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Monte Carlo-Monte Cristo Loop Hike

From Oregon Hikers Field Guide

Bumblebee on balsamroot, Monte Cristo (bobcat)
Meadow, Monte Carlo Trail (bobcat)
Rock penstemon (Penstemon rupicola), Monte Carlo (bobcat)
Mt. Adams from Monte Carlo (bobcat)
Striped coral root (Corallorhiza striata), Monte Cristo Trail (bobcat)
The loop hike to Monte Carlo and Monte Cristo (not a GPS track) (bobcat) Courtesy: Caltopo
  • Start point: Monte Carlo TrailheadRoad.JPG
  • End points: Monte Cristo
  • Trail Log:
  • Hike Type: Loop
  • Distance: 11.8 miles
  • Elevation gain: 4070 feet
  • High Point: 4,171 feet
  • Difficulty: Difficult
  • Seasons: Summer into Fall
  • Family Friendly: No
  • Backpackable: No
  • Crowded: No

Contents

Hike Description

Monte Carlo and Monte Cristo are two peaks in the Monte Cristo Range which offer a splendid and diverse wildflower display in late spring. On this loop hike, you'll also enjoy vistas to snow-capped Cascades peaks, be humbled by a splendid grove of old-growth Douglas-firs, and probably not encounter another human soul. The route described here is mainly in the Gifford Pinchot National Forest using the Monte Carlo Trail #52 and Monte Cristo Trail #53, but you'll also enter the Washington Department of Natural Resources' Buck Creek Area, where logging practices may affect trail accessibility. Bear in mind that the trails are little-traveled and not regularly maintained; they also cross numerous logging roads: therefore, pay close attention to the written directions below. The total elevation gain is nothing to sneeze at either, so this is a loop for the adventurous who have good route-finding skills. For a shorter, more direct alternative to both summits, see the Monte Carlo-Monte Cristo Hike.

Walk from the parking pullout 50 yards up FR 18 to the actual trail. The track is flat here in Douglas-fir, hemlock, hazel, vine maple woods. At a road bed, make a right. The road bed drops slightly and then bends left to become a trail. Head up, and then drop and rise a few times in Douglas-fir and big-leaf maple woods with a vanilla leaf carpet. Reach an old road bed which leads up to FR 1840.

Go left here on the road for 175 yards and then pick up the trail heading up steeply on the right. The tread drops among some large Douglas-firs and reaches an abandoned logging road. Go right for 50 yards and pick up the trail. Ascend again and reach another old road bed. Here, you also need to go right for about 40 yards and drop into a hollow. The trail then traverses up a slope and crosses vine-mapled scree above the Holmes Creek drainage. Keep rising and then drop to an open meadow on the slope. The trail here is grassy and drops a little before gently rising into the woods. There are views of Timberhead Mountain and back to Little Huckleberry Mountain. The trail exits the woods and rises straight across a wide meadow where the track is marked by cairns. Reenter woodland and come to the Monte Carlo-Buck Creek Trail South Junction on Washington Department of Natural Resources land.

Here, go left and then drop to cross an old road bed. The trail circles the parking area at the DNR's Buck Creek No. 2 Trailhead. A sign indicates that the Middle Fork Grove is 0.3 miles and the Monte Carlo Viewpoint is 2.2 miles. Walk around a rock barrier and continue along the edge of a partial cut on an old road bed lined with snowbrush and thimbleberry. The trail drops through the partial cut and Switchback down into the Middle Fork Grove and to a new footbridge over the Middle Fork of Buck Creek, the old one having been destroyed by falling timber. Enter a realm of ancient Douglas-firs in a leafy patch of woods. Wood fern drapes over the creek. Tarry a while to savor this relic stand of quiet giants among the patchwork of clearcuts.

Hike up out of the old growth and cross the end of an old logging road to wind up through a clearcut. Lupine will be blooming here in late spring. There are a few trees left standing here and there, and young Douglas-firs, grand firs and ponderosa pines are coming up. Pass a sign showing you are entering a corner of the Gifford Pinchot National Forest. Vine maple and huckleberry have taken over from the clearcutting. Currants are also abundant in this open area: red flowering, sticky, prickly, and pioneer gooseberry. At the edge of a Douglas-fir plantation, pass a sign and then head into the woods. The trail descends where, in spring, different fungi are emerging from the ground. Reach gravel Road B1500 and cross it near the headwaters of the North Fork Buck Creek. The trail descends and then rises to recross the road.

