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Tarbell Loop Hike

From Oregon Hikers Field Guide

Mt. St. Helens and the top of Mt. Rainier from the Tarbell Trail on Larch Mountain (bobcat)
Coast toothwort (Cardamine californica var. integrifolia), Tarbell Trail (bobcat)
Bridge over North Fork Coyote Creek, Tarbell Trail (bobcat)
Hidden Falls, Tarbell Trail (bobcat)
View to Mt. St. Helens from the Tarbell Trail (bobcat)
Pyramid Rock from the Tarbell Trail (bobcat)
Bridge over Cold Creek, Tarbell Trail (bobcat)
Silver Star's north ridge and Sturgeon Rock from the Tarbell Trail (bobcat)
View down Rock Creek, Tarbell Trail (bobcat)
The route of the Tarbell Trail where it loops around the Yacolt Burn State Forest (not a GPS track) (bobcat) Courtesy: Caltopo/USFS
  • Start point: Tarbell TrailheadRoad.JPG
  • End point: Larch Mountain
  • Hike Type: Loop
  • Distance: 23.5 miles
  • Elevation gain: 4095 feet
  • High point: 3,500 feet
  • Difficulty: Difficult
  • Seasons: Spring through fall
  • Family Friendly: No
  • Backpackable: Yes
  • Crowded: No


Hike Description

The Tarbell Trail is a 22 ¼ mile loop in Washington's Yacolt Burn State Forest. The route runs across the western slopes of Silver Star Mountain, ascends Larch Mountain, and then drops into the Cold Creek and Rock Creek valleys. Much of the land has been logged, and there will be clearcuts in various stages of regeneration as well as a few stands of old timber. You may encounter trail detours around logging operations, or a section of the trail may be closed for several months. There are mileage markers beginning at the Tarbell Trailhead that notify you of your progress. Highlights of this strenuous loop include Hidden Falls, views of Mount Saint Helens as you ascend Larch Mountain, and lush forest in the creek drainages. The Tarbell Trail is shared with mountain bikers and horses, so be prepared to make way when occasion arises. There's a campground at Rock Creek if you are making this a two-day excursion. The mileage and elevation gain given includes a one-mile detour to the summit of Larch Mountain as well as the short distance from the Tarbell Trailhead to the 0-mile marker of the Tarbell Trail.

The Tarbell Trail is named after a hermit named George Lee Tarbell, who created a part of the current trail route to access his isolated shack. In July 1925, Tarbell got into an altercation with two young men who were harvesting cascara bark (used to make laxatives) on his property. He shot and killed one of them, but was acquitted in court for reason of self-defense. The current trail route was completed in 1970. Other trailheads you can begin this loop include the Rock Creek Trailhead, Yacolt Burn Trailhead, and Grouse Vista Trailhead.

A railed trail leads up a slope up past picnic tables tucked into the trees. The path reaches a junction with a tie trail leading down to Road L1100. Here, head right past Milepost 0.0. Walk up a slope to the signposted Tarbell Trailhead Junction. Three miles to the south (right) is the Rock Creek Campground. Instead, go left for Hidden Falls. As you ascend through the clearcut, there are views to the left across the East Fork Lewis River valley to the Siouxon Peak/Huffman Peak ridge behind the Tatoosh Hills, as well as the tops of Mount Mitchell and Mount Saint Helens. Enter Douglas-fir forest and switchback twice through an Oregon grape, sword fern, and salal carpet. Then, the trail drops slightly and crosses gravel road L1121.

Soon the trail descends past MP 1.0. The path then rises into another clearcut and reaches the Tarbell-Silver Shadow Trail East Junction, where you'll keep left. From this area, you'll get views down the valleys to Dole and Yacolt. Rise again, crossing over an abandoned logging road in a young Douglas-fir plantation. The trail crosses an old ATV track and levels on a traverse across the face of Kloochman Butte (renamed from Squaw Butte). Here there is mixed forest of Douglas-fir, noble fir, and silver fir. At an opening, one can see past the trees to Silver Star Mountain and Sturgeon Rock. The trail drops and you pass the 2.5 mile marker. There are more expansive views, including back to Larch Mountain. Pass an unmarked trail junction, and cross a clearcut on the level with an open view of Sturgeon Rock. Walk below a logging road, cross two creeks (The trees in the creek drainages have been left standing) and then MP 3.5, reenter the clearcut, and then hike through an alder stand and enter a large clearcut where you'll reach the Tarbell-Chinook Trail Junction.

