). We had gotten the hike for this idea from the “more hikes” section of Sullivan’s “100 Hikes/Travel Guide Oregon Coast & Coast Range” guidebook as well as an entry in the Oregon Hikers Field Guide describes a 6.1 mile loop, which for reasons that will become evident later, is no longer possible. (I have contacted both with updated information.)
A damp and cloudy morning.
Our plan had been to to the described loop but after reaching the far end of the loop we were going to do an out-and-back along Steamboat and Brooks Slough Roads to add a little hiking time since a six mile loop would likely violate our rule of not having our driving time be greater than our hiking time on day trips. From the HQ we walked out of the parking lot onto Steamboat Slough Road and turned right crossing Indian Jack Slough. The loop description was to then turn right through a gate into the refuge shed/garage yard.
Indian Jack Slough and the garage from Refuge HQ.
The gate, including a secondary pedestrian gate were padlocked and there were “Area Closed” signs on the driveway gate. This was a bit unexpected, but shouldn’t have been if we’d have read the Refuge website more closely. What we discovered after our hike was that at some point a 0.3 section of Center Road, from Steamboat Slough Road west, had been closed to the public making the loop impossible and leaving the Center Road Trail as a 5 mile round trip out-and-back. At this point though we weren’t sure what was going on so we decided to simply head out Steamboat Slough Road and were prepared to skip Center Road and make the hike a simple out-and-back.
Beyond the shed/garage there was a living quarters and just beyond that we spotted the first Columbian White-tailed deer of the day.
We followed this road for 2.3 miles to the start of the White-tail Trail. It is possible to drive to this trail and park at the nearby dead end of Steamboat Slough Road.
The first of many bald eagles we spotted (atop the dead tree across the slough).
Working on drying out.
Lots of non-native yellow flag iris in the area.
Little birds such as this sparrow were everywhere but rarely sat still.
A different eagle waiting to dry.
There are at least 5 birds in the tree including four goldfinches.
A male goldfinch takes off.
The morning clouds were starting to break up as forecasted.
One of many great blue herons.
A male wood duck.
Another great blue heron with the female wood duck on the log below.
The first of several osprey.
Cattle in a field along the road.
Snail crossing the road.
Maybe a yellow warbler. I had to use the digital zoom to get between the branches so it’s not the clearest photo.
The start of the mile long White-tail trail which travels along a setback levee.
There was a pole with a bunch of bird nests hung from it near the start of the trail. We’d never seen one like it before.
It turned out to be nests for purple martins, a bird that as far as we know we hadn’t seen before.
Bald eagle in the same area.
Slug on lupine
A different type of lupine.
Lupine, daisies and yellow gland-weed.
Bumble bee needing to dry out.
We spotted more white-tailed deer along the levee, a pair of young bucks.
A look at the white tail. He gave us a better look but in that one he was also doing his business so we stuck with this uncentered, slightly blurry version.
There was also a great blue heron sitting in a nearby snag.
While we were keeping an eye on the bucks and the heron to the inland side of the levee there were geese, ducks, and various small birds all around us.
Guessing marsh wren.
Goose with goslings.
Common yellow throat.
We eventually tore ourselves away from the wildlife bonanza and continued on.
There was pretty much non-stop bird song throughout the day.
Traffic on the Columbia River.
The Santa Maria on the Columbia.
Female brown-headed cowbird?
Flowers along the levee.
Red-winged blackbird chasing a heron.
When we reached the end of the White-tail Trail we turned right onto Steamboat Slough Road. You can also park near this end of the trail but you must come from the west as Steamboat Slough Road is missing a section (which is why you hike on the levee).
We followed this two-lane version of the road for approximately 1.25 miles to a fork and turned right on Brooks Slough Road. After just 0.2 miles we passed the western end of the Center Road Trail. This end was clearly open. We talked ourselves into believing that either we missed where we were actually supposed to go or that they just hadn’t unlocked the gate yet since we were still unaware of the updated rules for the trail and decided that we would take this trail on our way back and we could do the loop after all.
Note the sign does not indicate that you cannot reach the HQ from the road, it simply says it is 5 miles round trip. Online it adds that hikers must exit the trail the way they entered.
Roses along the road.
Brooks Slough Road junction.
We turned right and followed this narrow one-lane road along Brooks Slough. For the first mile it ran parallel to Highway 4 then it veered away becoming a quieter walk.
Another eagle sitting near the top of the first tall tree on the far side of the slough.
Interesting shrub along the road.
The partly sunny skies had indeed materialized.
California scrub jay
Some sort of ornamental shrub/tree but it had cool flowers.
Couldn’t tell what type of ducks they were.
We followed the road for approximately 2 miles to what was shown on the GPS as Alger Creek.
Alger Creek somewhere in the grass flowing into Brooks Slough.
Pond on the other side of the road.
After a short break we headed back. It was actually starting to feel warm now but we distracted ourselves with even more wildlife.
Cedar waxwing with a salmonberry.
Goat lounging in a driveway across the highway. There had actually been a black goat in nearly the same spot on our first pass.
When we got back to Center Road we reread the signage and stuck to our plan to try and complete the loop.
We had been discussing all the different wildlife that we’d seen already and I mentioned that the only thing missing was a turtle. Not long after starting down Center Road I noticed something brown (that didn’t look like a cow) in the distance near the tree line. As I was staring at it a large set of antlers raised from the grass and I realized it was a bull elk.
The elk is in the center of the photo near the tree line.
We watched him as he munched on grass for quite a while before moving on. At that point I said something to the effect of forgetting about the turtle because that was better. It wasn’t too much longer before we came to some more wetlands. Lo and behold there was a turtle.
