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!
We kicked off our official 2021 hiking season with a bit of an obscure hike from Matt Reeder’s “Off the Beaten Trail” (2nd edition) guidebook. The hike to the summit of Grayback Mountain is a gated dirt road walk through mostly private lands to a view of Mt. Adams, Mt. Rainier and Goat Rocks. Because the road to the summit passes through private land it is important to respect the landowners rights, Leave No Trace and be aware that access could be closed at anytime. The hike starts on Washington Department of Natural Resources Land (A Discover Pass is required to park) at a parking area at a gate.
To reach the trailhead we took Washington Highway 142 north from Lyle, WA 23.3 miles to a junction with the Glenwood-Goldendale Road where we turned left for an additional 5.6 miles to an unmarked junction with Grayback Road on the right. (The road crests just beyond this junction and begins to descend into the Klickitat River Canyon.) We followed Grayback Road for 0.6 miles to the parking area at the end of a meadow.
Looking back toward the meadow.
After checking out the various wildflowers around the trailhead we set off past the gate on Grayback Road.
Western white groundsel
Mahala Mat (Prostrate ceanothus)
We then just followed this road for 5.6 miles to a radio tower atop Grayback Mountain. There were several junctions with other roads along the way but by keeping more or less straight and uphill it was easy enough to follow the correct road.
Ranging in elevation from just over 2000′ to approximately 3700′ the scenery varied from oak and ponderosa pines interspersed with meadows to mixed conifers and then to open hillsides filled with wildflowers (mostly parsleys). The views were spectacular and we were fortunate to not only have relatively clear skies but little wind making our time at the summit quite pleasant. We saw no other people during the hike and I don’t think a minute went by that we didn’t hear at least one bird signing. Butterflies came out later in the morning and I spent much of the return hike trying to catch them at rest for pictures.
Showy phlox among the oaks.
Grayback Mountain from Grayback Road. The first 2.5 miles of the hike only gained 400′ while the next 3.1 gained 1400′.
The real climb started at about the 4 mile mark at a junction below Grayback Mountain.
Sagebrush false dandelion
Climbing up Grayback Mountain
Red breasted nuthatch
First view of Mt. Hood since the trailhead.
Mt. Hood beyond the Klickitat River Canyon
Entering the meadows on Grayback Mountain.
Approaching the first view of Mt. Adams.
Mt. Adams, Mt. Rainier and Goat Rocks
Mt. Rainier and Goat Rocks
In the meadows.
A balsamroot surrounded by parsley.
Western meadowlark in a patch of Columbia desert parsley.
Radio equipment atop Grayback Mountain with Mt. Adams beyond.
Mt. Hood (we could just barely make out the top of Mt. Jefferson too.) from the summit.
The Klickitat River
Mt. Adams, Mt. Rainier and Goat Rocks
Mt. Rainier and Goat Rocks (the Klickitat River originates from Goat Rocks.)
Obligatory survey marker photo.
Looking east across the summit to the long ridge of Indian Rock. The boundary of the Yakima Indian Reservation is just on the north side of the summit.
A few gold stars still had petals.
A hairstreak but I’m not sure which type.
At least 4 ants on a large head clover.
Looking back south down Grayback Mountain.
There was a lot of white-stemmed frasera in the area but this was the closest one to blooming (and it’s a ways off).
Maybe a brown elfin. I couldn’t get a clear picture of this one.
Erynnis propertius – Propertius Duskywing (aka Western Oak Dustywing). There were lots of these duskywings flying about, it turns out that oaks are their host plants.
Another Erynnis propertius
Juba skippers caught in the act.
Anise swallowtail coming in for a landing on showy phlox.
Alligator lizard on a log.
Western fence lizard
I believe these to be Mylitta crescents.
After our relatively crowded previous outing at Columbia Hills State Park (post) the hike to Grayback Mountain was a welcome dose of solitude. While the flower display wasn’t as plentiful here it was still nice and there appeared to be plenty more to come. The view from the summit was worth the visit on its own and the near constant bird song made for a perfect soundtrack for the day. Happy Trails!
With a September backpacking trip to the Sky Lakes Wilderness having been canceled due to the wide spread wildfires on the West Coast it seemed like our Labor Day trip (post) may have been the last nights in our tent. Fortunately the weather and smoke both cooperated over the first weekend in October and we spent one final night in our tent in the Indian Heaven Wilderness. It appeared that nearly everyone else had that same idea making this trip by far the busiest over night trip we’ve experienced.
We had visited this wilderness on two previous occasions – a 2015 day hike starting at the Thomas Lake Trailhead, and a 2018 day hike to Indian Racetrack via the Pacific Crest Trail. We began this trip on the eastern side of the wilderness at the East Crater Trailhead.
Our plan was to take the East Crater Trail 2.5 miles to Junction Lake and set up camp then make a big loop (with a few side trips) around Bird Mountain using the Pacific Crest Trail, Cultus Creek Trail, Indian Heaven Trail, and finally the Lemi Lake Trail. We started up the East Crater Trail through a mountain hemlock forest with splashes of Fall colors.
The trail climbed gradually entering the Indian Heaven Wilderness.
