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Placid Lake 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.
Rush Creek "Lake", abandoned Chenamus Lake Trail (bobcat)
The shore of Placid Lake, Indian Heaven (bobcat)
Bear-grass (Xerophyllum tenax), Rush Creek (bobcat)
Silver fir forest on the Pacific Crest Trail (bobcat)
The Placid Lake Loop Hike, with maintained trails in red and the abandoned section of the Chenamus Lake Trail in green (bobcat)
  • Start point: Placid Lake TrailheadRoad.JPG
  • End Point: Bear Lake
  • Trail Log:
  • Distance: 10.1 miles
  • Hike type: Loop
  • Elevation gain: 1460 feet
  • High Point: 5120 feet
  • Difficulty: Moderate
  • Seasons: Summer - Fall
  • Family Friendly: No
  • Backpackable: Yes
  • Crowded: No


Hike Description

This takes advantage of the abandoned section of the Chenamus Lake Trail to travel across a series of meadows and connect with the old Cascade Crest Trail, then the Pacific Crest Trail. You return along the length of the Placid Lake Trail to hike a complete loop. The abandoned section is fairly easy to follow, but can be difficult to locate in meadows; it is, however, sometimes minimally maintained by horse groups that use it. You need a good knowledge of the area to do this loop and should know how to orient yourself well in wilderness.

From the parking area, there are views back down the road to Lone Butte and Mount Saint Helens. The Placid Lake Trail #29 enters the woods at an information board and a wilderness permit box. The woods are silver fir, Engelmann spruce and mountain hemlock with a few western white pines. Huckleberries and white rhododendrons dominate the understory. The wide trail crosses a footbridge and enters the Indian Heaven Wilderness. The trail drops, rises, levels, and drops to a junction, where you go straight through a meadow to Placid Lake. You can walk along the shore here, but return to the main trail to continue the hike. There are various campsites at the lake.

Back at the junction, go right. At another junction where the trail braids, keep right and come to a four-way junction. Go straight (left is an unmaintained connector to the Pacific Crest Trail and right takes a straight course back to Placid Lake). The trail rises to the Placid Lake-Chenamus Lake Trail Junction, where you go right on the Chenamus Lake Trail #29A. This trail drops with a dry creek to the right, and then rises to cross the rocky creek bed. Pass by a meadow and reach Chenamus Lake, which also has campsites. The trail continues along the western shore of the lake, with three kinds of huckleberries ripe for the picking in late summer. The south end of the lake is an almost completely enclosed little bay.

The unmaintained section of the Chenamus Lake Trail continues along the shore of this little bay passing a talus slope and through a small false hellebore meadow. The trail rises steeply up, levels, and then rises again in silver fir, mountain hemlock, and huckleberry woods. Cross a dry creek and rise, passing a small lake on the left. The trail rises, and then drops to cross a draw. Wind up again and cross a small meadow. The trail heads up and crosses a larger heather meadow. Drop, cross a meadow and reach the bed of Rush Creek, which here is actually a narrow lake. The trail keeps to the east side of this lake, crosses a meadow, and then passes over the rocky bed of Rush Creek. Head along an extended meadow lined with silver fir, noble fir and mountain hemlock. Cross a rocky creek bed, still in the extended meadow. The trail heads up in woods and then crosses another meadow. Elk tracks may criss-cross the way. The trail winds gradually up with the rocky bed of a Rush Creek tributary to the right. Reach a large meadow with a lake and keep to the left side of this meadow. Pass a through a gap in the trees and reach another vast meadow. Keep to the left side here and find the unmarked Chenamus Lake-Cascade Crest Trail Junction, the latter trail being well-used in this area. Go left here, cross a rocky creek bed and pass across another opening into woods. The trail rises to Acker Lake on the left and a small lake on the right. Head steeply up to a junction with Trail #176, the Elk Lake Trail. Large Bear Lake glistens below. You have the option here of heading left 0.4 miles to Elk Lake. Otherwise, go right about 70 yards, the trail splitting to the Pacific Crest-Elk Lake Trail Junction. This looks like a four-way junction, with the abandoned trail that cuts to Cultus Lake straight ahead.

Make a left here in old growth silver fir woods. The PCT rises, dips, and rises and you get a view of Deer Lake below. The path levels and rises below a talus slope to the Pacific Crest-Indian Heaven Trail Junction. Keep left and rise gradually along the west slope of Bird Mountain. Small meadows appear below as well as traces of the Cascade Crest Trail. Hike on the level with a talus slope to the right and small tarns and meadows down on the left. The path undulates before rising one more time to the Pacific Crest-Placid Lake Trail Junction.

This trail heads down to the left through the woods. Cross a meadow and then traverse down the side of a steep ridge above a talus slope. Level again to pass open glades and drop past a small lake. After this, wind gradually down in silver fir woods. Then traverse down, making two wide switchbacks before descending to the Placid Lake-Chenamus Lake Trail Junction, where you make a right for the trailhead.


Note: The abandoned section of the Chenamus Lake trail is not shown on these maps.

  • 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.

  • Self-issued wilderness permit at trailhead

Trip Reports

Related Discussions / Q&A

Guidebooks that cover this destination

  • 33 Hiking Trails: Southern Washington Cascades by Don & Roberta Lowe
  • Indian Heaven Back Country by Mel Hansen
  • Hiking Washington's Mount Adams Country by Fred Barstad (Placid Lake Trail)
  • Hiking the Gifford Pinchot Backcountry by the Columbia Group Sierra Club

More Links

Page 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.