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Cultus Creek to Junction Lake Loop Hike

From Oregon Hikers Field Guide

The south end of the Lemei Lake Trail at Junction Lake, Indian Heaven (bobcat)
Spire on Bird Mountain above Indian Heaven Trail (bobcat)
Snowy meadow on the Lemei Lake Trail (bobcat)
Rush Creek Falls, below the Pacific Crest Trail, Indian Heaven (bobcat)
View of Mt. Adams from the Cultus Creek Trail, Indian Heaven (bobcat)
The longer loop to Junction Lake in the northern half of the Indian Heaven Wilderness (not a GPS track) (bobcat) Courtesy: Caltopo/USFS
  • Start point: Indian Heaven TrailheadRoad.JPG
  • Ending Point: Junction Lake
  • Hike Type: Loop
  • Distance: 9.9 miles
  • Elevation gain: 1910 feet
  • High point: 5,240 feet
  • Difficulty: Moderate
  • Seasons: Summer to mid-fall
  • Family Friendly: No
  • Backpackable: Yes
  • Crowded: No

Contents

Hike Description

This longer loop takes in much of the northern half of the Indian Heaven Wilderness. You pass several mountain lakes; come close to the two highest peaks in the wilderness, Lemei Rock and Bird Mountain; get views to volcanoes in the southern Washington Cascades; and experience a classic Indian Heaven route, the Lemei Lake Trail, as it progresses through meadow after meadow. Huckleberries can be harvested in late summer, and the area can usually be accessed through October. Mosquitoes can be a serious irritant through July, and standing water may be an issue in early summer and the fall. The route is described in a clockwise fashion. If you want to get most of your elevation gain out of the way on the short but steep ascent of the Cultus Creek Trail, then you can do the loop counterclockwise from the Cultus Creek Trailhead on the north side of the Cultus Creek Campground.

From the Indian Heaven Trailhead, head into a stand of old-growth Engelmann spruce, cross a small creek, and begin climbing a slope to pass the wilderness sign. Traverse the eastern slope of Bird Mountain in a mixed conifer woodland of spruce, mountain hemlock, noble fir, and silver fir. The trail gradually rises, with Cultus Creek burbling to your left. At a switchback, you'll get a magnificent view of Mount Adams and Goat Rocks and then also Steamboat Mountain, Mount Rainier, and nearby Sawtooth Mountain. The trail levels on a turnpike as you pass a small meadow, getting views up to the rocky crest of Bird Mountain. Cross a small stream, and continue to rise in hemlock and fir forest. Pass a meadow and tarn, and reach the Indian Heaven-Deep Lake Trail Junction.

For the short diversion to Deep Lake, make a left. Cross Cultus Creek on a footbridge near where it flows out from Cultus Lake. Hike up a slope to reach Deep Lake. Standing on the south shore, you'll see Mount Adams' snowy summit peeking above the surrounding forest. Paths lead left and right to access campsites.

Back at the junction, make a left, and hike above Cultus Lake, which is much shallower than Deep Lake and freezes over earlier in the fall. Lemei Rock, the highest peak in the Indian Heaven Wilderness, looms behind. Pass the Indian Heaven-Lemei Trail Junction, and drop in a montane woodland of small meadows. At the junction with the Lemei Lake Trail #179, make a left on that trail.

The rutted Lemei Lake Trail descends very gradually. You'll pass the east end of an abandoned section of the Elk Lake Trail on the right. Cross a big meadow, and then reenter old-growth montane forest. A creek runs to the right, and you'll come close to it when you hike through the next meadow. Rock hop Rush Creek's north fork east of where it enters Lemei Lake. The trail then skirts boggy meadows at Lemei Lake, from which you can get a view east to Lemei Rock. A footbridge and turnpike lead through a linear meadow before the trail switchbacks twice up a slope. From a couple of meadows with shallow tarns, you'll enjoy more vistas to Lemei Rock. Descend the deeply incised track to a small meadow, and cross three creeks, the last one being Rush Creek's middle fork. Cross a large open expanse, and then begin to drop gradually. Wind down through pocket meadows onto a ridge of old growth. Switchback and traverse down to the shore of Junction Lake, where you'll walk past a campsite and reach the Pacific Crest-Lemei Lake Trail Junction.

Make a right here, and traverse a slope forest of silver fir. Recross the tumbling middle fork of Rush Creek above small meadows. Soon, find your way over the north fork of Rush Creek: below the trail, there's a pretty three-tiered waterfall, but you'll have to bushwhack through huckleberries to see it. The trail rises, and you'll see Acker Lake down to your left through the trees. Come to the Pacific Crest-Elk Lake Trail Junction (see the Elk Lake Add-on Hike), with Bear Lake glistening below. Gradually ascend through the conifers, noting some impressive old-growth noble firs. Soon, you'll see Deer Lake below, and come to the Pacific Crest-Indian Heaven Trail Junction.

Stay left on the Pacific Crest Trail here to cross a trickling brook and make a gradually rising traverse in montane forest. You'll see three small tarns before a crossing of a talus slope. The trail drops to cross several small streams before arriving at the Pacific Crest-Placid Lake Trail Junction. The PCT rises from the junction, and then bends right for a glimpse of high rugged ramparts on Bird Mountain. The route traverses a steep slope above a small lake before passing through a boulder field. Just past an impressive silver fir, you'll reach the four-way Pacific Crest-Cultus Creek-Wood Lake Trail Junction (The half-mile diversion to Wood Lake can be tacked on to your trip if you have the inclination).

Make a right on the Cultus Creek Trail #108 to head up and over a saddle on Bird Mountain and begin the steep descent to the Cultus Creek Trailhead. The trail is often a deeply incised rut, but try to avoid creating a parallel footpath. Soon, you'll get a view of Mount Adams, with Sleeping Beauty's rock dome to the right. Next, there's a brief glimpse of Mount Rainier. Get another view of Mount Adams before entering a dense woodland of mountain hemlock, silver fir, and noble fir, with bear-grass verging the trail. The gradient becomes easier, and you might see a broken fence on the left that once protected an alder-shaded spring. Reach the Cultus Creek Trailhead. Ahead on FR 24 is the turnoff for the campground loop. Follow this road around the campground to reach the Indian Heaven Trailhead and your vehicle.

Maps

  • Maps: Hike Finder
  • Green Trails Maps: Lone Butte, WA #365
  • Indian Heaven (USFS)
  • 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

Fees, Regulations, etc.

  • Northwest Forest Pass required
  • Self-issued wilderness permit
  • Wilderness restrictions apply

Trip Reports

Related Discussions / Q&A

Guidebooks

  • Day Hiking Mount Adams and Goat Rocks by Tami Asars
  • Day Hiking: South Cascades by Dan A. Nelson & Alan L. Bauer
  • Hiking Washington's Mount Adams Country by Fred Barstad
  • Washington's South Cascades' Volcanic Landscapes by Marge & Ted Mueller
  • Exploring Washington's Wild Areas by Marge & Ted Mueller
  • Hiking Washington by Oliver Lazenby
  • 33 Hiking Trails: Southern Washington Cascades by Don & Roberta Lowe
  • Hiking the Gifford Pinchot Backcountry by the Columbia Group Sierra Club
  • Indian Heaven Back Country by Mel Hansen
  • Hiking Washington by Scott Leonard
  • Washington's Columbia River Gorge: Camping & Hiking by Tom Stienstra & Scott Leonard
  • Pacific Northwest Hiking by Scott Leonard & Sean Patrick Hill

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.

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