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Snag Creek 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.
Snag Creek, Pacific Crest Trail (bobcat)
Washington DNR boundary sign, Snag Creek Trail (bobcat)
Mt. Rainier from Mowich Butte (bobcat)
Lower falls, North Fork Rock Creek tributary, Pacific Crest Trail (bobcat)
Bobcat tracks, Pacific Crest Trail (bobcat)
The loop described (not a GPS track) (bobcat) Courtesy: Caltopo
  • Start point: Snag Creek TrailheadRoad.JPG
  • End point: Mowich Butte
  • Trail Log:
  • Hike Type: Loop with spur
  • Distance: 10.4 miles
  • Elevation gain: 2310 feet
  • High point: 3,513 feet
  • Difficulty: Difficult
  • Seasons: Late spring into fall
  • Family Friendly: No
  • Backpackable: No
  • Crowded: No

Contents

Hike Description

For those interested in obscurity and in putting a pair of boots on a forgotten route, this loop offers a great chance to rediscover a lost trail (one way) and then trot back along the easy tread of the Pacific Crest Trail. The Snag Creek Trail once connected two jurisdictions, state and federal forest lands. The latter abandoned their section decades ago although parts of it may still be found. The Washington DNR section lingered because of a project undertaken by a local Boy Scout troop in the early 1980s. In the 21st century, however, a clearcut obliterated part of the trail, and it all but disappears once it hits the boundary with the Gifford Pinchot. That said, the bushwhack up to the Sunset Hemlock Road (FR 41) is not long or difficult, and then abandoned roads can be taken to the top of Mowich Butte with its expansive views of the Washington Cascades. From here, the Pacific Crest Trail is your avenue back to your vehicle through woods sheltering elk and other wild critters.

Just to emphasize, however, the Snag Creek Trail is abandoned. Do NOT attempt the loop unless you are experienced at navigating off-trail! Recently (2016), flagging has been placed along the DNR section of the route which helps you to find your way.

The Pacific Crest Trail heads into a Douglas-fir plantation mixed with big-leaf maples, salal, Oregon grape, and sword fern. Large stumps memorialize the massive old growth that loomed over the Snag Creek valley before logging. The trail heads up and traverses along a slope, and then reaches Snag Creek in alder, Douglas-fir, hemlock woods. The footbridge here is out, and the crossing of Snag Creek can be treacherous, so take care. This is a pocket of old growth with some huge Douglas-firs. Head up about 125 yards and reach the Pacific Crest-Snag Creek Trail Junction. A big sign explains the trail was created by the CCC and refurbished by a Washougal troop of Boy Scouts in 1981. Go right up the trail past some more large Douglas-firs. Cross a footbridge and switchback up a gully under a fallen giant. Soon, reach a bulldozed pullout and an active logging road.

Walk up the road about 200 yards and see the old posts for the resumption of the trail (The actual sign is missing). The trail tread heads up into a clearcut, where the track is mostly obscured by debris and cat tracks. Make for an island of trees in the middle of the cut and pick up the trail. Exit the trees and head up more clearcut to a white handwritten Timber Sale sign which is next to the trail’s entry into the woods. The tread heads up the ridge crest and then along the edge of an older clearcut and back into the woods. Reach a fork where the trail braids for a short distance and keep left. The trail switchbacks twice and heads along the ridge with views of the surrounding country. Hike on an obvious tread through bracken, bear-grass, salal, and Oregon grape under Douglas-firs and hemlocks. You will, no doubt, encounter some debris and blowdown, but it can usually be stepped over. The grade becomes steeper and then you reach the first switchback. Traverse up, and switchback three more times to make another rising traverse along the Snag Creek valley (Farther north in this valley, and a trailless flounder through the forest, are 150-foot Snag Creek Falls). Then, make one more switchback to get a view of Mowich Butte. The path is padded with moss, showing there is little human use. Switchback up to the ridge crest, and then switchback again to a point with some rotting planks that used to be benches. There is a view to Three Corner Rock and Mount Hood from here: this is also a good place to turn around if you don't want to attempt the cross-country portion of this hike.