Many pictures followed before resuming our hike.
Heather spotted a pair of egrets in a distant tree which proved impossible to get a decent picture of.
Here is a not so decent picture of the egrets.
We also startled up a pair of American bitterns.
One of the bitterns in flight.
After 2 miles we spotted a set of posts with signs where we finally understood that the Center Road Trail no longer runs the entire length of the roadbed now.
We were less than half a mile from the HQ which was visible from where we were but we obeyed the signs and turned around. It would have been about a perfect distance for us as we were at the 12.1 mile mark when we had gotten to the closed area. Now we had to backtrack two miles on Center Road before the mile long White-tail Trail and the 2.3 mile road walk back to the HQ parking lot. Not only was this a lot longer than we’d planned but the surface had been mostly paved and what wasn’t paved was packed gravel road beds so our feet were really protesting as we retraced our steps.
Heather spotted this garter snake along Center Road. Another animal to add to the days list.
Back at the White-tail Trail.
It had cooled down again which provided some relief as we trudged back.
A second turtle
Way more water in the afternoon.
Another kingfisher. It was in the same tree as the heron had been earlier that morning when we were watching the bucks.
By Steamboat Slough Road we had all kinds of blisters/hotspots on our feet.
Arriving back at the refuge HQ.
I got to the car first, changed shoes and drove back to pick up Heather who was only about a quarter mile behind me. My GPS read 17.5 miles of almost entirely flat hiking.
Fortunately I had thought to bring my parents camera which has more powerful zoom than my point and shoot and also our binoculars which Heather had been using since there was so much wildlife to be seen. We encountered a couple of other hikers on the White-tail Trail as well as a pair of cyclists and several cars along the various roads but for the most part it was a fairly peaceful (long) hike. The one thing we kept coming back to was that if we hadn’t done the hike the we did we wouldn’t have seen some of the wildlife that we encountered. Was it worth the blisters though? You betcha – Happy Trails!
After our extended Memorial Day weekend of hiking in the Medford area we were looking forward to a poison oak free outing. While we didn’t come away from that trip with any physical repercussions from the plant it had gotten into our heads to the point where we were seeing it when we closed our eyes. As I said before I’m sure after a while people just get used to it but we weren’t anywhere near that point yet and while it is present in the Willamette Valley and parts of the Columbia Gorge it isn’t as abundant. On our schedule for this hike was a visit to Black Hole Falls along North Siouxon Creek. This was good timing as the forecast for the weekend was for rain showers which, barring heavy fog, wouldn’t negatively affect our experience here. Black Hole Falls is a hike featured in Matt Reeder’s “Off the Beaten Trail” 2nd edition guidebook which as the title suggests contains 55 (50 featured and 5 bonus) hikes that don’t usually see a lot of visitors. In most cases it isn’t because of poor road or trail conditions but there are more popular destinations nearby causing these hikes to be overlooked. In the case of Black Hole Falls the drive wasn’t the greatest but it also was nowhere near the worst we’d been on but it is also near the much more popular hike at Siouxon Creek (post). Note that the 2020 Big Hollow Fire affected the Siouxon Creek area (it didn’t reach North Siouxon Creek) which was reopened in August 2021.
We followed the Oregon Hikers Field Guide directions to the North Siouxon Trailhead which were also the direction provided by Google Maps as Reeder’s directions were no longer appeared accurate. (We don’t independently trust Google Maps as it sometimes tries to send you on roads that in no way shape or form appear passable.)
The trail departing from this trailhead is actually the Mitchell Peak Trail which leads to the summit of Mount Mitchell (post) but that destination is over 9 miles away with the upper portion of the trail being unmaintained. The trail drops steeply for approximately 200′ from the trailhead before leveling out. The remainder of the hike was a series of ups and downs, none of which were too long nor too steep. There were a number of creek crossings some of which had footbridges (sometimes makeshift) or logs to cross on. Given the wet conditions we chose to ford a couple of the creeks instead of risking slipping off of a slick log. A reroute of the trail at mile 3.5 dropped below a pair of cascades where the previous tread had been washed out. At the 4.5 mile mark the trail forks with the right hand fork leading a quarter mile downhill to Black Hole Falls.
Dropping into the forest.
The forest along the trail was just what we’d needed with a lush green (poison oak free) under story where woodland wildflowers and mushrooms thrived. With no confusing junctions and very little blowdown along the trail we were able to fully relax and take in the surroundings.
Quite a few snails and slugs along the trail.
Some of the logs had had tiles and ropes placed on them to help avoid slipping.
Surprisingly this was the only rough-skinned newt we spotted all day.
There were some huge nursery logs in the forest here.
A good example of a makeshift crossing.
Most of the flowers were white or pale pink but this salmonberry blossom added a splash of bright color.
A side trail near the 1.75 mile mark led down to a campsite near North Siouxon Creek.
This was an interesting log/bridge.
Millipedes were everywhere but this one was a color we hadn’t seen before.
These were the ones we were seeing all over.
The dismount was a little awkward but doable.
Star-flowered solmonseal catching a moment of sunlight.
False lily of the valley
Moss and lichens
Small fall along the trail.
Did I mention millipedes were everywhere?
Another creek crossing.
The trail reroute at the 3.5 mile mark.
This was one of the log crossings that looked too slick and high to warrant an attempt so we forded here. The water was ankle deep and we crossed easily.
We forded just above the larger rocks in the middle of the creek.
The lower of the two cascades.