A little less than a mile and a half from the trailhead we passed the first of several small ponds and the scar of the 2017 East Crater Fire.
Still some fireweed blooming in the fire scar.
East Crater beyond a pond.
Just before the 2.5 miles we arrived at the Pacific Crest Trail and the end of the East Crater Trail near Junction Lake.
We didn’t want to set up our tent on the vegetation in the meadows around the lake so we looked to the opposite side of the PCT where we found a nice little spot tucked back in the trees.
This crab spider offered to watch our tent for us while we were away.
After getting everything set up we headed north along the PCT past Junction Lake to a junction with the Lemi Lake Trail.
We stayed left on the PCT and reentered the trees on a forested hillside.
A mile from the Lemi Lake Trail junction we came to another junction with the Elk Lake Trail near Bear Lake.
This was our first detour as we turned left and descended to the shore of Bear Lake where numerous tents were set up.
The Indian Heaven Wilderness is famous for its huckleberries but this late in the year most of them were well past edible but along the lake shore there were a few left which had caught the attention of the locals.
We opted not to go the third of a mile further to Elk Lake and after a short break we returned to the PCT and continued north another .4 miles before making another short side trip downhill to Deer Lake.
We continued past Deer Lake meeting the Indian Heaven Trail on the far side where a right turn onto it would have allowed for a shorter loop. We had done that loop on our first visit to the wilderness though so we stuck to the PCT this time. We could hear pikas “meeping” from a talus slope near the junction so when we got closer to the rocks we started scanning for the little guys. We were quickly rewarded as one darted in and out of the rocks pausing long enough for a couple of photos.
The PCT continued to climb gradually along the western side of Bird Mountain passing the Placid Lake Trail approximately a mile from the Indian Heaven Trail before arriving at a 4-way junction after another mile.
Placid Lake Trail on the left.
No pikas in these rocks, that we saw.
At the junction the PCT continued straight while the Wood Lake Trail headed downhill to the left.
PCT at the 4-way junction.
We took the right had path, the Cultus Creek Trail which crossed over a pass.
Cultus Creek Trail heading uphill to the right.
On the far side of the pass we took a use trail out to a rocky viewpoint with a great view of Mt. Adams.
In front of Mt. Adams we recognized Sleeping Beauty which we had hiked up earlier in the year (post).
We took another break on some rocks here and soaked in the view. The forecast for the weekend had been for widespread haze so the blue sky and clear view was a nice surprise. After the break we returned to the Cultus Creek Trail which headed steeply downhill. We were starting to see more and more hikers as it seemed a lot of people had the same idea that we’d had as far as it being a good weekend for a visit. As the trail dropped to the east we briefly got a glimpse of the Goat Rocks and Mt. Rainier beyond Sawtooth Mountain.
Goat Rocks with Mt. Adams hiding behind trees.
Mt. Rainier behind Sawtooth Mountain (and Steamboat Mountain to the right)
We walked to the right through the camp following signs to the Indian Heaven Trailhead.
We followed this relatively steep trail back into the wilderness and up to an even better viewpoint just over a mile from the trailhead.
Mt. Rainier had swapped sides with Sawtooth Mountain and was fully visible as were the Goat Rocks and Mt. Adams.
Beyond the viewpoint the trail continued to climb but much more gradually arriving at a junction with the Deep Lake Trail after 1.2 miles.
The Labor Day wind storm had knocked a number of trees down but the trails we took had mostly been cleared already.
There was a bit of a traffic jam at the Deep Lake Trail junction and we wound up on that trail even though we had not planned on this side trip.
Cultus Lake from the Deep Lake Trail.
It was only about a quarter mile to Deep Lake and well worth the trip as it turned out. The top of Mt. Adams was visible across the lake.
We took another break along the shore of this lake (which was also very busy with hikers and backpackers).
We returned to the Indian Heaven Trail and followed it to the far side of Cultus Lake where we turned left on the Lemi Trail.
Lemi Rock beyond Cultus Lake
Cultus Lake from the Lemi Trail.
Beyond Cultus Lake the Lemi Trail passed through a series of meadows with bright red and yellow huckleberry leaves.
After a mile of fairly level hiking the Lemi Trail steepened gaining a little over 200′ in .3 miles.
The climb was up a forested hillside.
The climb offered us the only view of the day of Mt. St. Helens.
Mt. St. Helens
The trail leveled out again on the east side of Lemi Rock at a junction with what appeared to be possibly be a climbers trail on the right.
We continued on the Lemi Trail another quarter mile to a viewpoint above Lake Wapiki where we now had a view of Mt. Hood (and a little more haze).
Mt. Adams as we approached the viewpoint.
The Lemi Trail continued another 1.1 miles down to the lake but the climb up to the viewpoint from Cultus Lake was enough to convince us that we weren’t up for the 400′ climb back up from Lake Wapiki so after resting at the viewpoint we started back. Curiosity got the best of us at the trail near Lemi Rock though as it appeared fairly level so we turned left onto it and began following it to see where it might lead.
We followed this trail past more spectacular Fall colors for .2 miles where it suddenly disappeared in some small trees.
We maneuvered our way through the trees picking up another mylar balloon (we have come to hate these).
We popped out at a small meadow where we declared victory at headed back toward Lemi Rock.
