Familiar trail, unfamiliar hike

Unfortunately, this is the edge of a logged area, so the foreground isn’t pretty, but the view is nice.

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

Difficulty: moderate

Panting stops: 2 or 3

Elevation changes: about 1000 feet (150 feet up and the rest down)

Here’s Luke on the trail.

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.

Here is the final bridge over Rock Creek just before the trailhead.

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

From Yacolt

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.

A walk in the woods toward Larch Mountain

This photo shows the angle that the path maintains for practically the whole hike, just slightly upward on the way out and downward on the way back. Here we were just starting out, in the lightly wooded area.

This week’s hike was the perfect combination for my family, because it gave me a workout without exhausting me, while to my family it was a walk in the woods. That was because the trail, through light and then heavier forest dotted with meadows, was uphill all the way out but at a mild angle of maybe 10 to 20 degrees. I felt that this hike was about perfect for me, even though it lacked some of the spectacular views afforded by the more difficult hikes, because of its lower elevation. Still, it was in deserted, quiet woods high above Grouse Creek. We did not go all the way to Larch Mountain, but when I looked at the grade and remaining distance, I was confident that I could make it all the way up to the beautiful views at another time.

Tarbell Trail toward Larch Mountain

Yacolt Burn State Park, Yacolt Washington

Distance: we went about four miles in and out (total to Larch Mountain and back is 11.6))

Difficulty: easy to middling

Panting stops: 3 o 4

Elevation changes: about 750 feet as far as we went (3496 total)

We parked at the Yacolt Burn trailhead and found the Tarbell trail at the front right corner of the parking lot. The trail goes down a short, steep declivity and then it divides. If you take the trail to the left, you’ll end up on a portion of the Tarbell trail that is mostly a bike trail now and has been modified to include bike ramps and other obstacles, so I find is no longer an enjoyable hiking trail. We took the path to the right.

The path goes steadily upward at a moderate angle through lightly forested areas and meadows until it reaches a more densely forested area. In the dense forests, you can see Cold Water Creek below and there are a few small waterfalls. The path is a little stony until you reach the denser forest, when it becomes mostly forest floor. It had rained the day before, so there were muddy patches, but they were easily got around.

The day was gloomy and cold, but it was refreshing and kept us from getting hot. We saw just one biker on the path. We turned around because the kids wanted to, but I think if we had known how close we were to the top of Larch Mountain, we would have gone farther.

Overall, I found it a lovely hike with just the right amount of exertion for me and a lot easier for my family members, who are in better shape.

How to get there

From Yacolt, Washington

Take N Railroad Avenue south out of Yacolt. Turn left on NE Sunset Falls Road just before Railroad Avenue turns right and becomes Lucia Falls Road. After two miles, turn right on NE Dole Valley Road. Take Dole Valley Road out about 4.5 miles. The road will change from paved to gravel. The trailhead is on your left just after you pass the sign for the Coldwater Creek campground.

From Vancouver, Washington

Take WA 503 north past Battle Ground for almost six miles. Turn right on NE Rock Creek Road, which becomes NE Lucia Falls Road. Lucia Falls Road ends where it turns north and becomes N Railroad Avenue. Turn onto N Railroad Avenue and almost immediately after, turn right on NE Sunset Falls Road. After two miles, turn right on NE Dole Valley Road. Take Dole Valley Road out about 4.5 miles. The road will change from paved to gravel. The trailhead is on your left just after you pass the sign for the Coldwater Creek campground.

Parking and Amenities

There is a parking lot at the trailhead for about 20 cars. There are also two restrooms. This trail begins next to the road on the same side of the road as the parking lot and is clearly marked Tarbell Trail.