After fording the trail climbed up hill alongside a large tree that had fallen directly in the middle of the reroute. The presence of this tree didn’t cause too much trouble although it was wide enough that you could clamber over it except for near it’s top. I had wound up on the wrong side so I took the opportunity to follow the original trail to the old crossing before climbing up and around the root ball of the tree to rejoin Heather on the trail.
The upper cascade.
Looking across the old crossing you can see where some of the hillside was washed out.
Looking back at the trail from the creek. The large downed tree was the one that was too wide to climb over.
Most of the downed trees were like this although there was one that required ducking pretty low.
We could hear the songs of wrens throughout the hike but only caught flitting glimpses of the little singers.
Two of the footbridges were in a state like this. It held but we had to watch our step to not only avoid the holes but also the millipedes.
This was another ford/rock hop. There was a log serving as the bridge but it also looked slick. The rope in the picture was connected to the log and I almost didn’t see it (both times by).
Deep pool near the crossing.
A post marked the side trail down to Black Hole Falls.
We turned right and descended to Black Hole Falls which did not disappoint.
First view through the trees.
The pool was a beautiful green.
More cascades and clear pools were located downstream.
Heather taking in the view.
Since I was already wet from the fords I waded out in the calf deep creek to get a different angle.
In addition to the beautiful waterfall and creek there was a unique feature in the basalt to the left of the falls that looked to us like a head with a wide open mouth.
We stayed at the falls for a while before heading back. The forest was just as pretty on the return trip as it was on the way to falls. A light rain finally began to fall in the final mile or two of the hike which felt nice by then.
The right fork heading on toward Mount Mitchell.
A really long nursery log spanning across this whole depression.
The only trillium that still had its petals.
It looked like someone took a slice of this mushroom.
There weren’t too many views of North Siouxon Creek from the trail but this was a nice one.
With some wandering down and along the creek and at the falls our day came in at 10.6 miles and approximately 2400′ of cumulative elevation gain.
The hike had lived up to being referred to as off the beaten trail as we didn’t encounter another hiker all day. We did have a pickup drive by while we were changing back at the car after our hike but it appeared to be someone from one of the logging companies checking the area. We had passed signs for active logging operations and saw equipment on the drive in. This turned out to be an excellent hike from start to finish and one that we will be keeping in mind to revisit in the future. Happy Trails!
We have spent much of our hiking “off-season” addressing long overdue house projects including replacing siding, windows, floors, and now countertops. Hopefully the projects will be done shortly after our official hiking season starts. In the meantime we welcomed the start of a new month with an outing to Lyle, WA for hikes on a pair of trails along the Klickitat River. Our first stop, on the west side of the river, was at the Balfour-Klickitat Trail. The site of a former ranch this day-use area includes a short interpretive loop, picnic tables, and a wildlife viewing path.
Rowena Plateau and Tom McCall Point (post) on the Oregon side of the Columbia River
We headed counter-clockwise on the loop which provided views of the Columbia River and across the Klickitat to Lyle.
The trail then turned inland along the Klickitat where a noisy group of domestic geese drew our attention to a pair of common mergansers and great blue heron.
A blurry heron along the river.
We spotted a number of smaller birds in the bushes and trees as we made our way around the loop. We also took a quick detour downhill to a picnic table overlooking the river.
View from the picnic table.
A short time after returning to the loop we came to a sign for the Wildlife Viewing Area near a bench where we made another short detour.
This trail was not paved.
View from a bench at the end of the trail.
Mallards on the water below.
After checking out the wildlife viewing area we completed the 0.75 mile loop which brought our stop here to a total of 1.3 miles. We hopped in our car and drove across the river on Hwy 14 to the Lyle Trailhead. Here the 31-mile long Klickitat Trail begins. This Washington State Park trail follows the historic rail bed of the Spokane, Portland, Seattle Railway (SP&S). A 3 mile section of the trail north of Klickitat, WA is currently unhikeable due to a missing bridge over the Klickitat River effectively splitting the trail southern and northern sections of 13 and 15 miles respectively. We hiked 3.8 miles along the end of the northern section from Harms Road in 2014 (post).
Starting at mile 0.
The trail starts by passing some private homes in Lyle but soon provides views down to the Klickitat River. Across the river we spotted a number of deer working their across the hillside and a bald eagle surveying the river below.
Keep your eyes out for poison oak which was prevalent along the trail. Luckily the trail is nice and wide so avoiding it was easy enough.
Heather spotted these three deer across the river.
Another group of deer.
We had chosen this hike based on Matt Reeder’s entry in his “PDX Hiking 365” guidebook where he recommends a late March visit for wildflowers. We kept our eyes out for flowers as we went and were not disappointed.
Larkspur and woodland-stars
Pacific hound’s tongue
At the 1.7 mile mark we crossed the river on a Fisher Hill Bridge. The view was great and included a series of small cascades on Silvas Creek.
We continued north on the trail passing some nice views of the river which were briefly ruined by the smell of rotting flesh (fish?) which brought back memories of the decomposing whale we passed several years ago on our Floras Lake Hike (post).
At mile two we passed the Lyle Falls Facility which is a fish monitoring station.
Beyond the fish facility the gap between the trail and the river closed and the views become even prettier.
Seasonal pool along the trail.
The only mountain view of the day was along this stretch with Mt. Hood making an appearance to the south.
A short distance upstream we passed a screw trap, an instrument used to trap and count young fish.
We continued upriver until we reached milepost 6 where we called it good and turned around. I had gotten myself confused by misreading Reeder’s hike description and thought that there was another bridge around the 5 mile mark and had originally planned to turn around at that but since it didn’t exist (and we didn’t realize that until after passing MP 5) we made MP 6 the turnaround marker.