The Tarbell ascends to a new logging road, where you'll descend to the right for about 25 yards. You’re rewarded with a nice duff trail that proceeds through shady forest with an Oregon grape/salal carpet before switchbacking down five times. The woods become lush with lady fern, maidenhair fern, and salmonberry before you cross the substantial footbridge over the North Fork Coyote Creek, where a sign proclaims all the contributors to the project. Then traverse through young Douglas-fir forest to begin a gradual descent with a couple of switchbacks to a bridge over the South Fork Coyote Creek, where you can get a good view up to the 90-foot drop of Hidden Falls where it splashes down a mossy cliff. Tarry a while to enjoy this cool haven as you have a few open clearcuts to go.

From the creek, the trail begins a 900-foot climb to Sturgeon Rock's ridge. There’s a one-tent campsite on the left before you cross another footbridge and hike up a slope of trickling seeps to emerge from the shady forest into a clearcut. Switchback up to gain views of Silver Star’s north ridge and the top of Sturgeon Rock peeking up. The trail crosses a decommissioned logging road, and four more switchbacks bring Mount Saint Helens into view once more. Then you’ll enter a patch of forest with larger trees before switchbacking to emerge in a clearcut and hike up to a logging landing. Bear right for 50 yards to resume the Tarbell and make a couple of switchbacks looking up at the top of Sturgeon Rock. The path now turns in shady silver/noble fir forest with a carpet of oxalis and winds up before dropping gradually. You’ll find yourself above another logging road and will reach an old jeep track where a sign indicates the junction with the Sturgeon Rock Trail

From the junction, the trail switchbacks down to the logging road, where you’ll head straight across an intersection and then cross a road at a landing, getting a full-on view towards Pyramid Rock. The trail switchbacks down past a couple of large boulders and then descends some more to pass the 8.0 mile marker on the Tarbell Trail in a shady stretch of forest. Soon enough, however, you’ll emerge at an extensive clearcut and pass a whimsical piece of logger’s art. There are more great views of Pyramid Rock. Cross a road and switchback down before traversing into shady forest, hiking over two streams before reaching the big footbridge over Rock Creek. There are tumbling falls above and below the bridge.

Now you’re making a gently rising traverse to cross a stream in an alder/devil’s club thicket. Mountain beavers have been busy burrowing along the trail and in places there is overhanging bracken and thimbleberry. An old sign proclaims a view up to Pyramid Rock but there are far better views now back in the clearcuts of the past 15 years. The Tarbell crosses a boulder slope blooming with ocean spray and passes the 10.0 mile marker. The trail continues to undulate slightly, crossing streams under a canopy of alders and soon pass between two big Douglas-firs to arrive at the Grouse Vista-Tarbell Trail Junction. Make a right to hike the short distance down to the Grouse Vista Trailhead.

Cross the road, and take the Tarbell Trail next to the information kiosk. This wide path follows the crest of the ridge under Douglas-firs and western hemlocks in a carpet of salal, bracken, and bear-grass. Red huckleberry bushes dot the understory. The area was also scorched by the 1902 Yacolt Burn and was slow to regenerate, but here and there a few larger trees survive. Drop a little, and then rise again past a junction with an old track. Soon pass the 11.0 mile marker of the Tarbell Trail. The tread is eroded and rubbly most of the way. Ascend steeply on the crest and drop again, noting a clearcut on the left. You’ll see an ATV trail leading off into the cut from which you can get a great view of Mount Hood. Cross an old berm, and pass an intersection with an old road track. Keep right at another intersection, and notice Grouse Creek flowing through an open bracken meadow below to your right. Cross a small stream before reaching the footbridge that spans Grouse Creek.

You'll notice some bigger trees, including a large hemlock and a Douglas-fir next to the trail. Silver firs and noble firs have also entered the forest mix. The trail begins to rise gain after crossing another creek. A thicket of spindly cherry trees affords glimpses of Mount Hood to the south. There’s a large silver fir on the left side of the trail before you pass the 12.0 mile marker on the Tarbell Trail. The trail makes a sharp turn in a bear-grass/huckleberry meadow. This open space affords the best views of the hike: from west to east the entire ridge of Silver Star Mountain is visible, from Sturgeon Rock to the Indian Pits, across the deep valley of Grouse Creek. Mount Saint Helens dominates the skyline to the northwest, while Mount Rainier’s snowy cap pokes above the horizon. Larch Mountain’s massive northeastern talus slope tumbles below.

The Tarbell reenters the forest, here mostly silver and noble fir, and skirts a magnificent bear-grass meadow that blooms spectacularly in late spring. It continues up to the signposted Tarbell-Larch Mountain Trail Junction, where you keep left. The trail ascends to a post and road bed at the Tarbell-Larch Mountain Cutoff Trail Junction. Go left here again on a level trail, and keep left at a road junction. The route continues up the wide, rubbly track to the top of Larch Mountain and its microwave towers. There aren’t many views here: just some glimpses to the west and south.