As we passed a small pool with a clear reflection Heather spotted the second pika of the day.
After watching the pika for a moment returned to the Lemi Trail and took it back to Cultus Lake and the Indian Heaven Trail.
We turned left onto the Indian Heaven Trail and followed it for another .3 miles to a junction with the Lemi Lake Trail.
We turned left onto this trail passing through a series of meadows before arriving at Lemi Lake after a little over half a mile.
We had brought our camp stove and dinner and stopped at the lake to get water and eat.
After dinner we followed the Lemi Lake Trail for another 1.5 miles back to Junction Lake and the Pacific Crest Trail.
Lemi Rock from the Lemi Lake Trail.
Back to the PCT.
Junction Lake from the PCT/Lemi Lake Trail junction.
Things had gotten very crowded at Junction Lake and there were tents all over the grass around the lake shore. We retreated to our little spot in the trees away from the madness and took our camp chairs in the opposite direction and sat for awhile at the edge of a meadow.
We decided that we’d get up no later than 5am and beat the crowds by hiking out in the dark the next morning. We’ve been spoiled with nearly none of our backpacking trips involving many other people at all so this was a bit of an adjustment for us. We wound up waking up at 4:30am and set off under a full moon toward our car.
We had only hiked in the dark one other time, when we thought there might be a fire in the Three Sisters Wilderness, but it was actually 40 miles away (post). That had been quite the adventure as it seemed like we were constantly seeing eyes in the forest or toads in the trail. We were hoping we might have a similar experience here but the 2.5 mile hike back to the car was quick and uneventful. We were back home in Salem a little after 9am though which gave us plenty of time to unpack, do laundry and watch the Seahawks game. Aside from not being used to that many people on an overnighter it had been a good trip. The weather was great as were the views and the Fall colors. Somehow we managed to turn what we expected to be a 14.6 mile hike into 18.2 miles (those side trips will get you every time) but it was worth every step. Happy Trails (and Go Hawks)!
Normally when we are just hiking back to a trailhead the same way we got to a campsite it wouldn’t warrant a separate trip report, but our hike from Foggy Flat back to the Killen Creek Trailhead did. After spending the night at Foggy Flat(post) we woke just after 5am to find clear skies and a nice sunrise.
Goat Rocks in the morning
Even before the Sun was up it was light enough to get a good look at Mt. Adams.
Morning had brought out the mosquitoes so we decided to pack up and stop for breakfast somewhere along the return hike hoping for a less buggy spot. After a mile we stopped at the Muddy Meadows Trail junction where a log made for a prefect bench to have breakfast on.
Looking down the Muddy Meadows Trail from the log.
After breakfast we continued on the Highline Trail which offered good views of Mt. Rainier and Goat Rocks in this direction. When we weren’t looking at the mountains or the flowers various birds caught our attention.
Going in this direction gave us some good looks ahead toward Mt. Rainier.
Mt. Rainier and some of the Goat Rocks.
The unnamed lake near the Pacific Crest Trail had an excellent reflection of the forest and Mt. Adams.
Little bird near the PCT junction.
When we reached Killen Creek (.2 miles beyond the PCT junction) we crossed on the footbridge then removed our packs to take the steep use trail down below the waterfall as we’d planned the day before.
Killen Creek below the waterfall.
Mt. Adams from the waterfall.
After exploring the area below the falls we climbed back up and continued through Killen Creek Meadows, stopping to check on the pollywogs along the way.
The blue sky made for a different look than we’d had the day before and we kept pausing along the way to marvel at the scenery.
Mt. Rainier and Goat Rocks from the PCT.
Breakfast time (possibly second breakfast)
Zooming in on Mt. Rainier
We were almost surprised when we arrived at the junction with the Killen Creek Trail. The miles go by pretty quick when you’re distracted. We turned down that trail putting Mt. Adams to our backs.
Killen Creek Trail heading away from Mt. Adams.
We turned to look back several times seeing less and less of the mountain before we lost sight of it for good.
It had been wonderful trip. The Mt. Adams Wilderness has yet to let us down and we’re already looking forward to our next visit down the road. Happy Trails!
Our first backpacking trip of the year was over Memorial Day weekend (post) but since then we hadn’t had an opportunity to break out our tent. Sleeping Beauty, a 3 mile featured hike in Sullivan’s “100 Hikes/Travel Guide Northwest Oregon & Southwest Washington” (4th edition), gave us a reason to put the tent to use again.
It wasn’t because the hike to the top of Sleeping Beauty was backpackable, but rather the 2:45 drive time to the trailhead was too long for this to be a stand alone hike for us. To make the trip worth the drive we decided to continued to nearby Mt. Adams and do a hike to Foggy Flat from Matt Reeder’s “PDX Hiking 365” guidebook.
The trail climbed steeply up through a green forest for a mile to a forested saddle. Most of the flowers had passed but a few lingered and the pearly everlasting was getting started. Thimbleberries weren’t quite ripe but we did find a few strawberries to snack on.
Pearly everlasting next to thimbleberry bushes.
Not quite ready yet.
Near the saddle we got our first look at the rock feature that is Sleeping Beauty from the trail (it is visible on the drive).