Columbia desert parsley
A balsamroot amid pungent desert parsley
Big-leaf maple trees lining the trail.
Big-leaf maple blossoms
Larkspur, poison oak, and buttercups
After turning around we took a brief break on a rocky beach near MP6.
On our way back it had warmed enough for the butterflies (and moths) to come out and we watched for them along with anything we’d missed on our first pass.
Couldn’t get a good look at this small moth but it was pretty.
Immature bald eagle
Propertius duskywing – Erynnis propertius
The mergansers had moved to the near bank.
Hood behind some clouds.
View from the Fisher Hill Bridge in the afternoon.
Arriving back at the Lyle Trailhead.
Some backtracking and detours brought our hike to a little over 12.5 miles here giving us close to 14 miles on the day with only a couple of hundred feet of elevation gain.
Rattlesnakes and ticks are present in the area but we encountered neither on this day. It was a nice break from the projects at home and a good way to end our off-season. Happy Trails!
For Labor Day we headed back up to Washington where we’d been able to mostly avoid smoke from the numerous wildfires in the West. We’d spent the day before in the Indian Heaven Wilderness (post) and today we were returning to the Trapper Creek Wilderness for the first time since 2013 (post). The wilderness areas are just eight miles apart, separated by the Wind River Highway (and Wind River).
Our planned hike for the day was inspired by a featured hike in Sullivan’s 5th edition of his “100 Hikes/Travel Guide Northwest Oregon & Southwest Washington” book. While Sullivan describes two options for hike #34, Trapper Creek, both were a bit short for us after the 2 hour drive to reach the closest trailhead. His first option is a 3.8 mile out and back to what he calls the “Grove of Giants”, a stand of old growth cedar trees starting at the Trapper Creek Trailhead. His second option (beginning at a different trailhead) is a 5 mile out and back to visit Soda Peaks Lake. Our plan was to park at the Trapper Creek Trailhead and do an out and back hike passing the Grove of Giants, then continuing on the Soda Peaks Lake Trail to Soda Peaks Lake and beyond to a viewpoint on the rim above the lake.
The Trapper Creek Trail started out nearly level which made for a nice warm up before climbing.
Not far from the trailhead the unsigned Dry Creek Trail joined from the right.
Warning sign for burned trees due to the 2020 Big Hollow Fire (there’s that four letter “F” word again). The wilderness had been closed most of the year due to that fire (and some bad winter storms) and was only reopened in August.
The trail climbed gradually along a hillside above Trapper Creek for three quarters of a mile to a 4-way junction with the Observation Trail which we had been on in 2013.
The Observation Trail.
We stayed straight on the Trapper Creek Trail here.
For the next three quarters of a mile the trail gradually descended to a unnamed creek crossing.
On the far side of the creek we turned left onto the Soda Peaks Lake Trail.
We followed the creek downhill ignoring a side trail joining from the left and came to a footbridge over Trapper Creek.
Sign at the jct with the side trail joining from some private cabins.
The trail then passed through a stand of alder before turning left and reaching the Grove of Giants just under half a mile from the Trapper Creek Trail.
One of the big trees was down.
At the grove the trail made a sharp right turn and began an arduous three mile climb gaining over 2300′ of elevation.
Lousewort was just about the only flowers left blooming along the trail.
Observation Peak from the trail.
There were three short stretches in saddles where the trail briefly leveled out giving us a respite from the climb.
Fungus amid some bark.
Big rock outcrop along the trail.
Mountain ash changing into its Fall colors.
Mt. Hood from the trail.
Red bunchberries and a blue berry from a queen’s cup.
Mt. St. Helens from the trail.
Mt. St. Helens
The only real obstacle came about a quarter of a mile from the lake where a large tree trunk blocked the trail. It was too wide to step over and at too steep an angle to climb over.
The only option was to climb steeply uphill to pass around the top of it.
Mt. Adams from the trail.
Almost to the lake which was busy with folks that most likely took the shorter route in.
Day use area at Soda Peaks Lake.
I don’t think we’d seen anyone all morning on the trails so the barking dogs and yelling people (maybe they were just talking loud but I wasn’t used to hearing voices) were enough encouragement to move on after a short break. The rim viewpoint that we planned to make our turnaround point was another 1.1 miles and 600′ of climbing away. The trail immediately climbed away from the lake from the day use area.
It then curved around the north side of the lake passing through several rock fields where we heard a few pikas but were not able to spot any.
Not a pika, but it was a cute chipmunk.
After some gradual climbing the trail got serious and switchbacked steeply to the rim where it turned right following it for 0.2 miles to the viewpoint.
The Goat Rocks with a smoke plume rising behind them to the north.
Mt. Adams with Soda Peaks Lake in the trees below. The row of peaks in between Mt. Adams and the lake is the Indian Heaven Wilderness.
The Red Mountain lookout where we’d been the day before.
There were more people coming down the trail headed for the lake. After a moment admiring the view and catching our breath we also headed back down. We stopped again briefly at the lake then said our goodbyes.
It was a long descent and our knees were happier once we were back on the Trapper Creek Trail. Heather also suffered a yellow jacket sting on her calf on the way down which wasn’t a nice surprise.
Mt. Hood and some vine maples.
This stellar’s jay almost hit Heather in the head.
Back on level ground.
The hike wound up being 12.5 miles with 3800′ of elevation gain. It was in the 80’s when we arrived back at the trailhead and the heat just made the hike a little harder. Nevertheless it was an enjoyable day in the Trapper Creek Wilderness. Happy Trails!
