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Indian Heaven Wilderness
Trail Condition: ****
Distance: 12.5 miles
Hiking Time: 67 hours
Green Trails Map: Indian Heaven 365S
Outstanding Features: Grassy meadows to lounge around in, endless fields of huckleberries, multiple lakes to laze away the afternoon, and a variety of hiking options
I am an alpine hiker. Panoramic views, wide-open fields, and a chance to stand on top of something are usually among my requirements for a good hike. So, when I stumbled across the Indian Heaven Wilderness, I have to admit I was a bit skeptical of what I might find. A series of lakes through the woods, how interesting could it really be? I was pleasantly surprised to find plenty of impressive scenery to keep the most extreme of alpine enthusiasts mesmerized. This hike is best done late summer or early fall, when the berries are ripe, the fields are bursting with color, and the mosquitoes have retired for the year.
From the pullout, head south (across the road) to the trailhead, which is well established and easy to find. . The trail is flat at the start and almost immediately enters the Indian Heaven Wilderness, an area rich in natural resources. Abundant berries, wild game, and fish have brought a number of Native American tribes to this area for nearly 10,000 years. Many Native Americans continue to uphold their traditions in the Sawtooth Huckleberry Fields, which are some of the most productive huckleberry fields in the Northwest. Situated just east of FR 24, parts of the fields are designated for exclusive use by the Yakima Nation through a handshake agreement with the Forest Service in 1932. As you will probably notice on the hike to Placid Lake, many of the berries here are harvested as well. Not to worry, the entire hike is laden with a variety of huckleberry bushes, providing ample opportunities to sample one of nature’s greatest treats.
After a pleasant 0.5-mile stroll through a large stand of timber, you reach the shallow waters of Placid Lake. The gentle descent is a good warm-up for the 1,000-foot climb from the lake up to the PCT. Continue along the trail as it skirts just up from the southern shore of the lake, and in a short distance you will reach a marked junction. Veer left, as the marker indicates, along Trail 29. The path quickly climbs above the lake, and in less than 0.5 miles you will reach the junction for Ohenamus Lake (Trail 29A). Continue heading east on Trail 29.
From the junction, the trail makes a steady climb through a beautiful forest, alive with an assortment of mushrooms, moss-covered trees, and small flowers. At 1.5 miles the trail reaches a bench that rises above Placid Lake’s inlet. By midsummer, the inlet looks more like a small meadow than a flowing creek. In another 0.3 miles the trail passes a group of moss-covered boulders that mark the outlet of a tiny, unnamed pond, one of many in this area. Then it wraps around the pond and drops into a shrubby meadow. A few hundred more feet and you reach a lush grass meadow. This is a great spot to take a break late in the summer or fall, when the ground is dry and the bugs are gone.
Beyond the meadow, the trail continues eastnortheast. Just as the thought "Are we there yet?” begins to cross your mind, the trail crosses the top of a boulder field, where you are rewarded with a stunning view of Mount St. Helens ashy flanks. Take a moment to enjoy the image, as it is the only time you’ll see the mystical volcano from the trail. From here it is only a short distance before the trail tops out on a ridge, crossing an open meadow that offers views of Bird Mountain’s forested slopes.
From the meadow, the trail reenters the woods and heads southeastward before reaching the PCT at 2.5 miles. Head south and you will soon reach a small boulder field with a series of murky ponds tucked among tall, green grass to the west of the trail. The trail is somewhat humdrum for the next mile or so. A sign marking the distance to Blue Lake, a popular destination for day and overnight hikers, is about the only thing of real significance until you reach the junction for Clear Lake,where you should head east, up Indian Heaven Trail 33.
The trail ascends steeply; however, the lake is not far and the path quickly levels out. At first glance, Clear Lake seems like a clear version of a small pond, but as the trail works its way toward the northern shoreline, the lake’s long southern shores are slowly revealed. Continuing on, the trail reaches a junction at 4.1 miles. Head south on Lemei Lake Trail 179. Trail 33 goes north to Cutlus Lake and on to Cutlus Creek Campground, which is a popular access point for this area.
I have to admit that this is my favorite part of the hike. While the PCT ambles through the forest, Lemei Lake Trail travels through vast open meadows full of low-lying huckleberry bushes that have yet to be discovered. The chocolate-colored outlet of Lemei Lake is 1.5 miles from the junction with Clear Lake. From this point you can enjoy views of Lemei Peak's pumice slopes. As you approach the lake, you will notice that the open terrain, abundant berries, and lack of people combine to create the perfect opportunity to see wildlife, which also makes it a great destination for an overnight. A small knoll above the lake, with plenty of tall trees for hanging food far from greedy paws, makes for a good spot to pitch a tent.
