Posted by Michael Lanthier
Saturday, June 6th was National Trails Day. The snow is melting, the flowers are blooming, and there are many trails ripe for an adventure. Did you journey out to a trail this weekend? Tell us your stories and favorite adventures in Washington’s National Forests or share your photos at firstname.lastname@example.org.
For National Trails Day, WWC Assistant Conservation Director Michael traveled five miles south of Packwood, WA to the western side of Goat Rocks Wilderness in the Gifford Pinchot National Forest.
Early June is a great time to visit the few lower elevation portions of Southwest Washington’s Goat Rocks Wilderness. The area is famed for its rugged peaks of an eroded, ancient volcano where bands of mountain goats live, but atop the peaks still lies much of the winter’s snow making it a treacherous hike at this time of year.
Below there is still much to discover and beautiful Packwood Lake to set camp. To get there head to Hwy 12, where the town of Packwood rests between Morton and Yakima directly south of Mount Rainer along the Cowlitz River. Stop into Blanton’s Market for well priced supplies, parking permit, and update information on trail and road conditions. One local resident made sure I had plenty of bug spray for the mosquitoes, especially if headed to the appropriately named Mosquito Lake.
Once stocked up with supplies, turn south towards the forest service road 1260 at the old Ranger Station (the nearest open Ranger Station is at Randle, WA) and follow the paved road until it ends at Packwood Lake Trailhead. It is an easy hike just under 5 miles to Packwood Lake and many visitors make it a one-day trip.
Along the trail, just before it turned to Wilderness I met a couple from the Lewis County Chapter of the Backcountry Horsemen of Washington who were hiking out with their chain saw. For 15 years their organization has been maintaining the Packwood Lake Trail sending out work parties on National Trails Day to clear the fallen trees from the previous winter so that hikers and equestrians can more easily assess and share the trails. Of course the noisy chain saws can not be used in the Wilderness. Once in the Wilderness I met other groups clearing the trails with pull saws. Many appreciated the work that WWC had done for the Wild Sky Wilderness, which included working with the Backcountry Horsemen.
Just before reaching Packwood Lake the trail leads out of the Wilderness and meets another trail used by mountain bikers and ATVs which many times haul paddle boats to fish the plentiful amounts of trout.
Continue along the north end of the lake and you enter back into the Wilderness where there are several camping stops to rest your feet and take in the beauty of the glass like still waters of the large alpine lake.
After setting up camp, I continued on for a packless hike east of the lake along Upper Lake Creek. The recent snow melts created a green marsh-like atmosphere with a delightfully cool breeze. I stopped at Beaver Bill Creek to explore along the rushing ice cold waters. It’s another 5 miles before you would take the steep climb up to Packwood Saddle, where there are exceptional views of the surrounding mountains once the snow melts and the clouds part.
The following morning I headed back out towards the trailhead but not before taking the grueling venture up to Mosquito Lake. The 2000 foot elevation gain is well worth the trip for the tremendous views. In early June be sure to bring snowshoes to better explore the area, but the slushy snow will not last long making the trails more accessible to other higher alpine lakes. Be sure to bring bug spray though.
More photos are available at Flickr.com or find more information below at the Forest Service website.
There are many opportunities for you to get involved in protecting other pristine, undeveloped National Forest lands that make Washington State such a great place for adventure. Take Action on several important issues today.
More on Goat Rocks:
A 105,600-acre alpine wonderland, The Goat Rocks Wilderness is a portion of the volcanic Cascade Mountain Range in southwestern Washington between Mount Rainier and Mount Adams. The Goat Rocks are remnants of a large volcano, extinct for some two million years. This ancient volcano once towered over the landscape at more than 12,000 feet in elevation, but has since eroded into several peaks averaging around 8,000 feet. The cluster of rocks and peaks has become known as Goat Rocks because of the bands of mountain goats that live here. Read More