Hiking Indian Heaven Trip report Washington Washington Cascades

Panther Creek Falls and Indian Heaven Wilderness

What a difference a week makes. On our previous hike to the Olallie Lake Scenic Area we spent our time in a chilly damp fog and then dealt with the occasional rain shower. Our most recent hike to the Indian Heaven Wilderness was the exact opposite with sunny skies and temperatures in the upper 70s. This was a hike that had been pushed back a couple of weeks first due to smoke and next the weather conditions of the previous week.

The Indian Heaven Wilderness is located in Washington State southeast of Mt. Adams. This was our first visit to this particular wilderness and we had chosen the Thomas Lake Trailhead as our starting point. The trailhead is located along Road 65 (Panther Creek Road) approximately 21 miles from the city of Carson, Washington. We planned on taking the Thomas Lake Trail to the Pacific Crest Trail (which runs north-south through the entire wilderness) and then following the PCT north to Junction Lake where we could do a 4 mile loop past several lakes before returning to the car. We also had the option of going off-trail and hiking up Gifford Peak before reaching the PCT.

Before we got to any of that though we stopped along Road 65 at the Panther Creek Trailhead to take the short path down to see the falls.



After checking out the falls we continued on to the Thomas Lake Trailhead.

The parking area was nearly full at 7:30am which told us we’d be seeing plenty of other people on this hike as we set off on the trail.

There were occasional views of Mt. St. Helens as we followed the trail up through the huckleberry filled forest toward Thomas Lake.



We reached the first set of lakes after a half mile.
Thomas Lake

Dee Lake

Heather Lake

Just past the first three lakes was a trail junction with a short path to Eunice Lake.


After visiting Eunice Lake we returned to the Thomas Lake Trail which climbed steeply up above those lakes before leveling out through meadows ablaze with red huckleberry leaves.





More lakes and ponds awaited along this stretch of trail.
Brader Lake


Unnamed lake/pond

Naha Lake

About two miles from the trailhead the trail took a sharp right at a trail sign.

There were a few more trees along this section of trail but also still plenty of berry bushes and lakes/ponds.



After about a mile when the trail crossed a small creek we needed to decide if we were going to try the 0.8 mile climb of Gifford Peak. We were below a rocky outcropping but it appeared that we could sidehill up steeply to a saddle where we hopped to pick up the ridge and follow it to the top.

With the help of the topographic map loaded on the GPS unit we gained the ridge and found a path that was fairly easy to follow.

The first section up to the saddle proved to be the steepest and the rest of the climb was more gradual. Openings near the summit offered views of Mt. Hood, Mt. St. Helens, and Mt. Rainier.
Mt. Hood


Mt. St. Helens


Mt. Rainier


It wasn’t exactly the clearest of skies as there seemed to be a haze in every direction. Whether it was smoke from fires or just due to the heat/humidity in the area we weren’t sure but it was still a nice view. We reached the summit to find a small summit register and a view of Mt. Adams and Goat Rocks.
Mt. Adams


Goat Rocks

After making our way back down to the trail we continued on passing Lake Sahalie Tyee before reaching the impressive Blue Lake below Gifford Peak.
Lake Sahalie Tyee

Blue Lake


We arrived at the PCT at the far end of Blue Lake.

We turned left and headed north toward Junction Lake which was 2 miles away. At Junction Lake we took the Lemi Lake Trail to start our loop.

Some of the best fall colors were in the meadows between Junction Lake and Lemi Lake.





As we reached Lemi Lake we were discussing the differences in the lakes on this hike verses in the Olallie Lake area and one of the things we’d noticed was that we hadn’t seen any ducks on this hike. Just as we were discussing that we noticed a lone duck floating on Lemi Lake.


The Lemi Lake Trail ended just over 2 miles from Junction Lake at the Indian Heaven Trail.

We turned left continuing on our loop and passing above the busy Clear Lake.

We arrived back at the PCT after just .3 miles and took another left passing Deer Lake and more ducks.



Not far from Deer Lake was Bear Lake where we decided to rest for a bit and have a snack. Bear Lake rivaled Blue Lake with it’s impressive colors.


When we had completed our loop and returned to Junction Lake we decided to take a shortcut back by following an old abandoned trail to the Thomas Lake Trail near Rock Lakes.

This abandoned trail was still easy to follow and passed through even more scenic meadows and past additional ponds.




After 1.7 miles we arrived at Rock Lakes.



We picked up the Thomas Lake Trail at the sign where we had taken the sharp right earlier that day. From there it was just over 2 miles back down to the trailhead.