Past this point, the trail is hard to find although there is flagging that leads to a DNR sign facing north and denoting the boundary with the Gifford Pinchot National Forest. Pass through vine maple/huckleberry thickets looking for cuts through logs that indicate the path of the trail. The track goes left through the bushes and then wends back to the center of an expansive bench with bracken clearings. You could bushwhack up the ridge crest on the right side to FR 41 (Sunset Hemlock Road), but the actual old Forest Service trail tread breaks left (west) and crosses a gully before rising to FR 41. This route is also essentially a bushwhack where you may be able to pick up trail vestiges among the huckleberries and old stumps. Cross a gully and start heading up. The forest becomes more open, with western white pines and noble firs in the mix. You may run into some flagging as you approach FR 41.

When you reach the road, go right and pass the site of Mowich Camp.The road drops and you'll soon encounter a berm. Keep going along the now-decommissioned road bed, which is sometimes used by ORVs. There’s a view of Mount Hood through the trees in a thinned part of the forest. Cross another berm and reach the Sunset Hemlock-Mowich Butte Road Junction and the spur leading up to Mowich Butte. Take this road up through some “partial cuts.” The road switchbacks, and there are more views through the trees of Three Corner Rock, Birkenfeld Mountain, Table Mountain, and Mount Hood. Switchback again and head through uncut forest towards the summit. The path bypasses a thicket of Sitka alder and reaches the site of the old lookout. The conifers are growing up, but you should be able to find vantage points that offer views down to the Trout Creek valley and farther to Mount Saint Helens (hiding behind Soda Peaks), Mount Rainier, and Mount Adams.

Head down and go left on FR 41. The road drops and, about half a mile from the spur at a rocky cutting, look down and see the Pacific Crest Trail just below the road. Cut down to it through Oregon grape and head right along the PCT (This very short cutoff saves you about a mile). This is a 100-year Douglas-fir/hemlock forest, post Yacolt Burn, with lots of snags. The undergrowth is bear-grass, salal, and huckleberry. Make a traverse and gets views of Three Corner Rock. The trail drops and crosses a gully before rising into a steep-sided alder ravine. Traverse gently down and switchback at another gully. The trail switchbacks below a spring and crosses a small creek below the next spring. Make two more switchbacks, cross a small creek, and then a bigger creek with a 15-foot waterfall plunging below the trail. Drop down an alder gully. There should be a lot of elk sign in this area. The PCT heads down above a tributary of the North Fork Rock Creek. Below, see two 20-foot waterfalls, and then pass below rocky ramparts. Hike below more rocky basalt cliffs with big-leaf maples growing on the talus below. Next, pass below a mossy talus slope and into an alder gully to cross a creek. The trail heads out above the alder bottomlands of the North Fork Rock Creek with huge snags in the woods. The path now rises into lusher woods with some ancient Douglas-firs that somehow survived the Burn. One of these monsters is at least eight feet in diameter. The creek runs below to the left. Cross a small stream in a lush bottom of red-cedar, hemlock, maple, alder and big Douglas-firs. Then, cross another small creek and undulate along the trail, heading in and out of a gully and then rise. Soon, move away from the creek to reach CG 2070 and the Snag Creek Trailhead.


Maps

  • Maps: Hike Finder
  • Green Trails Maps: Lookout Mtn, WA #396 (Snag Creek Trail not shown)
  • Washington State Department of Natural Resources: The Yacolt Burn State Forest Map
  • National Geographic Trails Illustrated Map: Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area
  • U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service: Mount St. Helens National Volcanic Monument & Administrative Area
  • U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service: Gifford Pinchot National Forest (Snag Creek Trail not shown)

Regulations or restrictions, etc

  • Discover Pass required at trailhead
  • $2 toll each way at the Bridge of the Gods
  • Snag Creek Trail not maintained

Trip Reports

Related Discussions / Q&A

Guidebooks that cover this hike

  • Afoot & Afield: Portland/Vancouver by Douglas Lorain

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.