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Birkenfeld Mountain via Three Corner Rock Hike

From Oregon Hikers Field Guide

Mt. Hood From Three Corner Rock (bobcat)
Sunlight on the trail, Pacific Crest Trail below Three Corner Rock (bobcat)
Three Corner Rock from below (bobcat)
Huckleberry-bear-grass woods, Birkenfeld Ridge, Pacific Crest Trail (bobcat)
At the summit of Birkenfeld Mountain (bobcat)
View to Three Corner Rock from the northwest ridge of Birkenfeld Mountain (bobcat)
The route via the PCT to Three Corner Rock and Birkenfeld Mountain (not a GPS track) (bobcat) Courtesy: Caltopo
  • Start point: Rock Creek Pass TrailheadRoad.JPG
  • End point: Birkenfeld Mountain
  • Trail Log:
  • Hike Type: In and out
  • Distance: 11.4 miles
  • Elevation gain: 2325 feet
  • High point: 3,763 feet
  • Difficulty: Difficult
  • Seasons: Mid-spring to late fall
  • Family Friendly: No
  • Backpackable: No
  • Crowded: No

Contents

Hike Description

The Three Corner Rock-Birkenfeld Mountain ridge runs above the headwaters of Hamilton Creek and the forested valley of Rock Creek. Most of the area was scoured by the 1902 Yacolt Burn, and rotting snags from that era can still be seen today. The area is a mix of private and state forest land and was heavily logged before the burn and then in recent decades as conifer stands matured. Thus, most of this hike is along one of the least prepossessing stretches of the Pacific Crest Trail as you pass into and out of clearcuts, including one vast expanse on the northwest slope of Birkenfeld Mountain. While Three Corner Rock offers expansive views, and can be done at the beginning or end of the hike, Birkenfeld Mountain, the highest peak on the ridgeline that extends to Table Mountain, has a forested summit with the best views extending to the east. The Birkenfeld Mountain summit ridge is also a bushwhack, sometimes through tangles of vine maple, so those who are uncomfortable with going off-trail should stay on the PCT.

Walk up the Pacific Crest Trail leading from the same side of the road as the parking pullout. A large caution sign warns descending hikers of truck activity on the road. This is secondary Douglas-fir/western hemlock woodland with rotting old-growth stumps. Switchback up as noble and silver firs enter the forest mix, and then switchback again at a view to Mount Adams. Make two more switchbacks before the trail levels and reaches the large signpost at the Pacific Crest-Three Corner Rock Trail Junction.

Go right here, and hike up through the huckleberries and bracken before gradually dropping in a forest of young conifers. You’ll pass a “Water Trough” sign lying in the bear-grass: a spur trail here takes you to a leaking galvanized tub fed by a hose spouting spring water. Continuing on the main trail, reach an abandoned 4WD road bed and go right. The road bed becomes extremely rubbly and gullied as you rise to an open windswept ridge with a communication tower on your left and the rocky pyramid of Three Corner Rock on your right.

Head up the road towards Three Corner Rock. Where the roads ends, find the remains of a paved pathway that leads up to the former lookout site right at the top of the rock. This pathway once had a wire railing, but that has disappeared. The last ten feet or so to the lookout platform are a scramble, but the all-encompassing views are worth it. You can see to Silver Star Mountain, Lookout Mountain, and Mount Saint Helens to the northwest; Mount Rainier rises behind Mowich Butte to the north; to the northeast, the peaks of the Indian Heaven Ridge, Goat Rocks, and Mount Adams are all visible on a clear day. On the Washington side of the Columbia River Gorge, Wind Mountain and Dog Mountain are visible past the ridge that includes Birkenfeld Mountain, South Birkenfeld Mountain, and Table Mountain. The route of the Three Corner Rock Trail follows the Stebbins Creek valley, to the immediate southwest, all the way to the Washougal River (See the Stebbins Creek to Three Corner Rock Hike). Across the Columbia River in Oregon, you are looking directly south to Nesmith Point, Wauneka Point, and Munra Point; Mount Hood dominates the southern horizon, and the snow-capped peak of Mount Jefferson is also visible. Take care, however: Three Corner Rock is well-known for being a “wind magnet,” and a strong gust can make you lose your balance.

After descending from the summit of Three Corner Rock, you are ready for the second destination of the day. Rather than immediately returning to the Pacific Crest Trail, keep heading east along the rubbly track that you used to approach the Rock. The road bed is lined with Sitka alder and bracken as you pass through a stand of conifers and then enter an old clearcut that is regenerating with noble fir and Douglas-fir. With a mature stand of trees to your left, you can see south to Mount Hood and the top of Mount Jefferson. Ahead, as you descend the track, is Birkenfeld Mountain and, behind it, Wind Mountain and Dog Mountain. Reach a junction at an older stand of trees and go left on a jeep track that leads north. The track takes you to the Pacific Crest Trail-Birkenfeld Ridge North Spur Jeep Track Junction, which is about 360 yards from the previous junction. Go right here to resume walking on the Pacific Crest Trail.