The total distance of the hike was 14.9 miles in the wilderness plus .3 miles at Panther Creek Falls which made for a nice full day. It was a great first visit to the wilderness and we look forward to going back to check out some of the other trails in the area. Happy Trails!


Clackamas Hiking Old Cascades Oregon Trip report

Shellrock, Serene, and the Rock Lakes

We headed out on the first day of Autumn for our first post Summer hike and boy did Fall arrive in full force. We headed to the Roaring River Wilderness to check out several lakes on a loop hike. There was a possible view of Mt. Hood and several Washington snow peaks, but it was obvious from the forecast that any views were unlikely. The Roaring River Wilderness is part of the Mt. Hood National Forest and one we had yet to visit. We began our hike at the Shellrock Lake trail head under cloudy skies and a light mist.

After donning our rain gear for the first time in months we decided to do a “warm up” hike to Hideaway Lake in the opposite direction of our planned hike. The trail to Hideaway Lake started on the opposite side of the road from the Shellrock Lake trail. A short .5 miles path brought us to the lake which we then circled on a 1 mile loop. After completing the loop we returned to the parking area and set off toward Shellrock Lake.

The Shellrock Lake trail quickly entered the Roaring River Wilderness and just a short while later we arrived at Shellrock Lake. Fog drifted over the water at this peaceful lake which had plenty of campsites but no campers.

Shellrock Lake
Shellrock Lake

We passed by the lake and began climbing at a sign for the Frazier Turnaround. This portion of the trail was fairly steep and rocky and also full of rough skinned newts. After 1.3 miles of climbing we arrived at Frazier Turnaround where we could have parked if we’d been willing to try the terrible access road.

From Frazier Turnaround the loop portion of our hike started. We followed a sign pointing to Serene and the Rock Lakes. Our first destination was Middle Rock Lake. We took the quarter mile path to the lake where we spotted numerous crawdads and a frog.

Crawdads in Middle Rock Lake
Crawdads in Middle Rock Lake
Frog in Middle Rock Lake
Frog in Middle Rock Lake

The trail continued along Middle Rock Lake and was supposed to take us to Upper Rock Lake. We ran into a little bit of an issue as we attempted to follow this portion of the trail when it appeared to veer away from the lake. We followed this faint path uphill where it was becoming increasingly overgrown until it finally disappeared at several fallen trees. Thinking the trees had blocked the path we worked our way around them and picked up what appeared to be the continuation of the faint path which quickly ended below a rock slide with no lake in sight. It was time to break out the Garmin (again) which revealed that we were too far to the right of Upper Rock Lake so we set off cross country through the wet brush. We passed a pair of scenic lily pad ponds before finally reaching Upper Rock Lake and finding a good trail leading to it’s shore.

Pond near Upper Rock Lake
Pond near Upper Rock Lake
Upper Rock Lake
Upper Rock Lake

We followed the good trail down and discovered the source of our confusion. A tree had fallen along the shore of Middle Rock Lake which had hidden the trail and obscured the view of the single pink flagging that indicated the correct path. We had turned right at the uprooted base of this tree on the only visible path to us at the time.

We had one more of the Rock Lakes to visit, Lower Rock Lake, which was on the other side of the loop trail so we returned the way we came and went down to visit this last one. There wasn’t much to see there, just a nice little forest lake so we quickly returned to the Serene Lake trail and continued our loop. The trail had dropped down to the Rock Lakes but now we were climbing up through a nice forest. After several switchbacks the trail leveled out and arrived at Serene Lake. This was the deepest lake of the day and was surrounded by rocky slopes and forest. Clouds drifted up over the hillsides surrounding the lake while we had a snack on it’s shore.

Serene Lake
Serene Lake

We left Serene Lake and headed for our last point of interest, Cache Meadow. The trail continued to climb as we continued on until finally leveling off on a plateau above Serene Lake. Here would have been the mountain views with Serene Lake below but the weather had not cooperated and only Serene Lake was barely visible below.

Serene Lake from the viewpoint
Serene Lake from the viewpoint

The rain began to pick up as we approached Cache Meadow. The meadow was larger than I had expected and the remains of a vast display of flowers covered the ground. Now only a few aster held some lingering petals. A small unnamed lake filled one end of the meadow but we didn’t explore much due to the increasing rain.

Cache Meadow
Cache Meadow

The next four plus miles was through the rain as we completed the loop back to Frazier Turnaround and then descended back to Shellrock Lake. The rain did let up as we left the wilderness area long enough for us to change into dry clothing before driving home. The only thing missing was a cup of hot chocolate 🙂 Happy Trails

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