The trail bends to the right (ignore a fainter trail heading left) at the saddle continuing through the trees.
Another bit of climbing brought us beneath the rocks.
The trail switchbacked its way up amid the rocks up stonework ramps gaining views of the surrounding Cascade mountains along the way.
Mt. St. Helens, Mt. Rainier, Goat Rocks and Mt. Adams.
Indian Heaven Wilderness
It was fairly windy up on the rocks, just windy enough to make us a little nervous when we got to the saddle near the top as we had to push back a bit against it. Luckily the top is fairly wide and there was a least one place behind a rock where the wind was non-existent.
Looking east over the top of Sleeping Beauty.
Looking west to the true summit where a lookout once stood.
We were hoping to see a mountain goat as they do live here but alas we only saw some fur on a rock and a couple of bushes. The views would have to do and they did just fine. I scrambled over to the former lookout site after deciding it looked safe enough while Heather waited at the saddle.
Mt. Hood from the foundation of the former lookout.
After a good long time exploring the area and enjoying the views we headed back down. We passed several groups of hikers heading up (just about everyone had a mask) so we were once again glad we’d gotten the early start to have the top to ourselves.
From the trailhead we drove back to Trout Lake and turned left onto Mount Adams Road aka Forest Road 23. (Google would have had us continue on the forest road we had been on to reach the Killen Creek Trailhead, but Google doesn’t always know the condition of the Forest Roads and I don’t either so we played it safe.)
We then followed Reeder’s direction to the Killen Creek Trailhead stopping along the way when Heather spotted a nice waterfall on Big Spring Creek.
Sign at a pullout along FR 23.
These were huge yellow monkeyflowers.
Big Spring Creek
After the brief stop we drove on. The final 9 miles on FR 23 was gravel but wide and not too bad. We turned off of the gravel onto the narrow, paved FR 2329 which was a nice break, but beyond the turn for Takhalakh Lake Campground this road also turned to gravel. It was not in the best condition and was fairly narrow and busy which made for a bit of a tedious final 6 miles to the Killen Creek Trailhead.
After attempting some gear repair (a hole in some clothing) we set off and quickly entered the Mt. Adams Wilderness.
This was only our third visit to the wilderness with our first having been a hike from the South Climb Trailhead to Iceberg Lake in 2014 (post) and the second an overnight stay at Horseshoe Meadows in 2017 (post). (Apparently this is an every three year thing.)
The Killen Creek Trail climbed through the forest where we were pleased to find quite a few flowers were blooming. Little did we know what was coming.
Lupine along the trail.
More lupine along the trail.
Partridge foot and lupine.
Lupine, paintbrush and valerian.
Lupine along the trail which sees a good amount of equestrian use.
As we continued to climb the number and types of flowers we were seeing kept increasing.
Yellow buttercups mixed in with the lupine, paintbrush and valerian.
Beardstongue, arnica and lupine.
Approximately 2.5 miles up the trail the flowers really started to explode as the trail began to level out a bit.
Over the next mile we gained views of Mt. Adams and crossed a small alpine stream all while being mesmerized by the flowers.
Elephants head near the stream.
Elephants head and a shooting star.
As we gained elevation we also began to get glimpses of Mt. Rainier to the NW.
The views and flowers just kept getting better as we went.
False hellebore amid the lupine.
Paintbrush framed by trees.
After a little over 3.25 miles the Killen Creek Trail ended at the Pacific Crest Trail.
We had been to this junction in 2017 when we had hiked the PCT north from Horseshoe Meadows. We had continued a few hundred feet before realizing that Killen Creek was still almost a mile away. This time we would be hiking beyond Killen Creek and so we turned left on the PCT and continued on.
Where the Killen Creek Trail was heading for Mt. Adams the PCT was bending around the mountain. This made for more up and down hiking as opposed to steady climbing. Mt. Adams occasionally made an appearance over our right shoulders and the flowers continued to be amazing.
White and pink mountain heather, paintbrush and lupine above the PCT.
Coming in for a landing on groundsel.
The Goat Rocks was soon fully visible between us and Mt. Rainier.
A little under a mile from the Killen Creek Trail junction the PCT began a descent to Killen Creek Meadows.
Aster and white seed heads
There were a couple of small ponds still holding water in the meadows and we noticed a lot of ripples in the water as we approached.
It turned out to be pollywogs, and a lot of them.
The PCT crossed Killen Creek on a footbridge just above a waterfall.
Killen Creek and Mt. Adams.
There was a steep path down on this side of the falls but it looked like the PCT might have a good view of it on the other side of the creek so we opted not to head down. We figured the worst case scenario was that there wouldn’t be a view and we could just go down on the way back out.
As we started to cross the bridge we noticed something in the creek nearby, it was an ouzel.
There wasn’t a great view of the waterfall on the other side.
The waterfall from the PCT.
The PCT descended to a lower meadow where a trail led out to a campsite and another possible vantage point for the waterfall but the view was obscured so we put it on the to do list for the next day.
From Killen Creek it was .2 flower filled miles to a junction with the Highline Trail.
Highline Trail ahead.
Here we left the PCT as it continued on its way to Goat Rocks and beyond and turned up the Highline Trail. Not far from the junction we arrived at an unnamed lake with a reflection of Mt. Adams.