Head up in woods with lots of scrappy blowdown. The trail rises steeply and switchbacks, then drops through a snowberry thicket before rising steeply again in Douglas-fir/grand fir woods. Reach an open slope that blooms with balsamroot in June. Also in flower at this time are nine-leaf desert parsley, phlox, and paintbrush. There's a magnificent view down to Mount Hood to the south. The trail switchbacks twice on this slope and reenters woods. Pass through a scrubby open area, and then enter young forest of Douglas-fir, grand fir, and noble fir. Finally, reach the Monte Carlo-Buck Creek Trail North Junction at the Monte Carlo Viewpoint. You're now standing at the south end of the mile-long Monte Carlo ridge and have reentered the Gifford Pinchot National Forest. Here the Buck Creek Trail and a jeep trail descend down Penny Ridge and Eton Ridge respectively (See the Penny Ridge to Monte Carlo Hike). You can look down into the Little White Salmon River valley and across to Little Huckleberry Mountain.

Keep along the crest as the trail undulates through open flower meadows of larkspur, desert parsley, glacier lily, waterleaf, lupine, and blue-eyed Mary. The path heads into ridgetop forest which continues until you reach the northernmost section of Monte Carlo’s basalt spine, with cairns leading along it to where the trail leads down to the left. There is a great view of Mount Adams to the north. Also, look west to Little Huckleberry Mountain and northwest to Gifford Peak and Lemei Rock in Indian Heaven. Monte Cristo is ahead to the north. You'll also find lots of deer sign and a profusion of wildflowers: shrubby penstemon, rock penstemon, worm-leaf stonecrop, showy phlox, upland larkspur, naked broomrape, broad-leaf lupine, woolly sunflower, heart-leaf buckwheat, Martindale's desert parsley and many others put on a colorful display in late spring/early summer.

After enjoying this summit meadow, follow the small cairns down into the woods at the north end of Monte Carlo. The trail winds down in three switchbacks, passing through small openings: the balsamroot in these small meadows blooms in early June.. Come to an old clearcut and then a grassy meadow at the Monte Carlo Upper Trailhead. This grassy expanse will be alive with flitting butterflies on a sunny day. Exit the meadow to a road with trail signs. Make a right to head up the narrow road, which continues for 0.6 mile to the Monte Cristo Upper Trailhead.

Make a steep traverse up and switchback twice in shady woods. Traverse up again and switchback and then traverse before switchbacking in a meadow. The trail passes a bright array of little sunflowers (blooming in late June), and then makes three short switchbacks in an open meadow and winds up to the ridge crest and the summit of Monte Cristo. Here you'll find the vestiges of a lookout and a good view to Mount Saint Helens across the spine of Indian Heaven as well as vistas south to Mount Hood.

Descend the way you came back to pass the Monte Cristo Upper Trailhead and reach the Monte Carlo Upper Trailhead. Go right on the road a few yards and reach a junction. Here, go left for 20 yards and pick up the Monte Cristo Trail. The trail drops in Douglas-fir and silver fir woods with an understory of thimbleberry and strawberry. A few large old-growth Douglas-firs stand out on this slope. You might see a “1” on a tree noting you are one mile from the bottom. Cross a trickling creek, drop steeply and then step across a dry creek bed. as you descend further, you'll see a creek running to the left. The trail heads down more gently and reaches an old road bed. You may hear the Little White Salmon River rushing out of sight to your right. After this, the path drops steeply to an alder bottomland and the Monte Cristo Trailhead.

From here, it's just over two miles back to the Monte Carlo Trailhead along shady forest roads in the Little White Salmon River bottomland.


Maps

  • Maps: Hike Finder
  • Monte Cristo Trail Map (USFS)
  • Green Trails Maps: Willard, WA #398
  • 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

Regulations or Restrictions, etc.

Trip Reports

Related Discussions / Q&A

Guidebooks that cover this hike

  • Day Hiking: South Cascades by Dan A. Nelson & Alan L. Bauer

More Links


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.