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The Best Hikes in Gifford Pinchot National Forest

95 Triplog Reviews in the Gifford Pinchot National Forest
Most recent of 34 deeper Triplog Reviews
12.07 mi • 3,292 ft aeg
Took a break from Mt. Rainier National Park and headed out to Goat Creek which is a little southeast of Morton. Cathedral Falls was only a trickle but there were several smaller falls along the trail. Plus this trail had lots of solitude. Some peak-a-boo views of Mt. Adams and Mt. Rainier. Wildflowers were out and there were some good patches of berries as well. Saw 5 people for the first 5.5 hours of our hike. Saw a couple more groups toward the end but for the most part we had the trail to ourselves.
7 mi • 3,300 ft aeg
If you are looking for solitude - difficult to find around Mt Rainier when the wildflowers are blooming - this trail is for you.
From Packwood take Skate Creek Rd towards Ashland and take a right at NF5270. Follow it almost to the end, to the parking at the Tatoosh Ridge trailhead.
It's a relentless climb in the forest for two miles to reach the meadow and the first views. More climbing follows, but now in views and, in season, through one of the most gorgeous displays of wildflowers.
10.5 mi • 5,730 ft aeg
Made my annual trek up to Mt. St Helens for the 3rd year in a row. Decided to switch things up this time and carry my snowboard gear up to the top so I could ride down. Took a friend with me for their first time climbing St. Helens.

Normally I like to get a super early start so I can start climbing on firm snow, but we were moving a bit slow today and were in the trailhead ready to go at 9am. It was sunny and surprisingly warm when we set off up the trail. There were only 18 out of 500 permits claimed to climb the mountain for the day and we were the last group to start climbing.

The trail was snow covered from the very start. We made decent time as we worked out way up to Chocolate Falls, pausing on the ridge just past the falls to make some final adjustments to our gear and adjust our layers and put on micro spikes. As we started heading up the ridge line that leads to the summit we passed the first group of the day that was headed back after a successful climb.

The late start meant that the snow was a bit slushy and loose as we post holed our way up towards the summit. As we climbed higher the wind began to increase to the point where it was almost unbearable. Climbing with a full snowboard on my back meant that I was particularly susceptible to being blown over and had to brace myself for the strong gusts. We took frequent breaks, taking advantage of any snow free rock outcroppings to re-hydrate, stretch, and grab a quick snack before pushing on.

As we climbed higher out encounters with the other climbers returning for the day became more frequent. Most everyone else was skiing down, but there were a couple other snowboards and one group of people glissading.

After 6 hours we reached the ice covered summit. We had clear view in all directions- Rainier to the North, Adams to the east, Mt Hood and Jefferson to the south. It was crazy windy at the summit, but we lingered for a while as we soaked in the views. Eventually we decided that Greg would start glissading down first, and I would drop in after him on my snowboard.

The first 100 yards off the summit were a bit tough- my legs were cramping up and super sore from the climb, the ground was also icy and it took a couple of falls before I got my legs under me and loosened up. Greg and I switched the lead on the way down. Sometimes he would glissade ahead and I would follow behind as I took a meandering route along the mountain, other times I would drop in ahead of him and scout the best route for him to follow. I managed to ride down to about 4500' before I took the board off and started walking again. I might have been able to continue a bit further, but I was exhausted from route finding and didn't know if the valley below the ridge line was rideable, so it was just easier to start hiking again.

Made it back to the parking lot just after 9 hours. The last hour and a half of hiking were a pretty miserable slog- we were both exhausted, sunburned, and out of water. When we got back to the lot we were the last car left (as expected) but another group of climbers arrived shortly after. They were getting ready to camp before summiting the following day, so we discussed trail conditions and gave them some pointers before heading out.

