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Basin Lakes Loop Hike

From Oregon Hikers Field Guide

This page is marked as a Lost Hike. The "trail" may be dangerous and hard to follow and is not recommended for beginning hikers without an experienced leader. Beginning hikers should check out our Basic Hiking Information page.
View to Peggy Lake, Basin Lakes (bobcat)
Wilderness sign on silver fir, Gifford Peak Way (bobcat)
"Gillian Lake," Basin Lakes (bobcat)
"Cindy Lake," Basin Lakes (bobcat)
The fiery slopes of Berry Mountain in the fall (bobcat)
The loop using the Gifford Peak Way, Pacific Crest, and Indian Racetrack Trails (bobcat)
  • Start point: Falls Creek Horse Camp TrailheadRoad.JPG
  • End Point: Basin Lakes
  • Trail Log:
  • Distance: 9.1 miles
  • Hike type: Loop
  • Elevation gain: 1795 feet
  • High Point: 5005 feet
  • Difficulty: Moderate
  • Seasons: Summer - Fall
  • Family Friendly: No
  • Backpackable: Yes
  • Crowded: No

Contents

Hike Description

Indian Heaven's Basin Lakes, accessed via the abandoned Gifford Peak Way, were also known as the Darlene Lakes. There are eight of them and three were named (Janet, Peggy, Darlene), but not officially recognized because they were christened after Forest Service employees’ wives who were living at the time. They nestle in a bowl below the Berry Mountain - Gifford Peak Ridge in splendid isolation, but the way trail itself is fairly easy to follow up to the lakes, and then a little scratchier up the ridge to the Pacific Crest Trail. This is a short in and out hike to the lakes made more interesting by looping via the PCT to the Indian Racetrack and then back down the Racetrack Trail to the trailhead. Only one lake, Janet, is visible from the Gifford Peak Way. To visit all of the lakes, you will have to bushwhack, but the area is reasonably flat if a little boggy. You will need a map and good orienteering skills.

Walk across FR 65 to the trail, which passes a camp site on that side of the road. These are silver fir, mountain hemlock, noble fir, Douglas-fir woods with a huckleberry understory. Cross a small meadow with a few cottonwoods towering above. Reach the junction with the Race Track Trail #171 and the wilderness permit box.

Fifteen yards beyond the permit box is a fork in the trail. This is the Indian Racetrack-Gifford Peak Way Junction. Go left. The trail rises through bear-grass and huckleberries. There is some blowdown, but the way around to reconnect with the trail is obvious. Follow yellow paint blazes on some trees and also small metal markers from the old Columbia National Forest (precursor to the Gifford Pinchot). Falls Creek runs to the right. Pass through a small meadow rimmed with noble fir. The trail levels as it passes by some large silver firs. Then veer right right and cross Falls Creek. There's a rise and you will have to negotiate several large silver firs that have fallen at different points along the trail. The ascent becomes steeper. A detour track leads right around a big tree. Now the gradient is more gradual and there is more blowdown. Pass a small tarn and then drop to Janet Lake.

WARNING: The section that follows involves cross-country hiking off the abandoned trail. Carry a good map and keep yourself oriented in relation to the trail. To do the loop around the lakes, head into the understory of silver fir saplings and huckleberry bushes to the north of the lake. Keep moving around Janet Lake until you see a boggy meadow down to the left. Follow this to its outlet stream, which trickles down to Peggy Lake and its northeastern shore of golden sedge. From Peggy Lake’s southeast corner, head uphill to begin the unnamed lakes (which I now name after female members of my family). The first small lake, with a distinctive white snag at the far end, is “Gillian Lake.” Head east to “Joy Lake.” There is plenty of fresh elk sign and you can follow elk tracks where they fit the route. From “Joy Lake,” follow the meadow on it eastern shore around and down to “Cindy Lake.” This meadow has many elk beds. Head down the western shore of “Cindy Lake” and then follow a meadow down to larger and darker “Jane Lake,” with its rim of Sitka alders. From Jane Lake, walk east through the woods to “Tina Lake.” From here you can see the saddle that the Gifford Peak Way ascends to; this is also the lake you can see from the Pacific Crest Trail. From “Tina Lake,” head south and drop to a creek (actually Falls Creek) and cross it. The Gifford Peak Way runs through the bear-grass along the crest of a low ridge south of this creek. Go left on the Gifford Peak Way along the ridge. A small tarn appears below on the right and the trail drops to a draw. You can go left and follow this boggy draw past the tarn down to Darlene Lake, the site of the possible Sasquatch encounter described in Mel Hansen's Indian Heaven Back Country (1977)! Darlene Lake is the last of eight lakes.

