I fail to hike Silver Star Mountain (but give it a darn good try)

It was a beautiful day up on the mountain, and here is the view from the highest point that I made it to. You can see that a lot of logging is going on in the middle right, and we could see the loggers working from the trail.

My sister-in-law, Nancy, who is so much more fit than I am that she probably has no idea of how trepidatious I can be about a hike, wanted to go up Silver Star Mountain this week. This hike, via Grouse Vista Trail, is rated Difficult on some sites, and I just started doing Moderate hikes. To top it off, the longest hikes I have done so far have been seven miles, and they were both on almost completely flat surfaces. Both times, I was really tired when I got back to the car, so I wasn’t sure I would have the endurance to do the 6.8-mile hike, let alone the ability. But Nancy talked me into it, and Maja, who is also able to do more than I can, agreed to go.

The payoff of this hike, if you make it to the top (which I didn’t) on a clear day is a gorgeous view of up to five mountains, Mt. St. Helens, Mt. Rainier, Mt. Adams, Mt. Hood, and Mt. Jefferson. (I was hoping to include Nancy’s photo from the top, but she never sent it, so you’ll have to do with mine.) The view from where I stopped was pretty nice also.

Silver Star Mountain via Grouse Vista Trail

Yacolt Burn State Forest and Gifford Pinchot National Forest, WA

Distance: 6.3 miles in and out (I went about 4.5 miles)

Difficulty: Difficult

Panting stops: Too many to count!

Elevation change: 2096 feet if you do the whole trail (I did about 1000 feet)

The steepish first part of the path. We found the footing not too bad on the way up but keep in mind that you have to come back down.

On a gorgeous fall day, we tackled the Grouse Vista Trail up Silver Star Mountain. The trailhead is where the Tarbell Trail meets the Grouse Vista Trail, so if you go north (across the road from the parking area), you are on Grouse Vista, and south is Tarbell Trail to Larch Mountain. At the beginning of the hike there is a steep section that is also rocky after you reach the place where the Tarbell Trail branches off toward Hidden Falls. (The day we were there, that trail was blocked off two miles in from this junction, before you get to Hidden Falls, because of logging.) The day we were there, the rocky section of this first steep stretch was running water down it, almost like a very shallow creek, but on the way back we found someone had done a better job of diverting it across the path instead of down it. The steep stretch continues for about the first 0.8 miles of the trail. We didn’t find the footing difficult on the way up because most of the rocks seemed to be embedded in the mud. The way back down, however, was much more difficult, because we were tired. The trail continues to be rocky most of the way, with some stretches of forest duff.

After the first 0.8 miles, the trail levels off, and you begin to see nice views to the south. It eventually opens up into a large meadow, where you can see Pyramid Rock to your right and Sturgeon Rock to the north. The trail cuts around the front of Pyramid Rock and you walk below it. For a short period, you drop down in elevation a bit. Along the meadow, the walking was easy, although the path was quite a bit narrower and in one place almost obscured by bear grass. However, I was so tired from the first ascent that even after a rest and a snack, I felt drained and decided to stop shortly after we rounded Pyramid Rock.

My second-hand understanding of the rest of the hike is that the trail dips back into forest ahead and that there is a one more really steep section at the Silver Star-Grouse Vista junction where the rocks are larger and loose. This section lasts 0.2 miles, and is described on one site as “an open scree slope.” Both of my hiking partners said I had been wise to stay back and wait for them. (I waited for Maja, who went another half hour forward and then came back to get me. Nancy was the only one to make it to the top.) At the junction, you take the Silver Star Trail (#180; Grouse Vista is Trail #180F) to get to the top.

For me, being so tired, the most difficult part of the hike was coming down the last 0.8 mile slope, because I had to pick my way across the rocks that had seemed relatively easy to traverse on the way up. I was so tired that by the time I got to the part of the path that reverted to a nice forest floor that I couldn’t actually walk normally, and I felt lucky to be able to make it to the car. I figure that maybe in five years I can make it to the top of Silver Star on this trail! However, it was a beautiful day and great to be outside in the forest.