For those continuing on, follow the trail as it makes three steep switchbacks up and out of the Lemei Lake basin. The trail plateaus for a mile and wanders through more spectacular terrain. At 6.3 miles the trail reenters the forest and makes a steep, somewhat rugged descent down to the pleasant waters of Junction Lake. You’ll find a good campsite on the southwest shore and a decent one along the northwest shore.
Junction Lake is a fitting namehere is the junction with the PCT, which is on the eastern shoreline. Continue north on the PCT, and in 0.5 miles you will cross the dry bed of Lemei Creek. Notice the colorful pumice rocks in the streambed, a sign of the area’s previous volcanic activity. As you amble through the woods, keep an eye out to the west for the muddy waters of Acker Lake, which is 1 mile or so from the junction. The trail crosses a couple of smaller, dried-up creeks and makes a gradual ascent as it approaches the bluish-green waters of Bear Lake, a popular destination for swimmers, loungers, day-hikers, and backpackers. A junction with Elk Lake Trail 176 is above the southeast corner of Bear Lake and is a good place to access a couple of campsites on the lake’s southwest shore.
Take a break at the lake, then continue north on the PCT. In 0.5 miles the trail rounds the east side of Deer Lake, a smaller lake with less-ideal camping than that at Bear. Just past the shoreline, you will rejoin Indian Heaven Trail 33. From here it is 3.5 miles back to trailhead.
Directions: This is a confusing area to navigate, so I highly recommend stopping by the Mount Adams Ranger Station (in Trout Lake) or Jack’s Restaurant (just outside of Cougar) to get a Mount St. Helens vicinity map. These maps do not show the many Forest Service roads, but they will give you an overall view of the area.
Head east 40 miles on I-84 to Hood River. Cross the Bridge of the Gods to reach SR 14. Turn west and go 1.5 miles to SR 141, then continue north to Trout Lake. Once there, follow the signs to the Mount Adams Ranger Station. Continue past the ranger station just over 1 mile and turn right onto FR 88 (from here it is easiest to follow the signs for Mount St. Helens). Drive 13 miles until you reach the Big Tire Junction (you will know when you’re there). Veer left onto FR 8851, which becomes FR 24 in 2.5 miles. In another 3.5 miles turn right onto FR 30, which is paved for the first 2.5 miles and then becomes gravel. Continue another 2.7 miles and turn left onto FR 420, which was unmarked at the time of this hike.
Take I-5 south 153 miles to SR 503. Continue east through the town of Cougar to reach FR 90; turn right (from here it is easiest to follow the signs for Trout Lake). Continue to the turnoff for Curly Creek and turn right again. When you reach a T-intersection, turn left onto the Wind River Highway and continue a 3 or 4miles. Veer right onto FR 30, which is graveled. Continue approximately 2 miles and turn right onto FR 420, which was unmarked at the time of this hike. If you reach milepost 38, you have gone too far.
Once on FR 420
Continue 1 mile along FR 420. At the time of this hike, the road was washed out 0.25 miles from the trailhead. While some braves souls may venture on in four-wheel-drive vehicles, it is just as easy to park the car on the shoulder and walk the short distance up the road to the trailhead.
Table of ContentsSouth: Oregon Border to White Pass
1. Gillette Lake (Day hike)
2. Bunker Hill (Day hike)
3. Indian Heaven Wilderness (Day hike/1 night)
4. Horseshoe Meadow (Day hike)
5. Nannie Ridge (Day hike/1 night)
6. Old Snowy Mountain (2-3 nights)
7. Round Mountain (Day hike)
Central: White Pass to Stevens Pass
8. William O. Douglas Wilderness Lakes (1-2 nights)
9. Laughingwater Creek (1-2 nights)
10. Dewey Lake (Day hike)
11. Sheep Lake to Sourdough Gap (Day hike/1 night)
12. Bullion Basin to Silver Creek (Day hike)
13. Big Crow Basin (Day hike/1 night)
14. Mirror Lake (Day hike)
15. Deception Pass Loop (Day hike/1 night)
16. Commonwealth Basin to Red Pass (Day hike)
17. Spectacle Lake (1-2 nights)
18. Surprise and Glacier Lakes (Day hike)
19. Hope and Mig Lakes (Day hike)
20. Chain and Doelle Lakes (2-3 nights)
North: Stevens Pass to Canadian Border
21. Lake Valhalla to Smithbrook (Day hike/1 night)
22. Cady Ridge to Kodak Peak (1-3 nights)
23. Little Giant Pass (Day hike)
24. Buck Creek Pass (1-2 nights)
25. Lyman Lake to Suiattle Pass (1-4 nights)
26. Agnes Creek (2-4 nights)
27. Rainbow Lake to McAlester Creek (2-3 nights)
28. Cutthroat Pass (Day hike)
29. Grasshopper Pass (Day hike)
30. Tamarack Peak (Day hike)