With out main adventure done for the day, we set off back to the town of Cougar to grab some food. But a couple of miles down the road we were delayed as we were flagged down by a guy who got his civic stuck on a flooded forest road while trying to hunt mushrooms. We offered to help and winched his vehicle out. The entire vehicle was completely flooded and I am pretty confident that the engine block was likely cracked after he flooded the engine, but he declined a ride back to town and insisted on staying behind with hit wife and kids to work on the car and to try and get it running again. After getting back to Cougar we made a phone call to the guys brother and left a message to have him head out to rescue his brother, then sat down for some well deserved food before making the long drive home.
6.68 mi • 2,877 ft aeg
Beautiful mostly clear day with weather in the 60s, perfect hiking weather. I'm getting ready to do Mt. Saint Helens sometime in the next couple weeks, so I wanted something steep with plenty of elevation gain to get my legs ready. Carried my heavy winter pack and wore boots to simulate conditions for St. Helens. Headed up the difficult trail and then looped back down the long easy trail. 1:07 to the very top of Dog Mtn and 1:03 down. Obviously slowed down by carrying extra gear and by snow that was present for about a mile long stretch of the the return trail, but still very happy with my time. Can definitely get the loop done under 2 hours if I try to run it.

Wildflowers
Still way to early for wildflowers
8.59 mi • 637 ft aeg
Nice stroll along Dry Creek Trail in the rain and fog. Had the entire trail to myself, temps in the low 50s, upper 40s. Most of the fall color has passed and the ground is covered in a patchwork of orange and yellow leaves. Took my time following the trail- had no real destination or objective, so I just took it slow. Turned back where the trail crosses the creek (which after all the heavy rains was flowing very heavy). Lots of mushrooms and fungi along the way, even found enough late-season Chantrelles for several meals, just in time for Thanksgiving.
1.09 mi • 568 ft aeg
Cool little lake tucked off the beaten path Gifford Pinchot National Forest. Spent the day hunting Chanterelles in the lower elevation hills without much success, then made the drive up to the lake. Super rainy and foggy, even had a brief moment where it lightly hailed. Surprising amount of trash along the trail and at the lake for a location that feels so remote and doesn't even have any signage at the trail. Could see some Brook Trout cruising the shallows and would like to head back to fish and clean up the lake, but I think the snow has probably settled in for the season now.
11 mi • 1,553 ft aeg
Left Portland around 1100 and headed up to hike some lakes on the north end of Indian Heaven Wilderness. Made a couple of brief stops along Wind River Highway on the way up to forage for Chantrelles and admire the fall color that is in full peak right now.

Arrived at the iced over parking lot for Placid Lake just after 1300. Despite the numerous tracks from previous cars winding through the snow to the parking lot, I was the only person present. Got my gear ready and was on trail at 1330.

Wandered my way through melting snow patches and quickly arrived at Placid Lake. The afternoon sunlight was beating down on the snow and ice, forming steam that was rising through the forest and off the lake, very pretty.

Headed up to Chenamus Lake Trail involved navigating through and around multiple streams and deep pools of water that had overrun the trail from the snow melt. Nothing challenging, just enough to spice things up a bit. Explored the shores of Chenamus Lake for a bit and admired the ring of ice that was beginning to encroach upon the lake.

I had initially thought about returning to the parking lot and driving to another access point on the east side of the wilderness to visit some other lakes, but time was growing short and I decided I could maximize my time in the wilderness by hiking directly up to Wood Lake instead.

The climb was much slower going than I expected. The trail isn't steep at all, but wearing heavy winter boots and mashing my way through the snow (combined with already sore legs) really gave me a good workout. By the time I reached 4700 feet the ground was completely covered in snow. Along the way I passed several small ponds that were completely iced over. Fortunately the Indian Heaven trails are pretty easy to follow, so despite the lack of footprints I was able to make my way through the snow without any problems.

Linking up with the PCT I came across a pair of tracks that were headed south, the first real fresh prints I had seen all day. I headed the opposite direction through the increasing snow and eventually arrived at the turnoff to Wood Lake.

Although it's not even a mile from the PCT to Wood Lake, this was the most miserable part of the day. There were absolutely no prints to follow and the trail was covered under at least a foot of snow. As the trail winds downhill to Wood Lake it passes several low spots that typically contain small pools of water during the summer months. But due to all the recent rain and snow these spots were overflowing with large, iced over ponds that completely swallowed the trail, forcing me to detour around them through the trees and brush or splash my way along the rim of the pond while icy water filled my boots. It was very slow going and I contemplated turning back, but I figured I had gone far enough that I would regret turning back. Eventually I arrived at the ice covered shores of Wood Lake. Definitely not the most scenic lake in Indian Heaven, but at least I can say I made it.