How to get there

From Yacolt

Turn south on N. Railroad Avenue. Go 2.5 miles and turn left on NE Sunset Falls Road, which is just across from a parking lot for Moulton Falls Park. Go 2 miles and turn right on NE Dole Valley Road. After 2.5 miles, stay on Dole Valley Road as it continues to the right. After 2.6 miles, turn left on L-1200. The trailhead is on your left about 5.1 miles down this road.

From Vancouver

Take WA-500 east. Turn right on NE Fourth Plain. Go 1.2 miles and turn left on NE Ward Road. At 3.3 miles, go straight onto NE 182nd Avenue. After a mile, turn right on NE 139th Street. Go 2.4 miles and make a slight left onto NE Rawson Road. Go 3.3 miles and go straight to take L-1400. After 2.5 miles, still go straight to be on L-1500. in 0.3 miles, turn left on L-1200. The trailhead is on your left about 5.1 miles down this road.

Parking and facilities

There is parking for about four cars at the trailhead. The only facility is a pit toilet.

A deep forest hike

I took this photo of a tributary leading down to Siouxon Creek from the wooden bridge near the start of the hike.

The main difficulty we had on our hike at the Siouxon Trailhead was finding the trail we intended to hike, which was at a different trailhead. We had a difference of opinion about where it may be, but it turned out that neither of us was right. In any case, once we floundered around for a while, we finally ended up at the Siouxon Trailhead, and a beautiful hike it was, through lush forests and along the creek. Many of our hikes have been a little on the urban side, but this one was truly a deep forest hike.

Because it took us an hour longer to get there than planned, we only went  a couple of miles down the trail. But we plan to return now that we know how to get there.

Siouxon Trail

Gifford Pinchot National Forest, WA

Distance: 18 miles out and back, if you go all the way (we went about four miles)

Difficulty: Tougher to do the whole trail (we didn’t go very far and found it moderate)

Panting stops: four, mainly at the end, returning to the trailhead

Elevation changes: 2076 feet, if you do the whole trail, about 300 feet on the part we did

Although my friend and I both have maps of the Gifford Pinchot Forest, we made the mistake of leaving them home. This was a mistake because we lost phone service long before we entered the park, so that the Google directions from AllTrails didn’t work to lead us to the trailhead. We were actually trying to find the North Siouxon Creek trailhead in the state forest, but the written description of how to get there on AllTrails only mentioned two of the several roads we needed to take there. However, we finally found the Siouxon Trailhead (for a different trail) just before we gave up and went home.

A view of a cataract along Siouxon Creek in an area that has some color. Most of the trees were coniferous, but we occasionally came through patches of fall color.

On the way up there, once you leave WA-503 and turn onto Healy Road, is absolutely stunning scenery, especially at this time of year, with the leaves changing. First we passed through green valleys full of cows, and then we climbed up into gorgeous mountain scenery. One you’re in the National Forest, of course, there aren’t as many wide-open views except in areas that have been heavily logged, and then the views aren’t pretty. However, the hike itself was really nice.

The trail takes you on a relatively steep downhill along a needle-covered woodland path. It is well kept and quite wide in parts, although it is occasionally rocky. The path goes over a wooden bridge (which I understand had to be replaced a couple of years ago, and there are lots of big fallen trees around it to explain why) and then down to run along above Siouxon Creek. We saw a few cataracts in the creek, and I understand that farther up, there are waterfalls. This is truly a deep woods hike, with lots of big trees all around and not many open places except by the creek. The path is fairly level for over a mile, and then it begins climbing again, which is the where the large elevation changes come in. As I said, because we spent an extra hour getting lost on the way out, we only walked in a couple of miles and then turned back. However, now that we know how to get there, we will certainly return for the beautiful hike.

Keep in mind as you go down toward the creek that you have to have enough energy on to go back up these steepish slopes on the way back!

