PCT: Trout Lake to Potato Hill

Miles 2228.9-2251 of the northbound PCT: Wandering at the foot of Mount Adams, through a patchwork of forest and meadows crossed by glacier-fed streams.

Hiking Moderate

Distance
35 km
Ascent
1.1 km
Descent
811 m
Duration
1 day +
Low Point
1.2 km
High Point
1.9 km
Gradient
VIEW ON MAP
PCT: Trout Lake to Potato Hill Map

Description

Here the PCT circumvents Mount Adams, the 12,281-foot Cascade volcano that beckons northbound hikers deeper into Washington. Leaving the road near Trout Lake, the trail soon enters the Mount Adams Wilderness Area. It makes a big climb at first, then weaves along the apron of the mountain near the upper elevations of forest. A mosaic of greenery hides relatively recent lava flows, but glancing up at the icy cone of rock reminds you of the cataclysmic forces beneath. The trail crosses milky glacial streams and skirts basalt bluffs before exiting the wilderness and descending to the road at Potato Hill.

From Road 23 near Trout Lake (NB mile 2228.9) the PCT crosses a creek on a bridge and heads immediately uphill, soon entering the Mount Adams Wilderness Area (NB mile 2230.1). It’s a 10-mile climb on the flank of Mount Adams, first through lush forest but moving into burned areas higher up. Flowers color the brushy burn scars in summer, and berries pop out later in the season, but there’s little other scenery to detract from the constant ascent. Eventually, the path levels out somewhat, and the forest thins at these higher elevations. Patchy forest and spacious meadows reveal Adams rising in cliffs and glaciers overhead, and Mount Rainier appears on the opposite horizon.

The trail constantly alternates from groves to clearings, with many small ups and downs through gullies and volcanic rubble. On this traverse beneath the mountain, water and camps are generally prevalent, so you’ll likely have your pick of stunning real estate. Sheep Lake provides a good campsite by water in the forest (NB mile 2239), as does Riley Camp (NB mile 2239.3), but many of the dry meadows with big views make suitable camps as well. Continuing on, there are many small stream crossings, some of which may flow cloudy with glacial flour. At the creeks, you’ll want to pause not only to negotiate the rock hopping but also to stare up at Adams Glacier––a massive tongue of ice that splits the mountain.

At approximately the High Camp trail junction (NB mile 2243.4), the PCT begins a long downhill trend. As it goes on, the forest becomes denser and the creeks larger, but most are spanned by footbridges. The best water is perhaps at Lava Spring (NB mile 2249.5), which trickles from beneath a geologically recent lava flow. Soon the trail meets a wide gravel road at Potato Hill trailhead (NB mile 2251). This access is right in between Mount Adams and Goat Rocks, making a convenient endpoint for a section hike into either wilderness area. It’s not a common spot for distance hikers to leave the trail, however, as it’s quite remote.

Permits: The Mount Adams 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 also be required.

Sources: https://www.fs.usda.gov/recarea/giffordpinchot/recarea/?recid=79411 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.

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

Guidebooks in this area