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Observation Peak-Rim Trail 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. Carry detailed maps of the whole area and/or a GPS unit and compass.
Mt. Rainier from Observation Peak (bobcat)
Avalanche lilies (Erythronium montanum), Observation Trail (bobcat)
Sign on Douglas-fir, Sunshine Trail (bobcat)
Massive silver fir, Rim Trail, Trapper Creek Wilderness (bobcat)
The loop around Observation Peak using the Sunshine, Rim, and Trapper Creek Trails (not a GPS track) (bobcat) Courtesy: Caltopo
  • Start point: Observation Peak TrailheadRoad.JPG
  • End point: Observation Peak
  • Trail Log:
  • Hike Type: Lollipop loop
  • Distance: 8.4 miles
  • Elevation gain: 2680 feet
  • High Point: 4,207 feet
  • Difficulty: Difficult
  • Seasons: Late spring into fall
  • Family Friendly: No
  • Backpackable: No
  • Crowded: No


Hike Description

The short way to Observation Peak, although the longest drive, begins off FR 58 north of the Trapper Creek Wilderness. It is only about 5 ½ miles round-trip to the peak (See the Observation Peak Hike), but if you want to explore some of the “back roads” in the wilderness, only for experienced route finders, you can keep hiking southeast of the peak and then find your way around its southern and western flanks using the Sunshine and Rim Trails. These are primitive trails, originally constructed by the Mazamas, which are not usually logged out and sometimes are mere scratches in the ground. The Rim Trail, especially, gets lost on flat ground as it approaches the Trapper Creek Trail, and you will have to rely on little wooden pictographs and aluminum diamonds nailed to trees. You are unlikely to see another soul, however, and the area boasts some magnificent old growth Douglas-fir and silver fir.

Sign in at the Wilderness permit box and head up the trail: there’s a trailside fringe of blooming avalanche lilies here in the spring. Very soon you enter old growth ridge forest of Douglas-fir, western hemlock, silver fir, and noble fir. The path undulates a little and then rises again in silver fir forest with a bear-grass carpet. Pass a Trapper Creek Wilderness sign and reach the Observation-Sister Rocks Trail Junction, marked by a small sign, on a ridge crest. Go left here to a rocky outcrop to get a splendid view to Mount Adams and Mount Rainier.

On the Observation Trail, keep straight and drop down the ridge. The trail levels as a small creek runs to the right. Descend again to Berry Camp, where the Big Hollow Trail meets the Observation Trail, and keep along the ridge for another 50 yards before you come to the four-way Observation-Trapper Creek Trail Junction (A shortcut from the Big Hollow Trail comes in from the right). Keep straight and traverse a slope to reach the Observation-Shortcut Trail Junction on a saddle, and then, 25 yards later, the Observation-Observation Peak Trail Junction.

Go right on the Observation Peak Trail #132A, which traverses up through bear-grass and huckleberry bushes. Soon a spur leads left to a rocky ridge, which you can ascend to get views of Mount Adams, Mount Rainier, and Mount Saint Helens as well as down the spine of Howe Ridge and over the Wind River valley. The trail keeps just below the ridge crest, passing more viewpoints. Hike up through the bear-grass to Observation Peak’s summit, site of a former lookout cabin, where the expansive views include Mount Hood as well as the three closest Washington stratovolcanoes. After taking in the vista and the wildflower bloom (best here in early summer), descend to the Observation-Observation Peak Trail Junction, and swivel right. Make a level traverse, and then drop along a ridge crest and traverse down the slope of Howe Ridge. Among the silver firs, large old-growth Douglas-firs stand out. Soon reach the Observation-Sunshine Trail Junction.

Make a right here on the primitive Sunshine Trail #198. Hike this narrow tread above a steep vine maple slope and pass in and out of a small gully. Note the carved wooden blocks on the trees. Large Douglas-firs grace this woodland as you head up out of another gully. The Sunshine is not regularly maintained, so you will probably be stepping over blown down trees here and there. Briefly descend a crest with impressive old growth conifers and follow a faint trail along a bench carpeted with vanilla leaf and huckleberry. Drop down to the left and reach the signposted Sunshine-Rim Trail Junction.

Go right here on the Rim Trail #202. The trail is marked by carved wooden blocks and small aluminum diamonds on trees. Pass through younger woods and cross a bench. Gradually rise along a faint trail tread and then cross a tributary of Trapper Creek. Pass below a rocky knoll and then wind up to reach the top of this rockpile, part of a talus slope that gives the trail its name. There are very limited views through the trees from here, but the area does support a colony of pikas. The trail continues along the talus rim and crosses and rocky stream bed. At another viewpoint, there is a view to the twin Soda Peaks. Cross a mossy Sitka alder draw, keeping a little to the left where the trail disappears. Reach a third point on the talus rim, this one dominated by a massive and gnarly old Douglas-fir. Hike across a flat area and come to a Sitka alder thicket: there’s a massive silver fir here, perhaps the biggest of this species you will ever see. The trail tread, such as it is, passes briefly through the thicket and exits to the left. Now you’re hiking with the thicket about 50 yards to your right. Soon, however, the trail veers away from the thicket and heads down the slope (Make sure you’re still following markers on trees at this point). Reach the Trapper Creek-Rim Trail Junction and go right on the well-trod Trail #192.

Pass the Trapper Creek-Shortcut Trail Junction and traverse through bear-grass up a steep slope also cloaked with huckleberries. The trail levels and then drops to the Observation-Trapper Creek Trail Junction. Here go left and up the slope to return to the trailhead.


  • Maps: Hike Finder
  • Green Trails Maps: Lookout Mtn, WA #396
  • Trapper Creek Wilderness (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

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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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