During our Wednesday October hike, we encountered only one other hiker with dogs and two mountain bikers.

How to get there

From Vancouver or Amboy

Take WA-503 up to Chelatchie and turn right on NE Healy Road, right next to the Chelatchie store. Stay on this road, which becomes Rashford Spur Road, then Calamity Peak Road/NF-57, for 14 miles. When you get to the intersection of Calamity Peak Road and NF-5701, turn left onto NF-5701. NF-5701 dead ends at the Siouxon Trailhead.

The roads are very rough leading to and in the national park. They are paved most of the way, but the paving is broken and cracked in spots, making it difficult to drive over. The forest service website recommends using a 4WD vehicle to go to this trailhead.

Parking and facilities

There is parking for maybe 15 cars at the trailhead, This trailhead is also the head for four other trails, but there was only one other car there when we were there. There are no other facilities, except that a way down the trail, there are fallen logs and a campfire circle. You are asked to pack out any trash you take in. Dogs are allowed here. We saw no indication that a pass was required for this trailhead. There is access to the trail near the beginning of NF-5701 for horse trailers.

Lovely views on the way to a hidden lake

Here is what June Lake Trail looks like when it is flattish.

On Labor Day, my sister and niece invited me to hike the June Lake Trail in the Mt. St. Helens Volcanic Monument area of the Gifford Pinchot National Forest. The trail was a challenge for me even though it is rated Easy on All Trails. This was because it is up all the way in, not a steep slope but up none the less, which is the hardest thing for me to do. If you make the effort, you’ll be rewarded by beautiful views on the way in, plus a lake with a waterfall.

June Lake Trail

Rating: Middling

Panting Stops: 3-5

Distance: 2.3 miles, out and back

Elevation changes: 462 feet

The first view of Mt. St. Helens from the trail. As you go higher, it looks a lot closer.

June Lake Trail is a wide dirt path through a fir and maple forest that runs along a swift-moving little creek for most of the way. There are no other paths going off it, just one fire road, so it is easy to stay on the right track. As you get higher in elevation, you can see great views of Mt. St. Helens, and when you arrive at June Lake, you are just below the granite portion of the mountain. Just before you arrive at the lake, you encounter a broad open area of ash and sand that has probably been used as a campground. You go through some bushes to get to the lake, and if you go in the first opening, you’ll hear the waterfall. There is no access to the waterfall, but if you walk along the open area a little further, you’ll come to another access with a great view of the waterfall.

The lake is shallow and full of downed trees, but the place is peaceful. Although most of the path is heavily forested, the area around the lake is open, so even if it is a cool day, you might want to bring your hat.

How to get there

Mt. St. Helens National Volcanic Monument, Gifford Pinchot National Forest, near Cougar, Washington

From Vancouver or Seattle

Drive north on I-5 and take the Highway 503 exit at Woodland. Drive east on 503 for about 30 miles to Cougar. Continue on and about 13 miles past Cougar, you will reach National Forest Road 83. Turn left at NF-83 and drive about 7 miles. You will pass NF-8312 on your right and the Marble Mountain Sno-Park on your left. The June Lake Trailhead is the second left after the Sno-Park down a little road. The sign is worn off and another sign is behind a bush, so it is easy to pass up the trailhead. If you go farther than 1/2 mile or so past the Sno-Park, you have probably passed it.


There is a parking lot for about 20 cars at the trailhead.

At the end of June Lake, there is a nice view of the waterfall.




Always take your sticks!

Copper Creek Falls are a refreshing sight just before the trail gets a steeper.

When we went to Middle Falls, my niece’s husband was under the impression that the falls were just off the parking lot. Instead, this turned out to be our most challenging hike of the day. I had my hiking sticks with me and had taken them along on three other shorter and easier hikes, but because he made this remark, I left my sticks in the car. Lesson learned! Always take your sticks!

