PCT: Cascade Locks to Trout Lake

Miles 2146.9-2228.9 of the northbound PCT: Starting the trek into Washington with a prolonged climb from the Columbia River, then a rolling meander through forested hills to the foot of Mount Adams.

Also in Oregon, United States of America

Hiking Moderate

Distance
125 km
Ascent
4.7 km
Descent
3.5 km
Duration
1 day +
Low Point
21 m
High Point
1.6 km
Gradient
VIEW ON MAP
PCT: Cascade Locks to Trout Lake Map

Description

These 80-some miles from the border make a fitting introduction to the state of Washington. The environment is not yet too distinct from Oregon, but you’ll notice progressively denser forests moving northward. You may even get a rude reminder of the cause if the weather decides to fulfill its notoriety for days of rain. On clear days, however, you will catch glimpses through the canopy to Washington’s famous Cascade volcanoes, including Mount Adams and perhaps even St. Helens. The views only get better northward in the state, but this segment provides a tantalizing taste of what’s to come.

After crossing the Bridge of the Gods over the Columbia River into Washington (NB mile 2146.9), the PCT follows Highway 14 for a short distance, then enters the woods and wanders up a forested hill to get farther from civilization. The first good campsite is at Gillette Lake and its inlet stream (NB mile 2150.8). From there, the trail crosses a few more dirt roads to gain the flanks of Table Mountain, where the incline steepens. You might top off on water at one of the small seasonal streams along this climb because the next reliable water is not for several miles.

Rounding the west side of Table Mountain, the trail continues uphill through mossy and fern-laden forest, but rocky clearings grant views to sheer cliffs overhead. Climbing higher still, some clearcut areas provide vistas over the landscape. After rising to about 3600 feet, the trail finally tips downward (NB mile 2159), and encounters some clearings and dirt roads but mostly intact forest on its way into a hilly valley. Some small camps are scattered along, but none with reliable water.

Eventually, the trail crosses Rock Creek on a footbridge (NB mile 2166.1), and from there on, water is much more plentiful. If you want to camp before the next ridge climb, you might stay here or beside another creek in the next couple of miles. The uphill is gradual at first but gets progressively steeper, until the trail undulates along the crest in a shroud of trees. The next big downhill leads to the edge of some farmland and water in Trout Creek (NB mile 2176.6). Skirting the edge of private property in this pastoral valley, the trail soon crosses the Wind River on a footbridge, then meets a two-lane highway called Wind River Road (NB mile 2180). There is a narrow pullout here for parking, but no real trailhead.

Next, the PCT heads through a narrow valley called Warren Gap, then comes to Panther Creek where there’s a Forest Service campground nearby, as well as typical backcountry camps along the trail (NB mile 2182.2). From there, a prolonged climb on broad switchbacks and then a meandering ridge takes the trail up over 4000 feet on Big Huckleberry Mountain. On the far side of the peak, a dry campsite can be found in a panoramic meadow at a saddle (NB mile 2191.5).

From there, the trail goes downhill and soon enters a more obviously volcanic landscape. The forest thins somewhat on the edge of a lava plain, and dark rocks become more prevalent among the greenery. Water can be found in a piped spring (NB mile 2195.3) and again in a pond called Sheep Lake that roughly marks northbound mile 2200 on the PCT.

Next, the trail enters the Indian Heaven Wilderness and begins a series of up-and-overs through volcanic buttes. Each of them is mostly cloaked in forest but allows frequent views from elevated clearings. In between the hills are clusters of lakes with excellent campsites. There are also several intersecting trails that make loop options for section hikers. The first climb over Berry Mountain is a bit rugged but especially scenic, with a satisfying view of Mount Adams. After the descent, you’ll come to Blue Lake (NB mile 2205.2), which is a popular backpacking destination with designated campsites. If you don’t get a spot there, you might continue over the next hill to Bear Lake (NB mile 2208.2).

The trail continues on its linkup of hills, but with fewer lakes for the next several miles. Junctions with other trails continue to be frequent, and there is a trailhead at the crossing of Twin Buttes gravel road (NB mile 2214.7). This could make the endpoint of a section hike but is not a convenient place for distance hikers to leave the trail. Mosquito Creek is a reliable water source with campsites nearby (NB mile 2218.6) and so is Steamboat Lake a bit farther on (2221.3), but both of these are in the vicinity of motor traffic on forest roads. Continuing on, there’s another PCT trailhead at Forest Road 88 (NB mile 2223.4), which is paved.

After crossing Road 88 the PCt soon spans Trout Lake Creek on a footbridge (NB mile 2223.9) and turns uphill. This time it’s not another volcanic butte, but a larger plateau near the base of towering Mount Adams. A steady climb through continual forest leads eventually to a short downhill and the junction with paved Road 23. This is a moderate-traffic road that leads south 14 miles to Trout Lake. The small town has a grocery, restaurant, post office, and some other amenities. It’s the last chance for resupply before the wilderness areas of Adams and Goat Rocks to the north.

Permits: This segment of the PCT is mostly within Gifford Pinchot National Forest, which includes the Indian Heaven Wilderness. No advance permits are needed for hiking or camping, but self-issued free permits are required for entry to the wilderness. They should be available at trailheads. Additionally, section hikers may need the Northwest Forest Pass or equivalent for parking at trailheads.

Sources: https://www.fs.usda.gov/recarea/giffordpinchot/recarea/?recid=79410 https://www.pcta.org/discover-the-trail/maps/ https://pctmap.net/trail-notes/

Difficulty

Moderate

Hiking along trails with some uneven terrain and small hills. Small rocks and roots may be present.

Medium Exposure

2 out of 4

The trail contains some obstacles such as outcroppings and rock which could cause injury.

Remoteness

3 out of 4

Little chance of being seen or helped in case of an accident.

Best time to visit

June, July, August, September, October, November

Features

  • Wildlife
  • Picturesque
  • Dog friendly
  • Wild flowers
  • Water features
  • Forestry or heavy vegetation

Similar routes nearby

Guidebooks in this area