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A.G. Aiken Lava Bed Loop Hike

From Oregon Hikers Field Guide

East slope of the A.G. Aiken Lava Bed, Snipes Mountain Trail (bobcat)
Atop the A.G. Aiken Lava Bed, Snipes Mountain Trail (bobcat)
View to Mt. Hood on a hazy day, A.G. Aiken Lava Bed, Round-the-Mountain Trail (bobcat)
Slender arnica (Arnica gracilis), Round-the-Mountain Trail (bobcat)
Golden pholiota (Pholiota aurivella), Cold Springs Trail (bobcat)
Big Douglas-firs, Cold Springs Trail (bobcat)
Map of the loop around the A.G. Aiken Lava Bed; road sections in orange (bobcat)
  • Start point: Snipes Mountain Trailhead
  • Ending Point: Aiken Lava Bed Viewpoint
  • Trail Log:
  • Distance: 14.7 miles
  • Elevation gain: 3235 feet
  • High Point: 6,440 feet
  • Difficulty: Difficult
  • Seasons: Mid-summer into Fall
  • Family Friendly: No
  • Backpackable: Yes
  • Crowded: No

Contents

Hike Description

The 4 ½-mile long Aiken Lava Bed is one of Mount Adams’ more recent expressions of volcanism, having been created between 4,500-6,000 years ago from a vent at South Butte. Only the Muddy Fork flow, about 3,000 years old, is younger. This loop takes you through three recent fire zones, those of the 2008 Cold Springs Fire, the 2012 Cascade Creek Fire, and the 2015 Cougar Complex Fire; in some areas, the latter overlaps the former. The Cold Springs Fire, at 8,000 acres, was the most expensive blaze of its season, but it was dwarfed by the 20,000-acre Cascade Creek Fire. The Cougar Complex Fire burned mostly on the Yakama Reservation, but tongues of the blaze reached the lava bed. You head up the Snipes Mountain Trail, one of several old sheep/cattle routes in the area formerly used to take stock to high pastures – nowadays a few cattle graze up here in the summer months (Ben E. Snipes was one of the original cattle kings in the area: his cowboys' advent around the year 1912 sparked the beginning of the Range Wars with sheepherders. The cattlemen won, and Snipes ran vast herds on rangeland from British Columbia all the way down to The Dalles). At the top of the Snipes Mountain Trail, the Gotchen Creek Meadows were unmolested by the burns as was the section of the Round the Mountain Trail that takes you back over the lava bed. Drop down the South Climb Trail and find the Cold Springs Trail at the South Climb parking lot. This trail takes you down through the Cold Springs Burn to the Gotchen Creek Trail, the latter taking you out to a forest road and a short walk back to the Snipes Mountain Trailhead.

Walk back down the road 70 yards to the trailhead for the Snipes Mountain Trail #11 and sign in for a wilderness permit. The Aiken Lava Bed rises to the left. Hike gradually up in an understory of vine maple and boxwood under Douglas-fir, noble fir, ponderosa pine, and grand fir. Drop to cross a creek bed and continue to rise. Soon enter the eastern perimeter of the 2012 Cascade Creek Fire. Switchback up twice and cross another creek bed. The trail loops away from and back to the lava bed several times. Keeping heading up the grassy slope this way. You can detour off the trail and scramble up to the top of the lava bed to get a view of the rugged gullies and outcrops of andesite supporting a scattered woodland. Pikas will squeak in alarm and dart for their holes. Get a view of the hump of Snipes Mountain to the east through the burned forest. At this point you will be entering the Cold Springs Burn. Hike up along the slope of the lava bed through boxwood and snow brush. Swing out and back to the lava bed again before stepping over an ever-flowing spring and reach the Snipes Mountain-Pine Way Trail Junction; the sign denotes you are 1 ½ miles from the trailhead and another 3 miles from the Round the Mountain Trail.

Gotchen Creek runs to the left as you continue up the Snipes Mountain Trail. The trail continues to loop back and forth. Young aspen are regenerating in the burn among the bear-grass and fireweed, and stock trails make shortcuts here. Switchback up twice and soon cross Gotchen Creek to exit the burn in subalpine fir/mountain hemlock parklands. Reach the gate at a cattle fence; make sure you close this behind you. Cross Gotchen Creek and a tributary and then walk across the lowest of the Gotchen Creek Meadows. Head up through parklands to reach the small meadow where stockmen made camp. Walk past the remains of a gate and skirt the edge of open parklands before crossing a creek and heading up along Gotchen Creek’s left bank. Cross the creek and then continue to rise in open meadows, passing a sign denoting the Yakama Reservation boundary, before recrossing the creek and hiking up along the western edge of the meadows to reach the Round-the-Mountain-Snipes Mountain Trail Junction (A 1.4 mile round-trip diversion here takes you east to Crooked Creek Falls on Yakama land).

Go left here and reenter the Mt. Adams Wilderness. Walk under some large mountain hemlocks before the trail heads up and over the Aiken Lava Bed. There are views up to the Gotchen Glacier Moraine and South Butte above whitebark pine and mountain hemlock parklands. Mount Hood can be seen to the south. Near the highest point of the hike, there’s a sweeping view down the jumbled black mass of the lava flow. The trail drops gradually from here as you continue to traverse. Hike through rock outcroppings before the trail rises to the crest of a low ridge. Here, enter the gaunt blackened forest of the Cascade Creek Burn and descend to the Round-the-Mountain-South Climb Trail Junction.