The payoff of this trip is a lovely but less spectacular waterfall than Lower Falls and a nice swimming hole. The only problem is that you have to be able to get back up the switchbacks. If you are in really poor shape or have disabilities, this may not be the hike for you.

I was doubting myself for a while, but I made it back up with encouragement from my brother.

Middle Falls Trail

Rating: moderate

Panting stops: 3-5

Length: about a mile, there and back

Elevation changes: about 300 feet

The path down to Middle Falls. This is the part that is not steep.

There is actually a loop trail that you can take at Middle Falls, but we did not know that at the time, so we just took the same trail out and back. It starts out on a gentle incline to Copper Creek Falls. Then, however, you go down several steepish switchbacks until you arrive at the falls and another beautiful blue swimming hole.

Middle Falls

These falls are not as dramatic as Lower Falls, but they still provide the rock shelf ledges for wading, falls for those who like to jump off, and a lovely swimming hole. They were also much less crowded on the day we went. However, because I did not have my sticks, I did not feel secure enough to step down the tall rocky ledges to the swimming hole. They were just tall and slippery looking enough that I did not want to try them. Anyone that is less of a chicken than I am could probably make it down with no problem.

Instead, my sister and niece and I went further down the trail where we discovered our own little waterfall. It had a hole for sitting in the base of it, and the kids slid down the fall. The others in our party swam in the swimming hole while we cooled off at our little waterfall.

How to get there

Gifford Pinchot National Forest, Mt. Adams Ranger District

From Vancouver

Take Washington 503 north past Cougar. It becomes Lewis River Road and then NF-90. You pass the entrance to the Lower Falls Recreation Area. The small parking lot for Middle Falls is farther up NF-90 just off the road on your right side.



Water, water everywhere but not for me

On a hot Saturday afternoon, my family and I went for a hike at the Lewis River with the payoff of a gorgeous waterfall and a beautiful blue swimming hole. Negatives to this hike are the descent to the swimming hole and on that day, the crowds.

Lower Falls Trail

Rating: Easy if you just want to view the falls; tougher to difficult to get to the swimming hole

Panting stops: 0 (but I did not go down the last bit to the water)

Distance: 3 miles out and back

Elevation changes: 659 feet

The path to lower falls, briefly without people

From the parking lot, the well-travelled path ascends gently before heading down to the river and the falls. The view of the waterfall is impressive, and the swimming hole just below it looks lovely on a hot day. The swimming hole has stone ledges immersed in a couple of inches of water, allowing those who don’t want to swim to enjoy the water.

Lower Falls

To get to the swimming hole, hike further down the path, where you will find a couple of descents to the river. However, I found that the climb down a cliff to get to the swimming hole was too steep. I was mostly worried about getting back up, so I did not try to go down. Instead, my niece and I walked further down the trail and eventually found access to the water down just a slight slope. It was well below the swimming hole, however, with no good way to get back up to it. The water was shallow there and rocky, so bring your swimming shoes.

Also, on that particular day, it was crammed with people, which we found surprising for such a remote area. You had to wait in line to go down to the water, and people were trying to climb up and down at the same narrow spot. It’s steep enough that the climb up involves using tree roots as a ladder. When we left, more people were arriving with rolling coolers, boom boxes, and umbrellas. So, not a quiet retreat from everyday cares. We actually encountered a traffic jam in this remote area when we were leaving.

Later: We found out after we returned home that this particular falls had been featured on the cover of a Portland magazine and in an article about alternatives to the Gorge, since many trails there are closed because of fires and damage from last year’s fires.

How to get there

Gifford Pinchot National Forest, Mount Adams Ranger District

From Vancouver

Take Washington 503 north past Cougar. It becomes Lewis River Road and then NF-90. A mile or so before you get to the falls, you will encounter a wash where some cars were getting stuck on their way out. You will turn right off NF-90 into the Lower Falls Recreation Area. After that, you’ll see the entrance to the parking area on your right. On the day we were there, the parking lot was full and people were parked way down the road. We were lucky enough to get a spot in the lot anyway.

