PCT: Potato Hill to White Pass

Miles 2251-2294.9 of the northbound PCT: Through the jaw-dropping landscape of the Goat Rocks, where the trail traces a skyline ridge with views of Mount Rainier.

Hiking Difficult

Distance
68 km
Ascent
2.5 km
Descent
2.6 km
Duration
1 day +
Low Point
1.3 km
High Point
2.2 km
Gradient
VIEW ON MAP
PCT: Potato Hill to White Pass Map

Description

Washington really puts on a show for this section of the PCT. The Goat Rocks Wilderness is widely regarded as one of the most stunning sections anywhere along the trail. Here the path winds between chiseled peaks above the timberline, with U-shaped glacial valleys curving away on all sides. Snowfields grace the slopes, waterfalls stream from the cliffs, flowers pop in summer, and mountain goats graze among the rocks. The elevation comes with challenges, however. You must really hope for good weather, both for the sake of the views and because these exposed ridges are no place to be in a storm.

The beginning of the journey from Potato Hill is rather unremarkable, as the trail winds through continual forest heading gradually uphill. A string of small lakes (NB mile 2256) can provide water and campsites just before the trail enters the Goat Rock Wilderness (NB mile 2257.4), where it tips more steeply upward. The trail goes over a volcanic butte, then down the other side, followed by a few more miles of gentle meandering through forest. Some seasonal water sources and campsites can be found, making the last chances to camp before heading up into the Goat Rocks.

After passing the Walrupt Lake trail junction (NB mile 2264.6) the PCT climbs steadily and soon reaches clearings looking southward to Mount Adams. An upward contour leads eventually to a small lake perched in a broad saddle (NB mile 2269.3). This is Sheep Lake on Nannie Ridge, and it makes a spectacular but somewhat exposed place to camp. Not far past Sheep Lake is when the views get truly grand. Continuing upward onto talus slopes, the trail crests a ridge to reveal a huge U-shaped valley––carpeted in green but crowned by gray cliffs and peaks. After crossing Cispus Pass at 6,400’ (NB mile 2271.7) the far side is even more spectacular, with rivulets streaming down verdant meadow slopes. Contouring through this valley, the trail stone-steps across the streams, including one with a moss-draped waterfall in a rocky gully (NB mile 2272.8).

Curving through bands of forest on the mountainside, the trail soon breaks above the timberline and meets the junction for the Old Snowy alternate (NB mile 2276.6). This brief detour climbs above a prow of cliffs on Old Snowy Mountain, then descends to rejoin the PCT. It’s a popular aside for its short distance and epic views, despite the additional elevation gain. Back on the PCT, the next section is known as the Knife’s Edge (NB mile 2277.1), where the trail spans a narrow ridge above precipitous slopes. The footing is generally solid as long as you remain on the trail.

After completing the Knife’s Edge, the trail trends generally downward until a steeper descent returns to thick forest. Water sources and camps are scattered along, most notable Lutz Lake (NB mile 2282.3) and Tieton Pass (NB mile 2283.3). After this pass, there is one significant climb remaining in the wilderness area to get over Hogback Mountain and down the other side. The trail works its way up gently at first, then more aggressively to reach the timberline once more. On another airy spine, you’ll get a commanding view toward Mount Rainier (NB mile 2288), then a view down the other side at Shoe Lake within a neatly perched basin (NB mile 2288.6).

The trail continues across another sweeping talus slope at the head of a glacial valley, then returns to the trees and heads downhill. It passes close to a ski resort and one more option for camping at Ginnette Lake (NB mile 2292.8), then meets Highway 12 at White Pass (NB mile 2294.9), which marks the end of Section H. Across the road, there is a Forest Service campground with toilets and garbage, but a short distance along the road is a motel and convenience store with hiker services. They can even accept resupply packages. Ample trailhead parking also makes this a convenient place to start or end a section hike into the Goat Rocks Wilderness.

Permits: The Goat Rocks Wilderness requires a permit that is free and self-issued at trailheads. For section hikers parking within the national forest, a day-use fee or a Northwest Forest Pass may be required as well. Note also that a short stretch within the Goat Rocks actually cuts through the Yakima Indian Reservation, where leaving the trail is prohibited. This zone should be marked by signs along the trail.

Sources: https://www.fs.usda.gov/recarea/okawen/recarea/?recid=79425 https://www.pcta.org/discover-the-trail/maps/ https://pctmap.net/trail-notes/

Difficulty

Difficult

Hiking trails where obstacles such as rocks or roots are prevalent. Some obstacles can require care to step over or around. At times, the trail can be worn and eroded. The grade of the trail is generally quite steep, and can often lead to strenuous hiking.

High Exposure

3 out of 4

Some trail sections have exposed ledges or steep ascents/descents where falling could cause serious injury.

Remoteness

3 out of 4

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

Best time to visit

July, August, September, October

Features

  • Alpine
  • Wildlife
  • Picturesque
  • Dog friendly
  • Wild flowers
  • Water features

Guidebooks in this area