The horrible wildfire season finally thwarted one of our planned trips when California announced that all National Forests would be closed over Labor Day Weekend (and at least through September 17th). This was at least the third year in a row we had a backpacking trip in the Siskiyou Wilderness planned but either fire or weather has kept those plans from happening each time. Much like last September many of the areas that aren’t on fire are suffering from unhealthy air quality due to the smoke so our options were limited. (How I miss the days of rain being the driving factor on where we were going to hike.) One of the areas that has been less impacted by the smoke has been SW Washington and so we turned to that area once again for a pair of hikes over the holiday weekend. We skipped Saturday as smoke was an issue pretty much everywhere save for the Coast and Coast Range and waited for the next system to push the smoke east (sorry Central Oregon).
For our hike on Sunday we turned to Matt Reeder’s “Off the Beaten Trail” 2nd edition. In his Indian Racetrack and Red Mountain description (hike #15) Reeder describes an alternate loop using the unmaintained Basin Lakes Trail and the Pacific Crest Trail as an alternate to the 7.4 mile out and back that he suggests. We’d been to Indian Racetrack and Red Mountain as part of a diffent loop (post) so this other loop sounded more interesting than the out and back. We figured if the old Basin Lakes Trail was too hard to follow we could simply turn back and still do the out and back as described since it was only 2 miles to the basin then an additional mile up to the Pacific Crest Trail. We started our hike at the Falls Creek Horse Camp. The Falls Creek Trail heads southwest from the horse camp descending to Falls Creek Falls.
The trail we wanted, the Indian Racetrack Trail, began on the opposite side of Forest Road 65.
There were no signs for the obvious trail.
Once we were on the trail we ignored an unsigned side trail on the right which presumably led down to Falls Creek.
Approximately 0.2 miles from FR 65 a second trail joined from the left at a wilderness signboard.
Approximately 120 yards beyond the signboard we arrived at an unsigned fork.
The Indian Racetrack Trail continued to the right while the abandoned Basin Lake Trail veered left. While the Forest Service no longer maintains the trail (or even lists it on their website) the tread was obvious and based on the number of road apples on the ground it is used fairly regularly by equestrians.
A half a mile up this trail we came to a small meadow where a couple of hikers were camped.
They warned us that where were quite a few trees down the closer you got to the Basin Lakes but that didn’t dissuade us and we continued on. The trees weren’t much of an issue and in most cases clear paths simply went around them.
We crossed a branch of Falls Creek just under a mile along the trail.
The tread continued to be fairly easy to follow for another half mile and then it vanished, at least from our sight, near a gully.
After a few minutes of hunting for it (which included crossing and recrossing the gully) we decided to simply follow the tallest ridge in the direction of the lakes using our GPS and Reeder’s map. A quarter mile later we were looking down at Peggy Lake on our left.
We stayed on the ridge above Peggy Lake and turned on the far end made a hard right toward Janet Lake.
Typical vegetation and trees on the ridge.
We rediscovered tread as we dropped to a saddle near Janet Lake.
Sign at the saddle between Peggy and Janet Lakes.
We did walk down to the bank of Janet Lake to admire its reflection.
From Janet Lake it was another 0.1 miles to an unnamed (at least officially) Basin Lake, sometimes on tread and sometimes not.
I believe Oregon Hikers calls this one “Cindy Lake”.
We passed another lake on our left a quarter mile later.
That was followed by what appeared to be a mostly dry lake bed on the right, now filled with green grass.
We were now at the eastern end of the basin facing a steep climb up to the Pacific Crest Trail. We needed to gain almost 500′ to reach that trail and at the moment we weren’t sure if there was any tread to follow up.
We scanned the hillside but couldn’t pick anything out so we put our route finding hats on and identified a small saddle where it looked like a trail would go and headed for it. As we approached we stumbled on tread.
The small saddle we’d been aiming for.
From there we were able to follow a faint path up and out of the basin.
Heather down to the right between a couple of trees.
Me getting close to the top.
The top of the ridge.
The Pacific Crest Trail runs right along the ridge (despite where it’s shown on Google Maps) and passes over the top of Berry Mountain to the south. After catching our breath we turned right and headed toward Berry Mountain and yet more climbing.
Fortunately it was the PCT so the climb was relatively gradual as it switchbacked up 170′ in 0.4 miles.
At a switchback a bit below the summit we were treated to a spectacular view of Mt. Hood.
Mt. Jefferson was also visible to the right of Mt. Hood. Unfortunately so was the smoke being produced by the Bull Complex Fire which destroyed the historic Bull of the Woods Lookout (post) on Labor Day 😦 .
Autumn is on the way, bring on the rain please.
The PCT stuck to the long summit which would have also provided good views of Mt. Adams and Mt. St. Helens on a clearer day.
Looking toward Mt. St. Helens
The peaks in the Trapper Creek Wilderness (post) to the west.
We finally began to descend from Berry Mountain and after 3 miles on the PCT arrived at a signed junction for the Indian Racetrack Shortcut Trail.
Cliffs on Berry Mountain
Mt. Hood as we headed downhill.
Red Mountain and its lookout tower.
This beargrass is way off schedule.
On our previous hike we’d arrived at this junction from the other direction so when we turned right we one a somewhat familiar trail. After a brief stint in the forest the trail entered larger and larger meadows.
After a half mile we arrived at the Indian Racetrack Trail arriving on our right.
This would be the route back to our car but first we wanted to revisit the lookout on Red Mountain so we continued straight for approximately 50 yards and turned left at a pointer for the Indian Racetrack Trail.