Parking and facilities

There is a large parking area by the falls. Nearby there is also a campground. There are also a pit restroom and some picnic tables at the trailhead.





Stroll out to a waterfall

The Lewis River Trail runs 5.9 miles along the Lewis River. At this point, I don’t have the stamina or strength to hike the whole thing, but it provides opportunities for quite a few gorgeous shorter hikes. Curly Creek Falls trail is an example. My family, including me and two children, hiked this trail on a hot summer day, but it was leafy and cool.

Curly Creek Falls Trail

Rating: easy peasy

Panting stops: 0

Length: 0.8 miles out and back

Elevation changes: 141 feet

The path to Curly Creek Falls. The only people we saw that morning were my family.

We parked in a small lot before a bridge that looked like it was usually used by people fishing and walked across the footbridge to find the trail head on the left side, a continuation of Lewis River 31 that was on the other side of the road. The trail was in good shape, and it runs right along the river, affording some lovely views.

The payoff is the falls, which at that time of year are delicate looking but long. They are fairly far in the distance and were not that spectacular compared to some of the other falls in the area (you can barely see them in my photo), but earlier in the year, they are probably much more impressive, falling as they do through a stone arch. In any case, this hike provides a bit of exercise and a pleasant walk on a well-kept trail.

How to get there

Gifford Pinchot National Forest near Stevenson, Washington

From Portland or Vancouver

Curly Creek Falls. On this day, the falls were very light. You can see them faintly in the dark spot on the right.

Take Washington 503 north past Cougar. It becomes Lewis River Road and then NF-90. Turn left on Lava Canyon Road, which is also NF-83. Turn left on NF-9039. Look for a small parking lot just before the bridge.

Park at the lot and take the footbridge across the creek. The trail head is on your left. Across the road is the trail head for Lewis River 31.

A short jaunt way back into history

The boardwalk through the newer forest of old growth trees. That’s my brother.

I actually took four hikes with my family on Saturday while my brother was visiting from Madison, Wisconsin. Here is the first one, not really a hike in distance but really interesting. It takes you into two forests. One forest is old growth fir and cedar, and the other is a young forest that was engulfed by lava over two thousand years ago from an eruption by Mt. St. Helens.

On this hike, you must stay on the trail, because the mosses and landscape are fragile.

Here is one of the holes left in the rock by a disintegrated tree trunk.

Trail of Two Forests

Rating: Easy peasy

Panting stops: 0

Length: 0.4 miles

Elevation changes: 19 feet

There probably isn’t an easier little walk you could take than this one, but it takes you through some impressive sights. Particularly impressive is the remnants of the ancient forest. Around 2000 years ago, lava engulfed the area, turning the trees to charcoal. As the years went by, the charcoal disintegrated, leaving perfect circles in the rock where the trees stood.

My great niece and nephew emerging from the tunnel

The walk is on a boardwalk surface, raised to keep feet off of delicate mosses and a ground riddled with unexpected holes.

Bring your flashlights, because a fun feature for kids is a tunnel created when two fallen trees that crossed each other were engulfed in lava. The kids can climb down a ladder to crawl into it and come out a little farther down the boardwalk. The insides of the tunnels have the texture of the old tree bark. This tunnel is for hands and knees, so keep that in mind if you want to try it.

How to get there

Gifford Pinchot National Forest, near Stevenson, Washington

From Portland or Vancouver

Take Washington 503 north past Cougar. It becomes Lewis River Road and then NF-90. Turn left on Lava Canyon Road, which is also NF-83. At that point, you should see a sign for the Trail of Two Forests. Take another left on Cinnamon Peak Road or NF-8303. Again, there should be another sign. The trail head is almost immediately on your left after that turn.

Parking and Facilities

There is a parking lot for about 10 or 15 cars. When we were there, a day when some of the forest recreational areas were packed with people, we were completely alone on the trail. There is a little restroom facility at the trail head.