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Washington Cascades Adventure Route

Updated: Feb 9, 2023

The Washington Cascades Adventure Route is the crown jewel of overland routes in western Washington. Over the course of 325 miles, the route highlights 4 peaks of the high Cascades including Mt Rainier.

Route Overview

Adventure Rating: Epic

Trip Length: 325 miles / 4-8 days

Season: June - October (can vary depending on snowpack at higher elevation trails).

Avg Technical Rating: 2

Peak Technical Rating: 4

Typical Terrain: Dirt forest service roads, some bumpier secondary roads, and some connecting pavement.

Recommended Vehicle: Stock 4x4 or AWD vehicle w/ AT tires. Recommended Gear: n/a

Adventure Vans: Sprinter 4x4s should be able to manage the entire route.

Alternative Routes: Yes! See the bottom of route guide for more details. Permits: n/a

 

Route Details


At 1.3 million acres, the Gifford Pinchot National Forest is one of the jewels of the Pacific Northwest. Located in southern Washington, the forest's stunning beauty and proximity to the greater Portland and Seattle areas make it a popular destination for outdoor recreation and weekend get aways. But don't let that discourage you, as the natural wonders along the Washington Cascades Adventure Route are guaranteed to astound. Four prominent peaks within the Cascade Range can be seen at various vantage points throughout the route. At the beginning of the route, Mt Hood can be seen across the Columbia River Gorge to the south. As you make your way clockwise around the loop, Mt Adams rises in the east. And to the far north we find one of the Cascades most majestic peaks, Mt Rainier. Finishing things off, is Mt St Helens to the west. But you'll find more than just serene snow capped peaks along the route. Other highlights include old growth rainforests that Washington is so famous for, dozens of rivers and creeks, a plethora of waterfalls, and meadows and fields rife with the blooms of wildflowers. The route forms a loop and can be driven in either direction, and you may start at any point. For the sake of this guide, we'll start things off at the Columbia River Gorge (DP1). After viewing the mighty Columbia, you'll pass over the Wind River (DP3) that seems more like a stream when comparing its relative size to the Columbia. The route begins to ascend quickly with views for days, until reaching the crest at Triangle Pass. As you descend down the eastern slope of Triangle Pass, the route turns north through Big Lava Bed (DP4). At 8,200 years old, Big Lava Bed (aka Big Lava Flow) is the youngest volcanic feature of the much larger Indian Heaven volcanic field. The route travels along the eastern flanks of this massive lava flow for several miles. Along the way, see if you can spot Monte Cristo Slab peaking out of the conifer forest, which happens to be a popular hiking and rock climbing location. Continuing north, the route passes through the popular camping areas of Goose Lake (DP5) and Forlorn Lakes (DP6). This portion of the route traverses the eastern border of Indian Heaven Wilderness. Later in the route, you'll find yourself on the opposite wide of the wilderness as you work your way south. Mt Adams (DP11) since a few miles to the northeast, but you wouldn't know it as the forest does a great job of obscuring this prominent peak from view. It isn't until the route begins ascending near the Berry Fields Interpretive Site (DP7), that the vistas of Mt Adams really begin to improve. The native Americans that once leaved on these lands, relied on the huckleberry fields as one of their primary food sources. A council in 1932 between the Yakima Nation and the Forest Service resulted in a handshake agreement, thereby designating part of the Sawtooth Berry Fields (east of Road 24) as an area of exclusive use to the local Indian peoples. The annual huckleberry harvest is still an important part of Native American tradition. Please observe the signs reserving part of the berry fields for the local tribes.

Source: Gifford Pinchot NF


Near these huckleberry fields you'll find Surprise Lake, which has a number of dispersed sites scattered about the area. The route follows a paved road for a short period of time, before jumping back onto the dirt passing by Grand Meadows and then Swampy Meadows. Follow the pavement of FR 23 for several miles north until it turns into dirt just before reaching the peaceful setting of Council Lake (DP12). Many of the lakes in the area have impressive views of Mt Adams to the east, including Olallie Lake and Takhlakh Lake (DP15), both of which are at the very least worthy of prolonged food break! Continuing north, the route crosses the main fork of the Cispus River (DP17) before heading up and over the mountain past the Hamilton Buttes and dropping into the drainage of the north fork of the Cispus. Bishop Falls DP19) has a number of cascades, but the largest can be found downslope of the route. Hike upstream to see more of the impressive cascades, some up to 60' high. From here you'll follow the headwaters of the north fork Cispus, until cresting the pass near Elk mountain and head over to Walupt Lake (DP21).