The wildflowers had been impressive thus far but the Highline Trail took it up a notch.
Yellow arnica along the trail.
Beargrass in full bloom.
Subalpine mariposa lily
After a total of 1.7 miles on this trail we arrived at another junction. This time it was the Muddy Meadows Trail.
Look more lupine that way.
We continued on the Highline Trail another mile before reaching Foggy Flat, a wet meadow near an unnamed creek.
Still tons of flowers.
Frog near Foggy Flat
Mt. Adams from Foggy Flat
Frog in a little stream at Foggy Flat.
We walked along the meadow to the far end where the creek was located looking for tent sites. There was one occuppied site along the trail across from the meadow but that was about all we saw at first.
The Highline Trail crossed the creek on a footbridge but then launched steeply uphill so we turned around and decided to check around the meadow more thoroughly for a suitable site.
We are fairly picky about our campsites. We do not like to camp on any vegetation, especially in meadows and we do our best to maintain a proper distance from water and trails. Unfortunately we are in the minority and it was obvious from the fire rings and smashed grasses that many others aren’t as selective (not to mention the TP – come on people). We finally managed to find an acceptable spot tucked into some trees.
With camp established we took our daypacks out put our essentials plus dinner and the stove into them and set off across the creek on the Highline Trail. Reeder described the trail beyond Foggy Flat as having “incredible views” but also “difficult creek crossings”. Our plan was to go as far as the Muddy Fork crossing and unless it looked really easy turn back there.
Monkeyflower and willowherb along the creek.
The climb up from the creek was indeed steep and we were happy to just have our daypacks on.
Mt. Rainier behind us.
The trail dropping steeply behind us on one of the steeper sections.
We passed several nice campsites as the terrain became more level at the edge of a lava flow. A couple of the sites were occupied. Despite the rockier conditions due to the lava flow the flower show continued.
Can you spot the yellow paintbrush?
Shortly after crossing another little creek we found ourselves in the lava field with an excellent view of Mt. Adams. We had been waiting for the clouds to break up all day and now they were starting to oblige.
We continued to follow the Highline Trail through the lava and past snow fields.
The lava also provided great views of Mt. Rainier and Goat Rocks.
Goat Creek falling from Goat Lake.
Red Butte and Mt. Adams
Red Butte, a neat looking cinder cone.
Flower amid the rocks.
We did indeed stop at Muddy Fork. It was a little more of a crossing than we wanted to tackle at that point.
We backed track a bit to rise where we had seen a great looking spot for dinner (or a tent). We cooked our dinner there and then explored a bit on the ridge above the spot where we found a few flowers amid the rocks and more amazing views.
We eventually headed back to Foggy Flat under the watchful eyes of the locals.
We were momentarily distracted below one of the snow fields as we watched a stream forming in front of our eyes.
Water in the upper portions of the snowmelt stream.
The same stream 3 minutes later.
When the water reached a large hole that would take some time to fill we managed to pull ourselves away and continue back to our campsite. We stopped at the creek to get water for the next day and turned in fairly quickly. There were just enough mosquitoes about to be a nuisance making the confines of the tent that much more appealing.
Combining this hike with our previous two visits we’ve managed to cover quite a bit of the trails that wrap around the mountain. The east side of Mt. Adams is on part of the Yakima Indian Reservation and is largely trail less. Special permits are required to enter the Reservation with the exception of Bird Creek Meadows on the SE side of the mountain.
From every angle that we’ve seen it Mt. Adams continues to impress us. It’s truly a special place. Happy Trails!
After ending a five day stretch of hiking with a 13 mile, nearly 4000′ elevation gain hike we chose a longer hike with even more elevation gain for our next outing. I found the the Monte Carlo – Monte Cristo Loop while working on our future hiking plans in the off season. A recent trip report indicated that the wildflowers were near peak and a mostly sunny forecast for Saturday made it seem like a good time to check it out. In addition this hike is not particularly popular so social distancing most likely wouldn’t be a problem.
There are numerous potential starting points for this loop (or shorter hikes to one or both of the peaks) we chose to start at the Monte Carlo Trailhead. The reason was twofold. First this was the starting point for the hike described in the Oregonhikers.org field guide and secondly the drive was almost entirely paved.
We missed the parking area for the trailhead which was directly across FR 18 from the start of the trail mistaking it for part of the Oklahoma Campground. We wound up turning up the next little forest road (I believe it was 752) on the right and parking at a pullout along it and walked down FR 18 to the trail. This really didn’t add any extra distance as the loop ended by walking approximately 2 miles along FR 18 between the Lower Monte Cristo Trailhead and the Monte Carlo Trailhead.
We followed the field guide entry closely for this hike due to numerous logging road crossings, a couple of road walks and a few odd junctions. The field guide was spot on (despite being a bit off on total distance which we’ll get to later) so I won’t reinvent the wheel here and try and describe every twist and turn of the route. A tenth of a mile up the trail we came to a forest road which was the same one that we parked along. There was no signage at this junction but we knew from the field guide (and our GPS) to turn right. After our hike some hikers came by our car having turned left at the junction. After following the road for approximately 450′ we came to a trail on the left which quickly began climbing.
