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Silver Star Mountain via Bluff Mountain Hike

From Oregon Hikers Field Guide

Looking back at the trail as it passes Little Baldy (David Koskamp)
Silver Star Mountain from the Bluff Mountain Trail (David Koskamp)
St. Helens and Rainier from the summit (Jeff Statt)
Map of the Silver Star area
Silver Star trail network from the USFS
  • Start point: Bluff Mountain TrailheadRoad.JPG
  • End point: Silver Star Mountain
  • Trail Log: Trail Log
  • Hike Type: Out and Back
  • Distance: 12.4 miles (round trip)
  • Elevation gain: 1660 feet
  • Difficulty: Difficult
  • Seasons: May through November
  • Backpackable: Yes
    • (camp site options are limited)
  • Crowded: No
  • Family Friendly: Yes

Contents

Hike Description

Silver Star Mountain is one of the best 360-degree summits within a day's drive of Portland, boasting a rocky, exposed viewpoint of five major cascade volcanoes. It is also a great wildflower area in the spring, and has tons of huckleberries in the fall. Further, there are enough unique and sometimes fanciful rock outcrops along your journey that you'll wish you brought a geologist along!

Of the many hike options in the Silver Star area, three are most established: The Grouse Vista Trail, Silver Star Trail #180 and the Bluff Mountain Trail, described here.

The Bluff Mountain trail may be the longest of the three options, but is exceptional for a few reasons: 1) it tends to be much quieter, 2) you can "climb" three mountains in a day! and 3) you get to hike part of the way atop a fun, spiny, exposed ridgeline.

The Bluff Mountain trail (#172) starts at the Bluff Mountain Trailhead and follows along an abandoned forest-road for the first three miles. Despite this non-aesthetic, gravel rock pathway your view all around you is fantastic right from the start. You peer down wide open valleys as you traverse the top of a ridge. In springtime, the abundant beargrass is in bloom, and if you keep your eyes open you can spot columbine, tiger lily and other northwest gems.

After about two miles you'll see Bluff Mountain become pronounced in front of you. At mile three, you'll be upon it as the trail starts to veer to the right (west) of it. If you feel so inclined, you can scramble up to the top to get some quick views. However, that climb will be anti-climatic in retrospect after summiting Silver Star. You're at about the half way point. The trail gets far more interesting from here.

Continue on the trail another 2/3 mile as it keeps arcing to the right and heads due west. You'll see the distinctive Little Baldy Mountain right in front of you. You'll pass it to the left (the trail does not cross its summit) at just under the four mile mark. Little Baldy's top is mostly loose talus. If you choose to scramble up to the summit, do so without causing rocks to fall and hit other hikers passing by. After about two miles, the trail narrows and climbs to the tops of a distinct spiny ridgeline, through rugged basaltic, volcanic outcrops. This is certainly the funnest part of the approach!

This as good a time as any to talk about the massive Yacolt Burn, the forest fire that devastated this whole area back in 1902. It is the reason that, to this day, all the area peaks remain bald and devoid of substantial vegetation.

The trail gains and loses elevation dramatically on the ridge that follows past Little Baldy. As the Silver Star summit becomes more sharply in view, the trail runs along the top of a narrow spine, featuring numerous basaltic outcrops.

Finally, at the 5 mile mark, you reach a junction with the Starway Trail where the lesser-used Starway Trail meets yours. At this trail junction, you are at 3700 feet of elevation, a mere 200 feet higher than where you parked your car! You have to climb another 700 feet in the last mile, so prepare for some steep sections. After a while in the sun, you're enjoying the brief respite of this section of trail through a young second-growth forest. Snow in this area can last late into June.

You will know you've neared your final destination when the trail comes to a junction with three other trails. Turn left and walk up the rocky closed road. 2/10 of a mile later, you'll come an old road junction. Turn left here again, and head up an even rockier road now known as the Silver Star Summit Trail (#180D).

As you approach the summit, the views to the north, east and south open up wide to you with Adams, Hood, Rainier and St. Helens sitting respectfully at their benches along the horizon. On a clear day you can see Mount Jefferson due south.

The trail hits the middle of a saddle. There is a dual summit of sorts. Take the left spur to the "true" summit which has the remnants of an old lookout tower. Then turn back and hike up the short 'south summit' (called Star 2 on the USGS maps) for the great photo-op of the north summit with Rainier and St. Helens at its side.

You can return the way you came.

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The approximate path of the Bluff Mountain Trail (from David Koskamp)
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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