Head down to the left from here on an old road bed, getting views of Sleeping Beauty, Lemei Rock, and Sawtooth Mountain. You'll pass the site of the old Timberline Campground on the left and move in and out of forest scorched by the 2012 Cascade Creek Fire. The wide track winds down in scalded mountain hemlock woodland before reaching the South Climb Trailhead. Here, there are restrooms and a campground. Walk left to the east end of the parking area to pick up the Cold Springs Trail #72.

Rise a short distance on an old road bed and then drop to a sign at the blackened, skeletal remains of the Cold Springs Shelter. From here, the trail drops down the slope and into a gully with a couple of livestock watering troughs. Traverse around a grassy hillside with blooming penstemon among the stark, erect snags. Look back to see the profile of Mount Adams through the trees. The silhouette of the Aiken Lava Bed looms to the left. There is lots of elk sign here and you may startle a few, especially in early summer or fall, as you descend the trail. At a ridge viewpoint, get a view across the upper Trout Lake valley and west through the snags to Mount Saint Helens. Switchback down and make a traverse; then gradually descend through grassy expanses lit up by blooming goldenweed in late summer. Up on the slope to the left, a few unburned ponderosas stand. Enter the ground fire area of the burn with the large Douglas-firs, grand firs, ponderosa pines, western larch and western white pines displaying full foliage. Pass mossy boulders at the edge of the lava bed, where a creek burbles, and drop steeply. Hike up and over a lava ridge, drop in a carpet of creeping snowberry, and then go up and over another tongue of lava. Pass through an area of ponderosa pine, thimbleberry, and aspen and then skirt the edge of a meadow. Hike on the level among large old growth Douglas-firs and ponderosa pines. Reach the Cold Springs-Gotchen Creek Trail Junction and go left.

You are now on the Gotchen Creek Trail #40, about 3 ¾ miles from the South Climb Trailhead and less than a mile from the Gotchen Creek South Trailhead. Pass the Gotchen Creek-Morrison Creek Trail Junction, make a slow descent, and then hike over a tongue of lava. Pass a thicket of vine maple and reach the Gotchen Creek South Trailhead next to a fenced spring area. Head up to the parking area next to FR 8020.

Go left on the road with a pole fence protecting a spring on the right. After about 400 yards, reach a four-way junction and go left to take Road 050. Gotchen Creek flows to the right as you rise among Douglas-fir, cottonwoods, and vine maple. Pass a spring protected by a pole fence and then reach the Snipes Mountain Trailhead. Seventy yards farther on is your parking spot.

Before leaving the area, it is worth paying a short visit to the Gotchen Creek Guard Station. Coming from the Snipes Mountain Trailhead back to the four-way junction, go left on Road 060. Drive 0.3 miles and park in front of the Guard Station, which was constructed in 1909 and is the oldest structure in the Gifford Pinchot National Forest. It was situated on an old wagon trail coming from the east, and the rangers based there monitored the thousands of sheep that grazed in the forest up until the 1940s. The guard station sits in its own grove of aspen and ponderosa and is open to visitors in the summer. During the Cascade Creek Fire, it was wrapped in aluminum foil for protection.

Note: A.G. Aiken, a veteran of the Oregon Trail and resident of Coos County, Oregon, achieved the first ascent of Mt. Adams in late summer 1854 accompanied by Edward J. Allen and Andrew J. Burge.


Fees, Regulations, etc.

  • $1 toll bridge each way at Hood River
  • Sign in at the Wilderness Permit box at the trailhead

Maps

  • Maps: Hike Finder
  • Green Trails Maps: Mount Adams, WA #367S
  • Morrison Creek Area Trail Map (USFS)
  • U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service: Mt. Adams Wilderness, Indian Heaven Wilderness, Trapper Creek Wilderness
  • U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service: Mt. Adams Ranger District
  • U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service: Gifford Pinchot National Forest
  • National Geographic Trails Illustrated Map: Mount St. Helens - Mt. Adams

Trip Reports

Related Discussions / Q&A

Guidebooks that cover this destination

  • Day Hiking: South Cascades by Dan A. Nelson & Alan L. Bauer
  • A Guide to Washington’s South Cascades’ Volcanic Landscapes by Marge and Ted Mueller
  • Day Hiking Mount Adams and Goat Rocks by Tami Asars (Snipes Mountain to Crooked Creek Falls)
  • Best Old-growth Forest Hikes: Washington & Oregon Cascades by John and Diane Cissel (Gotchen Creek Trail)
  • Exploring Washington's Wild Areas by Marge & Ted Mueller (Snipes Mountain Trail)
  • Hiking the Gifford Pinchot Backcountry by the Columbia Group Sierra Club

More Links


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Oregon Hikers Field Guide is built as a collaborative effort by its user community. While we make every effort to fact-check, information found here should be considered anecdotal. You should cross-check against other references before planning a hike. Trail routing and conditions are subject to change. Please contact us if you notice errors on this page.

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