Return down the track to the Tarbell-Larch Mountain Trail Junction, and go left. Cross an eroded, rocky track, and hike through bear-grass carpeted woods. The path makes a level traverse through a Sitka alder/ devil’s club thicket before beginning a traverse of a massive talus slope, where you'll cause some alarm squeaks amongst the pika population. Pass the Flintstone Picnic Area (one table), from which there are views to Silver Star Mountain and Pyramid Rock. Farther away, Mount Saint Helens and the summit of Mount Rainier will adorn the northern horizon on a clear day. Three switchbacks take you down in noble fir, silver fir, Douglas-fir woods on a sometimes rocky tread. Hike below a rock outcropping, switchback down four more times, and traverse a slope. After reaching a clearcut and logging road, switchback to another logging road and the south junction with the Sixth Sense Trail. Here you'll stay left to switchback down four times in shady montane forest. Cross Cold Creek on a wide, sturdy bridge, and follow a road bed a short distance before descending four more switchbacks above Cold Creek. The trail drops down a sword fern-carpeted hillside to recross Cold Creek. Then it winds down below a clearcut and crosses Cold Creek once more.

Make sure you keep left at a couple of junctions, always following the markers for the Tarbell Trail. The trail switchbacks down in salal-carpeted woods above Cold Creek under cedars and alders. Cross several small streams before hiking along a road cutting. Some large and rotting stumps attesting to a former forest of giants. Continue hiking on an old road track under Douglas-fir, alder, hemlock, cedar, big-leaf maple and vine maple, and keep straight at an unsigned junction. Descend to parallel Road L1000 for a short stretch in a clearcut. After reaching the Tarbell-Bells Mountain Trail Junction, you'll make a right (This is close to the large Yacolt Burn Trailhead, which has restrooms).

The route crosses Road L1000E and heads up to the Tarbell-Sixth Sense Trail North Junction. Make a left here to stay on the Tarbell Trail. The trail rises in a Douglas-fir plantation, follows a winding passage, and then drops to cross wide Road L1000 (Dole Valley Road). After passing through another plantation, you'll enter a clearcut from which you’ll get good views to Silver Star Mountain, Sturgeon Rock, and Pyramid Rock. The area is frequented by elk, so keep your eyes open. Enter another plantation, and then cross Road L1300, which leads to the Cold Creek Campground. You’ll drop through this plantation to get another sighting of Silver Star’s north ridge. Cross the Dole Valley Road, which is paved here, and arrive a small meadow at the edge of the Rock Creek Horse Campground. The Tarbell Trail winds through a pretty, moss-draped woodland and drops down a bench to head up through riparian woods near Rock Creek. There are many spurs to the road and the creek here, so stick to the main path, which is graveled. Come to a junction near the Rock Creek Trailhead, and make a left to cross Rock Creek on a sturdy foot/horse bridge.

The trail then proceeds downstream above Rock Creek in a lovely, mature, natural forest dominated by tall Douglas-firs. Cross a footbridge, and hike up parallel to a creek. You’ll soon enter a clearcut, where you’ll hike up a slope to reenter leafy woods and cross another creek. The tread ascends a slope in fern-carpeted forest to cross a gravel road with a vehicle bridge to your right. Hike out into a clearcut, and briefly reenter the woods again and then reach a logging road. Go right for 45 yards, and resume the trail where it winds up through the clearcut to the Tarbell-Silver Shadow Trail West Junction.

Here you'll keep left to enter shady forest and cross a logging road and then a splashing creek. After coming to another clearcut, cross a new logging road. Soon, you'll cross a sturdy new boardwalk that replaces one crushed by a falling tree. Then hike through a stand of mature Douglas-firs, and then reach a Douglas-fir plantation. There's a view back to Larch Mountain. Arrive at Road L1123, and go left to pass a junction. The trail heads in to older secondary forest and crosses a footbridge. There's yet another clearcut to hike across before you rise in a shady forest of alder, big-leaf maple, and Douglas-fir. Emerging into a clearcut, you'll get views across the Dole Valley. Come to gated Road L1121, and walk 20 yards to the left to pick up the trail. Soon reach the Tarbell Trailhead Junction, and make a left to return to your vehicle.


Regulations or restrictions, etc

  • Discover Pass required at trailhead
  • Share trail with mountain bikers and horses
  • Logging activity may trigger detours or trail closures

Trip Reports

Related Discussions / Q&A

Guidebooks that cover this hike

  • Afoot & Afield: Portland/Vancouver by Douglas Lorain
  • Mountain Biking: Portland by Scott Rapp

More Links


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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