We followed the trail 0.8 miles to a road and then followed the road another quarter mile to the lookout gaining a total of 700′ along the way.
Mt. Adams from a viewpoint along the way.
We passed two sets of hikers on their way down, the second of which mentioned having accidentally driven to the lookout. Apparently someone had vandalized the gate which allowed vehicles to drive up the road. Hopefully the Forest Service can get that remedied quickly as Google still shows the Indian Racetrack Trailhead on Red Mountain.
Not sure if someone forced the door open too or not.
View of Mt. Adams beyond Indian Heaven.
Photo taken from the doorway, it looked like nothing had been vandalized.
Mt. St. Helens still hiding behind that line of clouds.
We took a long enough break at the summit to get to a brief glimpse of Mt. St. Helens summit.
Mt. Adams with a few clouds passing by.
Mt. Hood with smoke from the Bull Complex behind.
We headed back down the Indian Racetrack Trail to Indian Racetrack and then continued on it past Race Track Lake. We passed quite a few hikers on our way down and saw more at Indian Racetrack.
Indian Heaven Wilderness sign on Red Mountain with Mt. Adams in the background.
Race Track Lake on the left.
It was 2.3 miles total from the junction back to the Falls Creek Horse Camp. We continued to see more and more hikers and were once again glad we’d gotten an early start allowing us to have the lookout to ourselves.
Footbridge over Falls Creek.
Butterfly near Falls Creek.
Sign at the final trail junction near FR 65.
Reeder called this a 12 mile loop but our GPS came in at 11.2 miles which was a nice surprise. Total elevation gained was approximately 2850′. For this loop route finding, map, and navigation skills are highly recommended, otherwise the out and back option still provides a nice hike. Happy Trails!
After spending the night in our tent at Badger Lake (post) Heather’s foot was feeling better enough to give the Norway Pass hike a go. We were up nice and early thanks in part to an owl who visited the lake just before 4am. After a breakfast of Mountain House’s Spicy Southwest Skillet (our current favorite) we packed up and started our hike back to Elk Pass.
The view from the trees surrounding our campsite as we prepared to leave.
We had decided not to follow the Boundary Trail all the way back to Elk Pass opting to cut over to a forest road after the first two miles near the Mosquito Meadows Trail junction. Sullivan mentions doing this stating that it is “slightly quicker, but a bit tedious”. Our hope was there would be less elevation gain because we’d done a fair amount of up and down on the trail the day before.
Mt. St. Helens catching some morning light.
Mt. Rainier without a whole bunch of smoke.
There were a couple of paths near the trail junction where people had cut over to the old forest service road which was only about 10 yards away (but hidden by trees from the trail). We turned left at the first of the paths and quickly popped out onto the road.
We turned right on the roadbed and followed it downhill just under half a mile to FR 2551 which is still in use.
We snagged a few black caps along the road to as a post breakfast snack.
We turned right onto FR 2551 and were pleasantly surprised to find that there was very little elevation change (just a slight gain) over the 1.7 miles back to FR 25.
The very top of Mt. St. Helens from FR 2551.
Sullivan had labeled this stretch with the word slide which had caused a little apprehension in deciding to try this return route but despite the obvious slide(s) that had occurred here the road was in decent shape.
Not sure what kinds of birds were in this tree but there were a lot of them.
FR 25 at the end of a long straight away.
We turned right again at FR 25 walking along the shoulder for 150 yards to the Boundary Trailhead.
The Boundary Trail crosses FR 25 near the road sign ahead. The picture was taken from FR 2551 at FR 25.
We pulled our day packs out, refilled our water with some extra we had left in the car and drove north on FR 25 to FR 99 where we turned left heading for the Norway Pass Trailhead. A short connector from the trailhead leads to the Boundary Trail.
We turned left at the Boundary Trail and climbed for just over a mile to a signed junction with the Independence Ridge Trail. A couple was taking a break at the junction and another hiker, from the Mt. St. Helens Institute, coming down hill stopped to ask them if they were debating on which way to go. They weren’t and she said good because the Independence Ridge Trail is “dicey”.
We could hear a waterfall in the valley below.
The top of the waterfall.
Penstemon and pearly everlasting.
Looking back over our shoulders to Meta Lake.
Mt. Adams also from over our shoulders.
Switchback at the Independence Ridge Trail junction.
The Boundary Trail climbed less steeply beyond the junction with the exception of an up and down to cross a dry stream bed.
Heading down to the stream bed.
As the trail made it’s final climb to Norway Pass Mt. Rainier was visible beyond the ridges to the north.
Norway Pass (the low saddle to the right) from the trail.
Approaching the pass.
To get a good view of Mt. St. Helens we had to descend on the trail a short distance beyond the pass.
After admiring the view we headed back stopping along the way to debate what these flowers were and whether or not they were non-natives (we believe they probably are).
With much of the 2.2 mile return hike being downhill we made good time back to the trailhead where we changed and then started the long drive home.
Mt. Adams and Meta Lake from the trail.
This hike was just 4.4 miles but gained nearly 900′ of elevation making it a good workout with great views.
The hike out of Badger Lake had been 4.2 miles so combined it was an 8.6 mile day. Knowing that we had now hiked at least portions of all 100 featured hikes in another of Sullivan’s books was the icing on the cake of a fun but tiring visit to Mt. St. Helens. Happy Trails!
