Day Hiking: South Cascades
by Dan A. Nelson (The Mountaineers Books)
© 2007 Dan A. Nelson /The Mountaineers Books. All Rights Reserved.
A great workout trail with views that are equal to anything Mt.Rainier park itself has. You do not need a SUV or 4 wheel drive to get to the trailhead. We had a rental Chevy, 4 cylinder, HHR which had no problem. Yes there are big potholes but plenty of room to navigate around them. The hike offered everything from thick forests to open meadows filled with wild flowers. I saw more magenta paintbrush and beargrass here than I did at Mt.Rainier. There is no reason to take the path to go down to the lake, (if you seen one lake you have seen them all) stay on the main 161 trail. You will eventually come around the backside of the ridge on your way up and be amazed by the view of 3 mountains, Adams, St.Helens and Rainier, all completely in view. Make sure you take a camera that can shoot video, thats the only way to get all 3 mountains in one shot. There is a spot on the trail where a sign is posted "abandoned trail do not use" That may explain the previous user post about not being able to find the trail. The main trail is well marked and easy to follow.
OK, I gave the entry 5 stars not as a rating, but as appreciation for both Doug and Riri who wrote reviews and mentioned the badly holed road that one must pass in order to get to the trailhead. We(and suppose other readers) have possibly several vehicle course of action to get to a trail, typically I will take my van filled with 3 other hikers and our gear. This time, we will take several large SUVs in order to traverse that road. Again, thanks to both Riri and David, and Trails.com -- you saved me likely vehicle repair costs!
I've hiked this trail 4 times. Spectacular views of the South Cascades and wildflowers galore during early August, berries in fall.
The trail is not as difficult to find as the previous reviewer stated. Take highway 12 to Packwood and turn left (west) onto Skate Creek Rd. Go about 3 miles to FS 5270 on your right, which is signed. This road is deeply rutted for a bit. There is one unsigned fork where you'll go right. TH is about 5.8 miles on FS 5270 and is signed as Trail 161. Park in the wide area across from the trailhead sign.
A moderately steep climb up through a forest of cedar, hemlock, and fir for the first 1800 feet. Then the views break out onto ridge-top meadows packed with every variety of wildflower imaginable in mid-August, lots of huckleberries in late summer, and edible mushrooms (in the forest) in fall. The total elevation gain is roughly 2800 feet (from 2800 ft at the trailhead to about 5700 ft at the rocky knob viewpoint). You'll eventually come to a place where the main trail forks to the left. Straight ahead a sign reads "Trail Abandoned"; don't go there. Next you'll come to an obvious sign that says "Tatoosh Lakes 161B" to vs. "Tatoosh Ridge 161." Take 161B, to the left, and climb up to a plateau which gives you your first glimpse of Mt. Rainier. As you look to your left, you'll see a large knob of rock. There's an obvious footpath that takes you to the rock; the trail goes to the edge of the ridge, then winds back through the trees, finally dumping you on the back side of the knob, which you can ascend easily. From the top of the knob are panoramic views of EVERYTHING, including a fantastic view of plump, white Mt. Rainier, glaciated Adams, St. Helen's, the tip of Hood, and the Goat Rocks' many serrated peaks.
There is a small stream at 5000 ft where you can pump water.
Map: Green Trails 302, Packwood
RT to the knob: 5+ miles
Hiking Time: 2:00 in, 1:30 out
Solitude: very few hikers Dogs: okay
The approach road to the trailhead is not marked and pretty obscure. It is barely passable. High clearance vehicles are needed. Just a little more washout and it will be history and a few extra miles of walking will be necessary.
even when you get to the parking area, the trail head is by no means obvious.. it is down a little offshoot road about 50 yards.
We got to the ridge where there should have been a junction - to the lake below or toward the ridge. We headed (we thought) to the ridge, and the trail simply ended after a few hundred yards. We wantered around/backtracked, but never figured out where we might have gone wrong. Even in the lower areas, the trail is quite overgrown (wear gaters or rain pants).
They need to maintain the road and trail or else pronounce death on it so folks don't waste their time.
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