The designer of the trail apparently had little use for switchbacks as the trail went just about straight uphill. A little over three quarters of a mile in we came to an old logging road which the trail followed to the right where it leveled off a bit.
This road ended at FR 1840 where a sign pointed to the left for the Monte Carlo Trail.
At another road junction after just 500′ on FR 1840 another segment of trail launched uphill. In the forest here we found a large number of phantom orchids.
One of the phantom orchids to the right of the trail.
Just over a quarter mile after leaving FR 1840 we came to another logging road which we turned right on briefly to pick up the continuation of the Monte Carlo Trail.
Another .3 mile climb was followed by another short walk to the right on a road followed by yet more climbing.
A rare level section of trail.
There were thimbleberry bushes along the roads/trails all day long.
Just over 2 miles into the hike we came to a small hillside meadow.
Bumble bee working on some clover.
A few wildflowers.
Popcorn flower and strawberry plants.
After rounding a corner we came to a bigger meadow with more wildflowers and some views.
Little Huckleberry Mountain
Nightblooming false bindweed
The trail managed to steepen as it headed uphill and entered the upper portion of the meadow.
The meadow was full of Oregon sunshine and a few other flowers.
Closer look at the tall buckwheat.
Yarrow, lupine and penstemon
At the top of the meadow the trail leveled out a bit and entered some trees before arriving at a trail junction.
Many of the signs along the route were no longer in the ground so it was important to make sure they really were pointing in the correct directions.
The junction consisted of the Monte Carlo Trail which we were on and the Buck Creek Trail which is managed by the Washington Department of Natural Resources whose land we were now on. We kept left on what was now a combination of the Monte Carlo and Buck Creek Trails which crossed and old logging road then arrived at the Buck Creek No. 2 Trailhead. We picked up the Monte Carlo – Buck Creek Trail here at a sign for the Middle Fork Grove and Monte Carlo Viewpoint.
The Monte Carlo-Buck Creek Trail dropped to a crossing of Buck Creek before climbing for almost a mile (crossing one logging road) to a 90-degree right hand turn. Much of the time was in previously logged forests.
A few trees that were spared.
Footbridge over Buck Creek.
Logging road crossing.
The trail had reentered forest a bit before the 90-degree turn. After turning the trail dropped just over 200′ to Road B-1500 where we encountered the first other hikers of the day. A couple had parked along this road and were getting ready to head up to Monte Carlo for the wildflowers.
Starting the descent.
The trail set off from B-1500 amid a lot of lupine.
The trail climbed steeply gaining over 600′ in the next three quarters of a mile to a junction atop Monte Carlo. A bit below the summit the trail enters an open hillside with wildflowers and some actual switchbacks. There is also reportedly an excellent view of Mt. Hood but there were enough clouds present that we could not verify that.
Entering the meadow.
Pollinator on wallflower
Bee heading for some penstemon.
Clouds to the south.
Lots of Oregon sunshine again.
Taper tip onions
Penstemon and lomatium seedheads.
Warning for mountain bikers going down the trail.
After briefly reentering the woods (and leveling out for a bit) the trail reached the summit junction.
At this point the trail is back in the Gifford-Pinchot National Forest. A jeep track to the right heads down Eton Ridge while the Buck Creek Trail also drops to the right down Penny Ridge. The Monte Carlo Trail turned left and began a mile long traverse of the Monte Carlo Ridge.
The ridge walk was a delight. First it was relatively level and better yet it was covered in wildflowers.
Ladybug on a flower.
Cat’s ear lily
Phlox and Oregon sunshine
Grouse in the flowers.
Despite the clouds having hidden Mt. Hood from the meadow below there were plenty of views from the ridge.
Little Huckleberry Mountain to the left and Lemi Rock to the right.
Lemi Rock in the Indian Heaven Wilderness
Looking SE into Eastern Oregon.
By far the best view was of Mt. Adams.
There were various penstemons in the area with the view of Mt. Adams.
The level trail ended at the ridge end where the Monte Carlo Trail dove down toward a saddle and FR 1840. The trail dropped nearly 800′ in .7 miles before reaching the road. Worse than the steepness of the descent was knowing that we would need to gain all of the lost elevation back to visit Monte Cristo.
Starting the drop.
There were huge amounts of Arnica in the forest.
Monte Cristo from the trail as we dropped….further, and further.
To complete our loop we would eventually need to start down FR 1840 to the left but to reach Monte Cristo we needed to head uphill to the right on FR 1840-100 following pointers for the Monte Cristo Trail 53.
It was time to gain that elevation back and the Monte Cristo Trail did it with gusto. Despite the presence of actual switchbacks the concept seemed to escape the designer and instead of tight turns and gradual grades the trail went from a moderate grade to nearly straight uphill before turning back along the hillside at a moderate grade. We gained over 800′ in the next .8 miles.
A “switchback” turning directly uphill.
About a tenth of a mile below the summit the trail entered a spectacular wildflower meadow.
Sunflowers at the edge of the meadow.
Approaching the meadow.
After having missed out the view of Mt. Hood earlier there was just enough of a break in the clouds to see the mountain from Monte Cristo.