After having spent a week in SE Oregon checking off a few of Sullivan’s featured hikes in that region we turned our focus back to the Northwest Oregon/Southwest Washington guidebook where just 3 featured hikes remained. All three hikes were located on the NW side of Mt. St. Helens, a three and a half hour drive from Salem. These last three hikes were a good example of some of the things we’ve had to work out on what counts toward being able to check off a hike. Due to their distance day hikes were out and a limited number of nearby rooms meant we needed to get creative. Our plan was to do portions of all three hikes on Saturday starting at Mt. St. Helens and ending with us backpacking in to Badger Lake and the finishing up on Sunday by driving back to Mt. St. Helens to complete one of the three options Sullivan has for his Spirit Lake hike (4th edition hike #29).
One of the quirks with Sullivan is that while he has the 100 featured hikes he often gives multiple options. Typically the second option is an extension of the shorter option but sometimes the options go in different directions or are even completely different hikes starting at different trailheads. Two of these last three hikes had three options. For Spirit Lake the shortest option, Harmony Falls, started at the Harmony Trailhead while the other two, Norway Pass and Mt. Margaret, began at the Norway Pass Trailhead. We had hiked up Mt. Margaret on a previous trip coming from the other direction (post) so we didn’t feel we needed to do that option but the other two options would be new to us so we planned on doing them both starting with Harmony Falls and saving Norway Pass for Sunday.
From the Harmony Viewpoint a 1.2 mile trail leads 700′ downhill to Spirit Lake.
Mt. St. Helens from the viewpoint.
As has been the case this Summer there was a good deal of haze surrounding us but we had blue(ish) sky overhead. There were also a fair amount of wildflowers blooming, at least compared to what we had seen in SE the previous week.
Mt. St. Helens
Prior to the 1980 eruption of the mountain Harmony Falls was a 50′ waterfall but most of the falls were buried as was the lodge that sat near the base of the falls. Now there is only a small cascade along the trail.
Mt. St. Helens and Spirit Lake from the end of the trail.
As we were making our way back we were doing our best to try and identify the various rock formations and peaks across the lake.
Coldwater Peak (post) is easy with the white equipment on top.
After finishing this 2.4 mile hike we continued driving toward Mt. St. Helens on FR 99 and parked at the Windy Ridge Interpretive Site where the road is gated and only open to research vehicles.
We were now working on featured hike #28 – Windy Ridge. Again Sullivan had three options, this time all starting from this parking lot. The shortest option was a .2 mile round trip up a steep set of stairs to the Windy Ridge Viewpoint at the northern end of the parking lot (see photo above). We set off across the lot to tackle this one first.
<img src="https://live.staticflickr.com/65535/51413600517_e0b437d3fb_c.jpg" width="800" height="600" alt="IMG_3847">The interpretive site and Spirit Lake.
Mt. St. Helens.
Aside from a little section near the top the stairs were nicely spaced making the climb better than it looked from the bottom.
In addition to Mt. St. Helens both Mt. Adams and Mt. Rainier were visible from the viewpoint although on this day the haze was an issue.
The interpretive signs at the viewpoint did a good job of identifying different features that were visible which we appreciated.
The Johnston Ridge Observatory was visible across Spirit Lake on a far hillside.
It’s often hard to tell if you’re seeing dust from rockfall or steam from one of the vents.
After reading the signs and taking in the views we headed down the stairs and to the other end of the parking area where we walked past the gate and followed FR 99 for 1.8 miles to a sign for the Abraham Trail, the return route for the longer option.
Butterfly on ragwort
Butterfly on pearly everlasting
Lupine in the pearly everlasting
Golden-mantled ground squirrel
Might be Oregon sunshine
The longer option would add approximately 2.2 miles and 500′ to our hike and visit the Plains of Abraham. As with Mt. Margaret we had visited the Plains of Abraham (post) previously so we were going to stick to the shorter option. Beyond the junction with the Abraham Trail FR 99 dropped to a small parking area for research vehicles where two trails began.
To the left was the Windy Trail and to the right was the Truman Trail. Our plan was to take the Windy Trail and hike a clockwise loop returning on the Truman Trail.
We followed the Windy Trail just over a mile to the Loowit Trail where we turned right.
Paintbrush and dwarf lupine
The Loowit Trail junction.
The Loowit Trail immediately dropped into a gully to cross a small stream.
Spirit Lake from the junction.
In the gully.
We continued another 0.4 miles before arriving at Big Spring which was a big surprise.
Another gully to cross.
Big Spring is in the willow thicket.
We knew that there was a spring but more often than not the springs wind up being small trickles or big mud puddles but not Big Spring. This was a good sized stream beginning almost right next to the Loowit Trail.
The stream flowing over the Loowit Trail.
A pink monkeyflower at the spring.
Looking back at the willows and Big Spring.
Another half mile of big views and a couple of gully crossings followed Big Spring. We were excited to spot mountain goats lounging on a ridge between the mountain and the trail along this stretch.
Coldwater Peak to the right.
The Sugar Bowl lava dome.
Spirit Lake from the trail.
The first goats we spotted are on this ridge above the lone tree.
The Loowit Trail crossing two gullies in a short stretch, one red one black.
Dropping into the second gully.
From the second gully we could see quite a few more goats on the ridge.
A half mile from Big Spring we arrived at another trail junction.
Approaching the junction with the side trail to Loowit Falls.
Sign for Loowit Falls.
We stayed straight here following the pointer for Loowit Falls for another half mile.
Loowit Falls (right side of the photo) was visible for much of the half mile.
Looking back at Coldwater Peak and Spirit Lake. (The top of Mt. Rainier is barely visible peaking over the top of the ridges.)
