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.

A family hike above Dole Valley

Here is one of the views from the Tarbell Trail on the way to Hidden Falls.

This week, my hiking friend and I were joined by my niece and her two children. We decided to return to a place where we had hiked before, the Tarbell trailhead (before I started this blog, so that hike isn’t on it). The trailhead forks into two directions. The first time, we went towards Rock Creek Campground. This time, we decided to go toward Hidden Falls.

This is a long hike, rated moderate on AllTrails. We only went about two miles toward the falls and two miles back. Still, it is a beautiful hike, well up off the floor of Dole Valley, so that you can see really nice views.

Hidden Falls via Tarbell Trail

Yacolt Burn State Forest, Yacolt, Washington

Difficulty: Moderate

Panting stops: 3 or 4

Distance: 10.9 miles

Elevation changes: 1617 feet

We went up on a coolish but sunny day. The trailhead takes you to a fork, where you can go left for Hidden Falls or right toward Rock Creek Campground. We went left this time. The trail alternates between going through forest or through logged areas, some that have begun to grow back and some that are new. So, if it is sunny bring your hat. I kept taking mine off and putting it back on. We felt that it was unfortunate that they had logged right up to the path, but on the other hand, those areas were the ones most open to views.

My great nephew and niece on the giant rock.

Most of the trail on the way out is uphill, but not at a steep grade. Although the overall gain in elevation is quite a bit, it’s a long trail. The path is a narrow dirt one, sometimes rocky and other times carpeted in needles from the firs. We saw lots of wild irises and Oregon grape and other wildflowers during this late spring hike. We also saw lots of little wild roses that were about to bloom. A bit past the one-mile marker, we came to a giant rock, which the kids had fun climbing.

This hike was rated Moderate on AllTrails. So far, I have stayed away from Moderate hikes, as I sometimes have difficulty with Easy ones. I would agree on this rating just based on the length of the hike, if you want to go all the way, and the ultimate elevation change. That being said, since we took a shorter hike, I would rate it no harder than Middling. Of course, I can’t say whether the hike gets more difficult on the part we didn’t try.

This was one of the prettiest hikes we have taken right in our local area. We had a good time. Hiking on a weekday, we only met one other person on the trail.

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 2.5 miles. Make a left onto the L-1100, which is a forest road. After 2.2 miles, a road off to your right takes you to the trailhead, which is right around the corner.

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 about 2.5 miles. Make a left onto the L-1100, which is a forest road. After 2.2 miles, a road off to your right takes you to the trailhead, which is right around the corner.

Parking and Amenities

The parking lot for the trailhead has room for about five or six cars. There is a pit toilet at the trailhead, a picnic table, and a pump. On the path up to the trail, there are several secluded areas with more picnic tables. The path is for hikers, bikers, and horses. No motorized vehicles are allowed, but dogs are, on a leash.

Finding the trail we lost before

Cedar Creek with a little waterfall, the end of the line for this hike, although the Bells Mountain Trail continues over the bridge and goes more than 7 miles to Moulton Falls Park. I understand that this is a difficult hike. I haven’t tried it yet. My hiking partner’s friend came along with us and posed for this cute picture.

Last winter, I wrote about a hike we took in the Yacolt Burn where we ended up on the wrong trail because we couldn’t figure out where the trail was. The only map posted at the trailhead is one of the entire region, so it isn’t very useful. This week, we returned to the trailhead to look for the trail we planned to hike originally. The signage is confusing, because it clearly labels the entrance to the Tarbell trail but then has right-hand arrows for the other trails that could mean Take the Tarbell trail or Go across the road. My sister, during the original hike, thought our hike was down the Tarbell Trail, but actually, we needed to go across the road to pick up the Bells Mountain Trail. That’s what we did this time and found ourselves on the trail as soon as we crossed the road.