From Walupt Lake, the route crosses highway 12 and begins climbing until reaching high rock trailhead. We implore every able-bodied person to make the 3 mile out-and-back hike up to High Rock Lookout (DP22). The views of Mt Rainier and the surrounding mountains are some of the best in the state! And as much as we like vehicle-based travel, you've gotta rely on good ol' human based power to reach the goods at times! After visiting High Rock Lookout, head back down the mountain and back across the highway 12. The western half of the route sees a lot less traffic than the eastern half. After crossing over the Cowlitz (DP24) and Cispus Rivers, the track begins to ascend quickly. The primary attraction along this part of the route is Burley Mountain Lookout (DP25), a favorite stopver for the dual sport crowd but often overlooked by most other folks. The lookout provides a nice vantage point of Mt St Helens (DP25) to the southwest. The route continues along passing French Butte and Pinto Rock (DP26), crossing through Mosquito Meadows and over Elk Pass. Upon reaching Elk Pass, you're now on the final stretch of the Washington Cascades Adventure Route! Highlights along this section include Curly Creek Falls (DP28) that features a mossy green natural arch, Miller Creek and Rush Creek Falls, and Falls Creek Lava Caves (DP29). The lava cave extends for nearly 1.5 miles underground and features multiple entrances, some of which have collapsed. Those up for a bit of a hike may wish to park their vehicles at the gate and hike up to Red Mountain Lookout, which features fantatic views of the Indian Heaven wilderness and volcanic field. A great way to finish the route is with a quick trip to the always impressive Panther Creek Falls (DP30). Shortly after the falls, the route descends back down to the Columbia River, concluding this awesome track!


Camping Recommendations



Discovery Points

  • DP1 - Columbia River Gorge

  • DP2 - High Bridge

  • DP3 - Wind River

  • DP4 - Big Lava Bed

  • DP5 - Goose Lake

  • DP6 - Forlorn Lakes

  • DP7 - Berry Fields Interpretive Site

  • DP8 - Steamboat Mountain Lookout

  • DP9 - Langfield Falls

  • DP10 - Basket Tree Interpretive Site

  • DP11 - Mt Adams

  • DP12 - Council Lake

  • DP13 - Council Bluff

  • DP14 - Babyshoe Pass

  • DP15 - Takhlakh Lake

  • DP16 - Takh Takh Lava Flow

  • DP17 - Cispus River

  • DP18 - Hamilton Buttes

  • DP19 - Bishop Falls

  • DP20 - Walupt Creek Falls

  • DP21 - Walupt Lake

  • DP22 - High Rock Lookout

  • DP23 - Mt Rainier

  • DP24 - Cowlitz River

  • DP25 - Burley Mountain Fire Lookout

  • DP26 - Pinto Rock

  • DP27 - Mt St Helens

  • DP28 - Curly Creek Falls

  • DP29 - Falls Creek Lava Caves

  • DP30 - Panther Creek Falls

 

Maps + Navigation


Digital Mapping Files


 

Resources


Land Managers


 


Terms of Use: Should you decide to travel a route that is published on Overlandtrailguides.com, you do so at your own risk. Always take the appropriate precautions when planning and traveling, including checking the current local weather, permit requirements, trail/road conditions, and land/road closures. While traveling, obey all public and private land use restrictions and rules, and carry the appropriate safety, recovery, and navigational equipment. The information found on this site is simply a planning resource to be used as a point of inspiration in conjunction with your own due-diligence. In spite of the fact that this route, associated GPS track (GPX and maps), and all route guidelines were prepared under diligent research by Overland Trail Guides, the route accuracy and current conditions of roads and trails cannot be guaranteed.



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1 Comment


kboardc
kboardc
Sep 14, 2022

WA Cascade Adventure Route Trail Report


My partner and I did a majority of this route on a 4 day trip from 09/04-09/07/2022 in a lifted Subaru Impreza with all terrain tires. We weren’t able to complete the entire route with our pace and timing, but had a very memorable time in the Gifford Pinchot

Since we live in Seattle, we entered the route via Randle, WA heading south on NFD 25. We had very pleasant weather the entire trip with the first night being quite cold. We stopped at Burley Mountain Fire Lookout and walked the mile up the road to the shelter which was under construction but offered plenty to look at. You’re able to drive a…


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