As we neared the falls we noticed another small herd of mountain goats on the hillside.
We could also see the hummocks (post) off in the distance to the NE, pieces of the mountain that slid off during the 1980 eruption and settled in the debris flow creating odd mounds.
Loowit Falls looked bigger than I had expected. We took a good break at the viewpoint with a couple of other hikers and a pair of young Forest Service workers.
Spirit Lake from the viewpoint.
After our break we returned to the Loowit Trail to continue the loop.
Just under three quarters of a mile from the Loowit Falls Trail junction we arrived at the Willow Springs Trail junction.
Here we left the Loowit Trail by turning right on the 0.8 mile long Willow Springs Trail.
Mt. St. Helens from the Willow Springs Trail.
Heading toward Spirit Lake.
The Willow Springs Trail ended at the Truman Trail where we again turned right.
We followed the Truman Trail for a mile and a half back to the research vehicle parking area, re-crossing the gullies and streams we had crossed on the Loowit Trail.
The Dome above Spirit Lake
Vehicles ahead in the research parking area.
From the parking area we followed FR 99 (mostly uphill until the very end) 1.8 miles back to the Windy Ridge Interpretive Site. The haze was improving as the day wore on and we could now at least make out some snow on Mt. Adams.
Mt. Adams to the left.
Look out for snakes, not the poisonous kind just don’t want to step on them.
Some sort of sulphur butterfly on pearly everalsting.
The 53.7 mile long Boundary Trail’s western end is near Norway Pass where we planned on hiking the next day while the eastern end is located at Council Lake near Mt. Adams. The section of the trail that we planned on hiking was a 4.3 mile segment from Elk Pass to Badger Lake. From the signboard at the trailhead a short spur led away from FR 25 into the trees before joining the Boundary Trail.
We turned left on the Boundary Trail and promptly arrived at FR 25 which we then crossed.
This trail is open to both mountain bikes and motorcycles which probably explains why it was only briefly one of Sullivan’s featured hikes (#30 in his 4th edition). The forest was pretty and quiet (no motorcycles during our visit) but the trail showed a lot of wear from tires.
One plus was a good variety of berries along the way and there were a few flowers as well.
Mushrooms (the flowers of Fall)
I was really surprised to still be able to make out the remains of the petals on these trillium.
These bunchberries with a few petals left were near the trillium above.
At the 2.3 mile mark we passed the Mosquito Meadows Trail on the left.
At this junction Heather told me to go on ahead and find a campsite then hike up Badger Peak without her if I wanted. Her plantar fasciitis had flared up on the way back from Loowit Falls and was struggling a bit. We had planned on hiking up to the summit after setting up camp and I didn’t want to wait for morning because the rising Sun would have been directly behind Mt. Adams. (Sullivan’s short option for this hike was to the lake and back while the longer option was to the summit.)
The trail gained a little over 600′ over the next two miles which doesn’t sound like a lot but nearly all the elevation was packed into two short sections of the leg.
These thimbleberries weren’t ripe but a short distance further were a lot of ripe ones. I thought I might have to hike back and retrieve Heather from them.
A brief glimpse of Mt. Rainier from the ridge the trail was following, it looked like a lot of the smoke had blown away.
Two miles from the Mosquito Meadows Trail I arrived at a junction with the Badger Peak Trail.
Before I headed up that trail though I needed to hike on to Badger Lake to find a campsite (and get rid of my full backpack). Beyond this junction the trail passed through a meadow crossing Elk Creek and arriving at the lake on the far side.
Pink monkeyflower along Elk Creek
The trail near Badger Lake was particularly torn up and there were several signs posted admonishing motorcyclists to stop driving off trail.
Torn up hillside near the lake, it only takes one or two idiots to cause a lot of damage (the same goes for hikers/mountain bikers).
The little puddle in the foreground is not the lake, it is further back.
I found a tent site back in the trees near the meadow and dropped my pack off and hung my hunter orange shirt so Heather couldn’t miss it. Then I grabbed my day pack and hiked back to the Badger Peak Trail and headed uphill.
This mushrooms was at least as wide as a salad plate.
It was 0.8 miles to the summit with 700′ of elevation to gain which meant the trail was pretty steep. In addition the motorcycles had gouged a deep trough in the center of much of the trail which was uncomfortably narrow to walk in. It turned out to be for the best that Heather had decided to skip the summit.
The view was nice though and the sky around Mt. Adams had also cleared up greatly from earlier in the day.
A hiker from Boise was at the summit when I arrived. She said she had been planning on staying up there until sunset but was having second thoughts due to the chilly breeze and not wanting to have to hike down the trail in the dark. I helped her identify the different mountains as this was her first time to the area. She was on a driving expedition as was thinking of heading to the Olympic Mountains next.
Mt. St. Helens was hard to make out with the combination of haze and Sun position.
Looking south toward Mt. Hood (I could make it out with the naked eye.)
Mt. Hood in the haze.
The Goat Rocks were also hard to make out due to the smoke.
Western pasque flowers, aka hippies on a stick, below the summit.
I headed down after a short break and found Heather finishing setting up our tent.
We took our dinner over near Badger Lake and then turned in for the night. It had been a long day with a lot of hiking. For me it was a 19.4 mile day with approximately 3800′ of elevation gain and Heather was in the 18 mile range with over 3000′, no wonder her plantar acted up.
The last of the sunlight hitting Badger Peak.
We hoped her foot would be feel better in the morning so the hike out wasn’t too miserable and so she might be able to do the Norway Pass hike. For now though we just needed to get our sore bodies to let us fall asleep. Happy Trails!