Bells Mountain Trail to Cedar Creek

Yacolt Burn State Forest near Yacolt, Washington

Difficulty: Middling

Panting stops: 3 or 4, all on the way back

Distance: about 4 miles out and back

Elevation changes: 606 feet

I’ll tell you right away the the AllTrails app shows the distance of this hike as 6.1 miles. We went all the way to Cedar Creek, and the distance was no more than 4 miles. It’s possible that the hike entered into the app goes beyond the creek, although it doesn’t sound like it from the name of the hike, but even with adding a short side trip to the Coldwater Creek Day Use area, we hiked at most four miles. We had no cell phone reception past a certain point, so we were unable to check where we were on the map in AllTrails to see if the intent was to go further. We stopped at the creek.

Here’s an idea of the views at the beginning of the hike and a glimpse of the dirt trail. Yes, it’s going up a bit here, but mostly it goes down on the way out.

The trail is a narrow dirt one that can be a little rough, but it is a relatively easy hike with the caveat that what goes down must go up. That is, the trail goes gradually down almost all the way out to the creek with just a few upward areas. That means that it goes gradually up all the way back and has the steepest grade at the end. That’s the only reason I rated it middling instead of easy. It is a good hike, though, and not at all difficult to do that last upward grade unless you get really tired.

The hike takes you through an open area that was logged a few years ago, but this area offers a nice view as well as some interesting fallen trees with huge but shallow root bases revealed. When we were there, someone had placed part of the skeleton of an animal on a stump, and we spotted lots of wild irises and other flowers on our late spring walk. If you’re going on a sunny day, you’ll need a hat for this part. Then you go into a forest the rest of the way, ending at a lovely little spot with a waterfall, bridge, and viewing platform. We took a side trip from there on the wheelchair accessible path back to the day use area. If you have accessibility issues, you can still see the waterfall by driving to the day use area and taking this trail, which is about 0.2 miles.

So, we had a nice hike, not too hard to do with nice scenery. We met no people on the entire hike.

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. The actual trail is across the road from the parking lot. There are two pit restrooms at the parking lot. If you take a side trip to the day use area when you get to the creek, there are picnic tables, a pump, and more pit restrooms.

A good trail to find when you’re lost

I took this picture of the path from a switchback above it. You can get a glimpse of the path in the middle of the photo.

We started out on this hike intending to take a completely different trail, but when we got to the Yacolt Burn Trailhead, the signage and trail map confused us, and we ended up on the Tarbell Trail. It was a beautiful winter day, and although we had had some rain in the past week, the dirt trail was a little muddy but not too bad. We saw some great views of the Yacolt Burn State Park. Because of time constraints, we only did about two miles of this loop trail (and technically, it was closed for construction, which we didn’t notice until we got back), but we had a nice envigorating hike.

Tarbell and Thrillium Trail

Yacolt Burn State Forest near Yacolt, Washington

Difficulty: Middling to Moderate

Panting stops: 3 or 4 in the part we did

Distance: 6.9-mile loop

Elevation changes: 1,610 feet

The view is almost always obscured by a few trees, but it is a nice one nevertheless.

Although this well-maintained but narrow dirt trail spends most of its time going up, it uses switchbacks, which are easier to handle than straight up, especially for me. At some point it goes down again, but we didn’t get to that part. We hiked on a beautiful winter day, and the only people we saw were two bikers at the trailhead. Although the trail is wooded for most of the way, we saw some nice views on the way up. This is definitely a trail I would like to go back to when I have more time. This trailhead is a starting place for several different trails, so we will be sure to return.

I was out of shape from not having hiked most of the last two months, but although I found the hike challenging, I was well able to do it.

Note that a Discover Pass is required for this trailhead, and there is no self-purchase machine. You can buy a Discover Pass at any Fred Meyer store as well as at Battle Ground Lake State Park.

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. Just a bit up the trail, there is a picnic table. This trail begins next to the road on the same side of the road as the parking lot and is clearly marked Tarbell Trail.