The trail descends through a forest of Douglas-fir, silver fir, noble fir, and western hemlock; you’ll see a clearcut below to your left. Soon the PCT passes right next to the CG 4050 road before dropping below a rock face and then rising to the Pacific Crest Trail-CG 4500 and 1510 Roads Junction. There’s a quarry to your right, and you can cross CG 4500 and pick up the trail to the left of CG 1510. Rise a little, and then make a level traverse before gradually dropping through a bear-grass and bracken carpet to reach a muddy logging track. Cross the road, and now gently rise into an extensive clearcut on the northwest slope of Birkenfeld Mountain (It’s possible to reach the summit directly from the clearcut, but these directions extend the hike so you can make a loop along the summit ridge).

Hike up the PCT to cross a recently surfaced logging road among the slash piles and debris. Cross a decommissioned road, getting views across the Hamilton Creek valley to the higher, and much logged, slopes of the Hamilton/Hardy Ridge. Reach a newly surfaced road and, 30 yards to the right, resume the Pacific Crest Trail to follow it up to the edge of the clearcut into silver fir slope forest. Passing through thimbleberry/vine maple thickets, you'll get views as you hike along to the cliffs below the trail on Birkenfeld Mountain and across the Hamilton Creek valley. Pass by a series of small springs that are riddled with mountain beaver burrows. As you approach the saddle between Birkenfeld Mountain and South Birkenfeld Mountain, you’ll have a meadow on your left: this is your launching point for the bushwhack back over the summit ridge of Birkenfeld Mountain: if you are uncomfortable with bushwhacking, keep going to where the PCT crosses over to the east side of the ridge, enjoy the views over the Greenleaf Basin, and return the way you came.

Head up the meadow through a carpet of bear-grass, pinemat manzanita, and common juniper. Continue across until you get a view east over the Greenleaf Basin to Greenleaf Peak and Mount Adams. Then return to the center of the ridge. Your first challenge will be to make your way through a dense vine maple thicket until you reach the open slope below a rock outcropping. There are deer and elk trails to follow in places. Climb up and over this outcropping, and then keep hiking along the mossy edge of the steep east face of Birkenfeld Mountain with windblown noble fir woods to your left. For a short while, the going is good, but soon you’ll enter the forest again and have to drop below vine maple thickets to traverse a steep slope on deer trails. Don’t drop too far, though, and when you encounter a vine maple thicket blocking your path, scramble up the slope to reach the summit ridge. The false summit is here in a copse of gnarly silver firs. Keep hiking north through a thimbleberry meadow and then ridge crest forest until you reach another prominence at a small meadow with a few rocks scattered about: this is the true summit. The views here are to the east, over Greenleaf Peak to Wind Mountain, Dog Mountain, and Mount Defiance. A fire lookout once stood near here, but no one has found any trace of the structure in recent years. The fire lookout trail came up the northeast ridge of the mountain.

Continue north along the ridge to a moss and lichen-carpeted promontory that offers vistas to Mount Adams as well as back to the east slope of Table Mountain. To descend to the PCT, return to the woods, and then drop down the slope until you see that you’re on a ridge crest. Soon enough, you should be able to pick up a trace of an ATV track that winds down through the trees to the edge of the big clearcut. Get views from here to Three Corner Rock, Mowich Butte, Mount Saint Helens, and Mount Rainier, with Mount Adams visible to the northeast. Descend through the logging debris to a road, and hike down this road to another road. Bear left at this junction, and then keep right. Continue on the road until you reach the point where the PCT crosses it, and go right.

Return the way you came on the PCT. When you reach the Pacific Crest Trail-Birkenfeld Ridge North Spur Jeep Track Junction, keep on the trail and hike up through a bear-grass carpet with a clearcut on your left and unlogged woods on the right. Pass through a thimbleberry/Sitka alder thicket to get views across the Rock Creek valley to Mowich Butte, the crest of Mount Saint Helens, and east to Mount Adams. Once past the Pacific Crest-Three Corner Rock Trail Junction, descend the slope to your vehicle.


Maps

  • Maps: Hike Finder
  • Green Trails Maps: Bridal Veil, OR #428
  • Three Corner Rock and Vicinity Trail Systems (Washington DNR)
  • Washington Department of Natural Resources: The Yacolt Burn State Forest Map
  • National Geographic Trails Illustrated Map: Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area
  • U.S. Depart of Agriculture: Pacific Crest Trail, Cascade Series – Southern Washington (Map #9)
  • Halfmile Pacific Crest Trail Map: Washington Section H — Cascade Locks to Highway 12 (near White Pass)

Regulations or restrictions, etc

Trip Reports

Related Discussions / Q&A

Guidebooks that cover this hike

  • Day Hikes in the Columbia Gorge by Don J. Scarmuzzi
  • Pacific Crest Trail: Oregon & Washington by Jeffrey P. Schaffer & Andy Setters
  • Day Hikes on the Pacific Crest Trail: Oregon & Washington by George & Patricia Semb

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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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