A lookout tower once sat atop the peak.
A much shorter ridge than on Monte Carlo ran north from the summit where the Monte Cristo Trail continued eventually reaching the Monte Cristo Upper Trailhead. Our second encounter with hikers came along this ridge when a group of three people were coming up from this upper trailhead.
The short ridge was covered with wildflowers including quite a bit of white-stemmed frasera which we haven’t often encountered.
Taper tip onions
Wallflower and paintbrush
A white lupine
Paintbrush and phlox
We took a short break at the summit which was just long enough for Mt. Hood to sort of reemerge from clouds that had hidden it. This happened at the same time a hawk decided to ride an updraft straight up in the sky.
After admiring the hawks flight abilities we started back down through the meadow.
The trail was just as steep going down as it had been coming up and our knees were starting to protest this whole adventure. We made our way back to FR 1840-10 and followed it back to the Monte Carlo Upper Trailhead, pausing briefly to watch some swallowtail butterflies.
We followed FR 1840-100 a few yards downhill to it’s junction with FR 1840 and turned left for 20 yards to the signed Monte Cristo Trail on the right.
Our knees would not be getting a break just yet as the Monte Cristo Trail descended over 1000′ in just over a mile to the Monte Cristo Lower Trailhead along FR 18.
Presumably letting you know that you’re a mile from the road. (It could also be that this tree is “Number 1”.)
Twinflower in the forest.
Our first blooming prince’s pine of the year.
Not nearly the steepest section.
FR 18 finally!
We turned left on FR 18 the nearly 2 mile road walk back to our car. The good news was that the road surface wasn’t too hard and better yet it was nearly level the whole way!
The field guide lists the hike as 11.8 miles but a trip report from 6/20 that I’d seen said that the hike came in closer to 14 miles for him. My Garmin came in at 13.6 miles so keep that in mind if you’re considering this hike. It was certainly challenging but the wildflowers and the views made it a worthwhile endeavor. Happy Trails!
We spent most of the Summer doing day hikes from home so that we could be back in time to give our elderly cats their daily medicines which put a limit on how far away we could go, but we had purchased tickets to the Seattle Seahawks/New Orleans Saints game prior to Buddy getting ill so my parents graciously took over for a day. We took the opportunity to drive up the day before the game and stop for a hike in Mt. Rainier National Park.
This would be our second visit to the park having hiked the Northern Loop on a 4-day backpack in 2015 (post). For this visit we were looking for something on the SW side of the mountain that would be a good late Summer/early Fall hike. A little research led us to Indian Henry’s Hunting Ground from Longmire.
We arrived at Longmire just after 8am and prepared to set off on the Trail of Shadows.
Our trail was located across the park entrance road from the National Park Inn.
Also across the road was the shear cliffs of Rampart Ridge and the snow capped summit of Mt. Rainier.
We were excited to see the mountain as it had been raining for several days and more rain was forecast for the next few, but a partly sunny forecast had at least given us some hope.
The Trail of Shadows is a .7 mile interpretative loop around Longmire Meadow. We followed this trail clockwise for a quarter mile where we arrived at a junction with the Rampart Ridge Trail.
We turned left on the Rampart Ridge Trail which promptly began climbing via a series of switchbacks to the top of the ridge. The trail climbed through an old growth forest with lots of mushrooms this time of year and a bit of fall color showing on the maples.
The trail gained the ridge after a little under 1.5 miles and began to follow it to the NE. One and three quarters of a mile from the junction we forked right to a signed viewpoint overlooking Longmire.
The position of the Sun wasn’t ideal, even with some clouds around, but Eagle Peak was also visible (albeit through some trees) rising above Longmire.
Less then a quarter mile from the viewpoint we came to a turn where the trail began to descend, but before we started down we followed a short path to a rocky viewpoint where we got a better look at Mt. Rainier.
Mt. Rainier was the main attraction but to the NW behind the clouds was another interesting and colorful peak, Mt. Wow.
We spent quite a while at the viewpoint before starting down on the Rampart Ridge Trail which we found turned back toward the mountain and provided another spectacular view.
We were soon back in the mushroom filled forest grateful for having gotten such a nice view of the mountain already. We figured if the clouds moved in, at least we’d gotten to see that .
After 2.9 miles on the Rampart Ridge Trail we came to a signed junction with the Wonderland Trail.
Here we turned left following the pointer for Indian Henry’s (Hunting Ground)
We had gained over 1400′ climbing up to Rampart Ridge and now we began to lose 400 of those feet as the Wonderland Trail dropped to Kautz Creek in 3/4 of a mile. Mushrooms remained a main theme of the hike as we descended through more green forest.
As we neared Kautz Creek the mountain once again came into view.
We dropped into the washed out canyon of Kautz Creek where, you guessed it, there were some more interesting mushrooms amid the rubble.
The crossing of Kautz Creek was fairly easy as far as glacier fed streams go. The creek was split into three channels which were small enough to rock hop across dry footed.
The third channel was the largest but still relatively small.
Mt. Rainier from the far side of Kautz Creek.
The trail then reentered the forest and shortly arrived at Pyramid Camp.
Yet another big mushroom.
