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Little Mount Adams 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.
The Ridge of Wonders and Mt. Adams from Little Mt. Adams (bobcat)
Following the yellow markers towards Island Spring Camp (bobcat)
Talus collomia (Collomia larsenii), Little Mt. Adams (bobcat)
The crater, Little Mt. Adams (bobcat)
Cut-leaf daisy (Erigeron compositus), Little Mt. Adams (bobcat)
Route to Little Mt. Adams, with loop option to Heart Lake shown (bobcat)
  • Start point: Hellroaring Creek Trailhead
  • Ending Point: Little Mount Adams
  • Trail Log:
  • Hike Type: In and out; optional cross-country loop to Heart Lake
  • Distance: 6.9 miles
  • Elevation gain: 2,030 feet
  • High Point: 6,821 feet
  • Difficulty: Difficult
  • Seasons: Mid-summer into Fall
  • Family Friendly: No
  • Backpackable: No
  • Crowded: No

Contents

Hike Description

NOTE: The area of this hike was severely affected by the extensive Cougar Complex Fire of 2015. Check on current conditions before attempting this hike.

In 1972, 21,000 acres of the Gifford Pinchot National Forest reverted to the Yakama Nation after the original treaty boundaries were verified. The Yakama Nation continues to maintain some of this area for recreation, but sadly, the Island Spring Trail that led to the extraordinary volcanic formation of Little Mount Adams, part of the scenic Ridge of Wonders, is in great disrepair and difficult to follow. The lower portions are now overgrown with brush, and the upper portions of this old stock trail ceased to be maintained by the Forest Service even before 1972. There are plans in the works to refurbish the Hellroaring Creek Trail #10, and restore the bridge over the creek, but the fate of the Island Spring Trail is unknown. Thus, extreme caution and considerable route-finding skills are necessary to reach this very worthy destination. Do not attempt this hike unless you are experienced at following abandoned trails.

When you get to the summit of Little Mount Adams, a cross-country loop down to Hellroaring Meadows to hook up with the trail at Heart Lake is very tempting. Be warned again: the slope down to the meadows is very steep, the meadows themselves can be waterlogged, and there are few clues as to your relative location when you are down on the valley floor.

The main destination of the hike, however, is definitely worth all the trouble. This is a 63,000 year-old red cinder cone with ramparts of solid lava walling in a true crater. The slopes of the volcano support some unusual alpine blooms in mid-summer: small-fruit smelowskia, dwarf alpine gold, dark pussytoes, and talus collomia are among them. Views extend south past Bench lake to the Trout Lake valley, west across the Yakama Reservation, and up the glaciers and crags of Mount Adams itself.

From the trailhead, take the Hellroaring Creek Trail #10, and head through montane forest of mountain hemlock, Engelmann spruce, noble fir, and lodgepole pine. Drop down through a huckleberry understory and reach Hellroaring Creek (Mosquitoes are profuse down here!). As of Summer 2013, there was no bridge here, so ford the creek in the shallow section above the downed log to your left. Wade through a lush meadow. The trail veers right and you reach the Hellroaring Creek-Island Spring Trail Junction. The decayed sign might be propped against a tree.

Go left here on the unmaintained Island Spring Trail #66. Rise through a grassy meadow with a stand of aspen above you. Spruce and fir boughs intrude on the trail. The track disappears under a log before you descend to cross a brushy creek and pick up the track again (Follow the yellow squares on trees). Traverse a slope of snow brush thickets under ponderosa pines. Wade through a thicket in a boggy area and emerge above a line of cottonwoods. Cross a little brook and pass a handful of large Douglas-firs and ponderosa pines. Make a level traverse where young aspen and a spiraea/cherry thicket overgrow the trail, such as it is. Come out on a grassy expanse at a low crest. The trail switchbacks here and is easier to follow in a ponderosa, lodgepole pine, noble fir parkland with clumps of rabbitbrush and fescue. Pay attention to where the trail drops down a slope (There is a lot of blowdown in this area). Pass through a clearing and continue on the level to cross Island Spring Creek.

From here, you will attempting to follow a section of the Island Spring Trail that has been abandoned for decades. Pass through a meadow and then there’s a steep rise up the slope. Keep close to the edge and avoid wandering into the woods on your right. Look for the yellow squares. You will get views of Bench Lake down below. Pinemat Manzanita, bitter cherry, and rabbitbrush will obscure the tread, but the old trail route takes a fairly logical line as the gradient becomes shallower. Enter mountain hemlock/subalpine fir parklands, reach a small rise, and go right. Traverse a slope blooming with Mt. Adams lupine in summer.

At some point, you have a choice: (1) You can continue to make a fairly level traverse before coming out to a fell field below a saddle. Hike up to the saddle and then slog up the red cinder slope to Little Mount Adams’ summit and crater; (2) Keep scrambling steeply up to the lava ramparts that encircle Little Mount Adams’ crater and find your way to the summit. Here, look up to the volcanic dikes clustered along the Ridge of Wonders, the Klickitat and Mazama Glaciers, Battlement Ridge, and The Castle, below Mount Adams' summit. From this viewpoint, head down into the secluded red crater past krummholz outcroppings of whitebark pine.

Enjoy the seclusion and the formations before deciding whether to flounder back down the Island Spring Trail or to attempt the crossing of Hellroaring Meadows to Heart Lake. Neither is easy and, for the latter, pick your line from the viewpoint at the summit.

To continue the bushwhack to Heart Lake, drop down to the saddle between Little Mount Adams and the Ridge of Wonders. Note the numerous species of unusual alpine plants in this area. Go left and and head down the slope, which is steep in places. There is more blowdown and brush towards the head of the valley, so keep high before descending there. When you reach the valley floor, you will cross a series of very wet bogs and mountain hemlock islands to reach the far side, which is your initial goal. There are also numerous creeks, some gouging ten-foot mini-canyons, and thickets of willow and Sitka alder.

Once at the west side of the valley, head east in mountain hemlock woodland and look for a wall of volcanic rock to your left. Cross the creek here when you see the wall, and pick up the faint tread at its base. This will take you out to the Hellroaring Meadows Trail; go left up a little slope to visit Heart Lake and its reflection of Little Mount Adams. On the north side of the lake, a short use trail leads to the top of a tumbling cascade. Hike out from Heart Lake one mile to the Hellroaring Meadows Trailhead (see the Heart Lake Hike), and then walk three-quarters of a mile down the road to the Hellroaring Creek Trailhead.


Fees, Regulations, etc.

  • $1 toll bridge each way at Hood River
  • $5 five-day pass for Tract D (Mt. Adams Recreation Area)

Maps

  • Maps: Hike Finder
  • Green Trails Maps: Mount Adams, WA #367S
  • Yakama Nation: Mount Adams Recreation Area Overview (Island Spring Trail not shown)
  • 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

  • Washington's South Cascades Volcanic Landscapes by Marge and Ted Mueller
  • 95 Virtual Hikes of the Gifford Pinchot National Forest and the Mt. St. Helens National Volcanic Monument by Northwest Hiker

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.