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!
Flickr: Starway Trail to Silver Star