Once I rejoined the PCT I changed back into dry socks and put on some additional layers, then high tailed it back downhill to race the setting sun. I arrived back at Placid Lake at dusk and took a couple minutes to enjoy the solitude and watch the evening fog forming over the lake, then headed back to the parking lot by headlamp.

Foliage
Fall color along the Wind River Highway on the way to the trailhead is fantastic. Not much fall color actually in the Indian Heaven Wilderness though.
9.61 mi • 1,004 ft aeg
Super rainy day as an autumn storm rolls through the PNW. Definitely not the ideal day to head out for a hike, but after being stuck inside with a cold for the last week I was dying to get out and go for a hike. I have heard a lot about this hike from friends and its listed as one of the "must do" hikes for the area.

Arrived at the trailhead to find I was the only one crazy enough to attempt this hike in the rain. After putting on full rain gear I set off down the trail towards the creek. The fall colors are getting close to peak conditions with their golden leaves illuminating the gloomy forest. The creek was running fast and muddy, all the waterfalls and normally small cascades were flowing super high. There was no way I could do the Siouxon/Wildcat ford with the river as deep and swift as it was flowing, so this ended up just being an up and back hike instead of the loop. Finished just after dark and was pretty much completely soaked despite all of my rain gear.

After comparing my shots of the creek with other images online, I definitely need to head back sometime when the water is lower so I can get to see the cool blue tint the water normally has.
0.22 mi • 160 ft aeg
Rappelled off a tree between the creek split and the main section of the falls. Very fun drop, little awkward actually getting on rope on the slippery/muddy edge of the falls, but otherwise everything went really smoothly. The free hanging section is super fun- with water raining down from the creek above. Definitely worth doing again.

There were a couple other hikers present that had flagged me down on the drive in and asked for directions- so I escorted them to the falls. One of the guys took shots of me descending the falls, I gave him my contact info and am still waiting on him to send me the photos.

Afterwards I went hunting for Chanterelles, I drove up Forest Rd 65 and looped back to the highway along FR60. Stopped about a dozen times and only had luck on my very last stop as the sun was beginning to set. I think its still a bit too early in the season.
13.67 mi • 3,030 ft aeg
Made the long drive into Washington to hike up to Goat Lake. This is the most popular hike in the Goat Rock Wilderness and its easy to see why- great views, wildlife, and a scenic alpine lake, this hike has everything.

Left Portland a bit after 10am and arrived at the trailhead at about 2pm. Blue skies with not a cloud in sight, temps probably in the mid 60s. I counted about 20-30 cars between the 2 trail heads, but I really didn't see many people once I started hiking. I figured I had enough light to make it to the lake a couple of hours before sunset and then I would hike out and finish the last couple of miles by headlamp.

I decided to follow the shorter/steeper trail up to the lake, so I started by walking back up the road to the Berry Patch Trailhead. The first couple of miles are rather bland as the trail works its way up the ridge and climbs through the forest. Once Past the 95/95a split the trail begins to level out somewhat as it passes multiple viewpoints that continually improve upon one another.

Arriving at Goat Lake I was treated to the view of at least 20 Mountain Goats grazing on the hillside above the far shore. I sat by the lake for a bit watching them casually stroll up and down the hill as I listened to the wind whip across the peaks high above the lake. I wish I had more time to enjoy the views, but I knew I had to keep going to make the long hike back to the trailhead.

With the sun low on the horizon, the ridges glowed orange as I followed the trail along the base of Old Snowy Mountain and Ives peak, past numerous small streams and beautiful meadows that were beginning to change color with the shorter days of fall. I took my time, stopping every couple of minutes to admire the light and take pictures. I had just enough time to make it back below tree line where the trail drops towards Goat Creek when I finally ran out of daylight. Fortunately by this time the views had finally subsided, so I just powered through the last couple of miles by headlamp.
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