Back at Gifford Peak Way, the trail heads up from the tarn. There are some big silver firs in this vicinity. The pathway is brushy in parts with overhanging silver fir saplings and huckleberry bushes. There is one detour at a large fallen tree. The detour goes right and switchbacks. In all there are four wide switchbacks before you reach a campsite and the Pacific Crest-Gifford Peak Way Junction at the saddle between Gifford Peak and Berry Mountain.

Go right on the PCT and head along the crest. The trail rises up the slopes of Berry Mountain and switchbacks three times before making a traverse. There is a view back down to “Tina Lake.” Make two more switchbacks and get a view of the rocky eastern slope of Berry Mountain with the huckleberry gardens that turn a blazing red in the fall. Take in a splendid view east to the Big Lava Bed, Big Huckleberry Mountain and beyond. There’s another viewpoint looking northwest over the area of the Basin Lakes. Following this, the next view allows you to look farther north, to Sleeping Beauty and Mount Adams. The trail rises slightly and then drops through noble firs and mountain hemlocks and descends the south side of Berry Mountain along a cinder slope with a view to the Red Mountain Lookout. Make a sharp switchback and another long traverse down. The trail is now in open lodgepole pine forest with a few western white pines and noble firs. Negotiate two more switchbacks as the trail enters silver fir/mountain hemlock forest and then levels. Drop gradually and cross a creek before leveling again. Reach the Pacific Crest-Racetrack Shortcut Trail Junction.

Go right here. The trail rises and drops to a meadow. Soon enter the wide Indian Racetrack meadow. Skirts of bog blueberries blaze colorfully around the fringes. The next sign denotes the Indian Racetrack-Racetrack Shortcut Trail Junction. Go right and pass along the shore of the Racetrack Lake. (An alternative here, if you want to extend your day, is to go left and take on the Red Mountain Add-on Hike.)

The trail heads into woods and rises. Pass a small meadow on the left. Drop and then rise again in woods of lodgepole pine, noble fir, mountain hemlock, and western white pine. Unfortunately, the trail is very eroded in places, sometimes a ditch three feet deep. Keep heading down in silver fir, mountain hemlock, huckleberry, and bear-grass woods. Reach Falls Creek and cross the footbridge to pass the wilderness permit box and then arrive at the trailhead.


Maps

Note that the Gifford Peak Way is not shown on any of the maps below. It is clearly mapped on the USGS 1983 topo quadrant.

  • Green Trails Maps: Wind River, WA #397
  • Indian Heaven (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

Fees, Regulations, etc.

  • Self-issued wilderness permit at trailhead

Trip Reports

Related Discussions / Q&A


Guidebooks that cover this destination

  • Off the Beaten Trail by Matt Reeder
  • Indian Heaven Back Country by Mel Hansen
  • Hiking the Gifford Pinchot Backcountry by the Columbia Group Sierra Club

More Links

Page Contributors

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.

Hiking is a potentially risky activity, and the entire risk for users of this field guide is assumed by the user, and in no event shall Trailkeepers of Oregon be liable for any injury or damages suffered as a result of relying on content in this field guide. All content posted on the field guide becomes the property of Trailkeepers of Oregon, and may not be used without permission.