After a brief stint in the trees we emerged at another washed out creek bed. According to the map this was Pearl Creek (which later becomes Pyramid Creek after merging with a couple of other streams).
This creek would have been a little trickier to cross had it not been for the presence of a pair of footbridges.
After crossing the creek we popped back into the forest and almost immediately came to a clear spring.
Beyond the spring the trail began to climb steeply gaining over 400′ in a half mile before becoming a bit more gradual as it traversed up the hillside crossing a few creek beds along the way.
There were quite a few coral fungi present as well.
Fishers Hornpipe Creek
The mushrooms in the back had exploded.
A few red huckleberries left to eat.
Approximately one and three quarters of a mile from the Pearl Creek crossing we arrived at Devil’s Dream Creek.
This creek flowed through a narrow slot canyon that looked (and sounded) really interesting.
Although the trail briefly climbed uphill along side the canyon there were no views to speak of save one look down to the water below. From that spot it sounded like there was some sort of waterfall just upstream but there was no angle available to see anything so we settled for more colorful mushrooms.
A half mile after crossing Devil’s Dream Creek we did spot a waterfall downhill to the right of the trail just before arriving at Devil’s Dream Camp. A path led down to the creek here. There wasn’t a lot of water flowing but it looked like it might be a pretty good waterfall when there was more flow.
After the side trip we passed through the 8-site Devil’s Dream Camp.
It was uphill through the camp but not longer after passing the group site the trail leveled out a bit and entered the first meadow as we neared Indian Henry’s Hunting Ground.
A larger meadow followed with a view of Mt. Rainier hiding behind Iron Mountain.
Mushrooms in the meadow.
Gray jay in the huckleberries.
A quarter mile from the camp we arrived at Squaw Lake.
Iron Mountain from the lake.
We crossed Devil’s Dream Creek again as we passed around the lake.
I don’t know where the actual boundary of the hunting ground is but beyond Squaw Lake the meadows kept opening up more as we neared a backcountry patrol cabin.
Western pasque flower
Finally Mt. Rainier came back into view.
We spotted the patrol cabin approximately 8 miles (according to my GPS) into the hike. The cabin was set back in some trees overlooking the meadow with Mt. Rainier in the background. It couldn’t have been a more picturesque setting.
We had been playing leap frog with another pair of day hikers who had planned on turning back at the cabin. We had also considered that given the distance and elevation gain to get there, but the mountain was so visible we decided to push on to Mirror Lakes which was just under a mile away. From a junction with the Kautz Creek Trail near the cabin we followed a pointer for the Mirror Lakes Trail .3 miles down the Wonderland Trail.
The Wonderland Trail lost a little elevation before arriving at the Mirror Lakes Trail junction. Views of Mt. Rainier were plentiful along the .3 mile stretch.
We turned onto the Mirror Lakes Trail which was pretty wet in spots from the recent rains, as were the meadows alongside the trail.
There were a number of frogs in the meadow and they seemed to be enjoying the extra water.
Most of the flowers were long since past but a few stragglers were hanging on.
Butterfly on the remains of an aster.
While the Summer flowers were mostly gone the nearby hillsides were heralding the arrival of Fall.
We were glad that we’d decided to go on even before reaching the Mirror Lakes as the trail just kept getting us closer views of Mt. Rainier.
Pyramid Peak to the right.
The best was yet to come though. The largest (and first) of the little lakes that make up the Mirror Lakes had a perfect reflection of the still mostly cloud free mountain.
We lingered for awhile studying the mountains various features.
We would have loved to have stuck around longer but we still had a long hike back to Longmire and a 2 hour drive to our motel so we pulled ourselves away and started back. In the time it took to reach the patrol cabin the clouds had increased noticably.
The shift in the clouds did reveal more of Emerald Ridge to the north which had some interesting features.
We returned the way we’d come until arriving at the Wonderland Trail/Rampart Ridge Trail junction. This portion of the hike saw us spotting additional mushrooms that we hadn’t noticed earlier and a few more frogs, including one at the spring near Pearl Creek.
This guy was tiny.
Frog on a rock at the spring.
The clouds had really moved in by the time we were crossing Kautz Creek and Mt. Rainier was gone.
From the Wonderland/Rampart Ridge junction we stayed straight on the Wonderland Trail which, in addtion to being new trail, was at least a mile shorter route back to Longmire.
The trail lost elevation pretty quickly and was fairly steep in places. The mushroom theme continued here as well.
The trail did level out some as it passed below Rampart Ridges cliffs and over a swale on a boardwalk.
We crossed the Paradise Road and soon after turned at a pointer for Longmire.
Looking back across the road.
Our feet were sore and our knees tired but the 16.4 miles had been more than worth it. As we were loading up the car a gentleman asked if we would give him a ride out of the park. He had been on the Wonderland Trail but after 5 days of rain everything was wet and he hadn’t been able to cook some of his food so he was living to fight another day. His car was at Mowhich Lake though so we gave him a lift to Ashford and dropped him off at a motel/restaurant there before heading toward Seattle.
It was a great start to the weekend, if only Seattle’s play had been half as impressive as Mt. Rainier was maybe they could have pulled out a win. Ah well, we will take a beautiful hike over a single W any time. Happy Trails! (and GO Hawks!)