On Sunday, my family and I went on a leg of the Tarbell Trail further than we have gone before. I haven’t done much hiking the past nine months, ever since I got plantar fasciitis last summer, so this one was a tough one for me, because I was out of shape. It was mostly downhill at a gentle slope, through logged areas, wooded areas with some old forest and some newly planted forest, and meadows, and across several streams. We put cars at both ends of the hike and started at the Tarbell trailhead. Then we hiked down to the trailhead at the Rock Creek Horse Camp.
It was a beautiful day to be out, and we had a good time, even though I was so out of shape that I was very tired by the end of the hike. We only encountered three other people on the trail.
Tarbell Trail to Rock Creek Horse Camp
Yacolt Burn State Forest, Yacolt, WA
Distance: about three miles
Panting stops: 2 or 3
Elevation changes: about 1000 feet (150 feet up and the rest down)
We have been on the Tarbell Trail before and even gone partway in this direction, but this time, we parked one car down in the Rock Creek Horse Camp and then drove up to the Tarbell trailhead. This allowed us about a three-mile hike of not too much difficulty, because it went downhill most of the way (up 150 feet at the beginning and then back down) at a nice, easy grade.
There is a short walk up from the trailhead to where the Tarbell divides one way to Rock Creek and the other way to Hidden Falls. However, we know that when you take the path to Rock Creek you come out very shortly on the road that the trailhead is on, so this time we just walked up the road, around the yellow gate, and came upon the trailhead on the right just a little way up the road.
At first, the trail traverses wide logged areas, so you have a view but the close-up landscape is ugly. However, it’s not too long before it reaches the first wooded area. From then on, it is mostly forested, sometimes with older growth and other times with newly planted trees. At one point, we estimated the trees at three years old and at another point at ten, so this area is constantly being logged and replanted.
There are a few uphill treks before reaching the highest elevation at 2000 feet, but none of them are difficult. Then the trail winds downhill for most of the way. It crosses several streams, all bridged. The path was sometimes muddy at this time of the year, but it wasn’t deep or sloppy. The makeup of the path is mostly dirt with some rocks in it, but sometimes it becomes a pleasant forest duff. Toward the Rock Creek End, the mountain bikers had cut it to quite a trench, which I personally found hard to walk on, but that stretch is only for a while.
The trail crosses several logging roads. For the most part, the trail is easy to pick up, but each time that it wasn’t directly across from us, it was down a way to the left.
The large bridge over Rock Creek is the indication that you are almost back to the trailhead and parking lot.
Although the footing was occasionally difficult either due to rocks or the trench that the bikers cut into the path, for the most part this is hike is only rated moderate because of the distance and the shape I was in when I took it. I definitely felt it the next day.
How to get to the Rock Creek Campground
The first thing we did was drive to the Rock Creek Horse Camp to leave a car. Head south on SE Railroad Avenue. Just where the road is about to bend to the right is NE Sunset Falls Road on your left. Turn left. About two miles down, turn right on NE Dole Valley Road. There is an arrow on the left marking the road. Take Dole Valley road for almost ten miles. You will go over a one-lane bridge. Right before your turn, you see a sign that says the county road is ending. Then there is a sign for Rock Creek Campground. Turn left. Follow the road inside the campground to the right (it is one-way) until you get to the little parking area that marks the trailhead.
How to get to the Tarbell Trailhead
From Rock Creek Campground
Follow the road back around and out of the campground. Turn right onto Dole Valley Road. Go back up Dole Valley, over the one-lane bridge for about 2.4 miles, when you will go straight onto L-1100. This is an unpaved road in the State Forest. Take the L-1100 for 2.2 miles, and then turn right onto L-1210. The trailhead is visible from the L-1100 as you approach.
Parking and facilities
At Rock Creek Campground there is parking for four cars, and there is a restroom. Otherwise, there are camping facilities for horse campers and a few for people without horses. At the Tarbell trailhead, there is parking for up to six cars, a pit toilet, and a picnic table. Just a bit up the trail there are a few secluded areas with more picnic tables. The trail is for people, bikes, and horses, but no motorized vehicles are allowed. Dogs are supposed to be on a leash, although mine wasn’t.