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Tombstone Lake via the PCT Hike

From Oregon Hikers Field Guide

Tombstone Lake, Indian Heaven (bobcat)
Mt. Adams and Sleeping Beauty from Berry Mountain (bobcat)
Blue Lake and Gifford Peak (bobcat)
Pond in the north meadow, old Cascade Crest Trail (bobcat)
Pacific Crest Trail in red, old Cascade Crest Trail in green (not a GPS track) (bobcat) Courtesy: National Geographic Topo
  • Start point: Crest Camp TrailheadRoad.JPG
  • End Point: Tombstone Lake
  • Trail Log:
  • Distance: 16.4 miles
  • Hike type: Out-and-back or loop
  • Elevation gain: 2280 feet
  • High Point: 5005 feet
  • Difficulty: Difficult
  • Seasons: Summer - Fall
  • Family Friendly: No
  • Backpackable: Yes
  • Crowded: No


Hike Description

The Pacific Crest Trail passes along the slopes of Berry Mountain and Gifford Peak, the high spine of the Indian Heaven Wilderness, before dropping gently to the central lakes area. This route passes by the Indian Racetrack and takes in wide-ranging viewpoints once it ascends to the crest. Experienced route finders may want to return via the old Cascade Crest Trail route for about half the way, passing by a couple of large meadows that, half a century ago, used to be destinations for shepherds and their flocks in the late summer and fall.

After signing in at the Wilderness Permit box, enter a forest of silver fir, noble fir, Douglas-fir, and mountain hemlock, with some lodgepole and western white pine. Bear-grass, huckleberry, twin flower, and vanilla leaf form the understory. Rise gently and cross a dry creek bed, which you will soon recross. The trail switchbacks. Look to your left above this rise and note eleven mountain hemlocks rising out of the same spot, probably seeded from the same cone. Pass little Sheep Lake on your left and rise again through a meadow. Cross a creek bed and head gradually up, undulating a little and entering the Indian Heaven Wilderness, before reaching Green Lake. After this, the trail passes through a large meadow with a view to the lookout tower on the summit of Red Mountain. You will pass the unmarked Pacific Crest-Cascade Crest Trail South Junction on your right, a trace through low-growing blueberries. Seventy-five yards later, reach the Pacific Crest-Racetrack Shortcut Trail Junction. You can make the half-mile diversion to the Indian Racetrack at this point, or on the return trip - as you wish.

Continuing straight on the Pacific Crest Trail, gradually rise and then begin a traverse up the slopes of Berry Mountain. Switchback among lodgepole pine, noble pine, and western white pine with an open carpet of colorful huckleberry bushes, common juniper, and pinemat manzanita. You will get good views south to Red Mountain and Mount Hood. Switchback twice more and then traverse up the cinder slope. The Pacific Crest Trail passes below rock outcroppings and huckleberry slopes. Mount Adams and Sleeping Beauty are visible through the trees. The trail drops over to the west side of the ridge. At a viewpoint, one can see ahead to Gifford Peak and down to the Basin Lakes area. The trail switches over to the east side and then reaches the crest again. There’s a great view west to Mount Saint Helens and east to Mount Adams and Sleeping Beauty. Continue through huckleberry and boxwood and then switchback down at a view south to Mount Hood. There are five more switchbacks before the trail heads along the saddle between Berry Mountain and Gifford Peak. At the north end of this saddle is the obscure Pacific Crest-Gifford Peak Way Junction. The Pacific Crest Trail rises and then begins to drop gradually along the east slope of Gifford Peak in a woodland of noble fir, silver fir, and mountain hemlock. Cross two small gulleys and pass a “Camp in designated areas” sign. Tombstone Lake will be visible through the trees below to the right. Reach stunning Blue Lake, backed against the steep scree of Gifford Peak, and the Pacific Crest-Tombstone Lake Trail Junction.

Go right here on the Tombstone Lake Trail #55, passing some designated campsites and a small unnamed lake on the right. The trail drops steeply on a rubble track to Tombstone Lake, closely hemmed in by conifers with a skirt of berry bushes, brightly colored in the fall. Continue around to the right and reach a trail junction. Left takes you to a campsite and access to the lake shore. Going right and heading out of the small meadow is the track of the Cascade Crest Trail (CCT). Return the way you came to keep on maintained trails. If you an experienced off-trail hiker, you may want to continue south on the CCT to rejoin the PCT near the Pacific Crest-Racetrack Shortcut Trail Junction.

WARNING: The Cascade Crest Trail is unmaintained and, in parts, is obscured by debris and blowdown. Braiding, undergrowth, old spur trails, and elk trails can make the trail hard to find in a couple of spots. You need good route-finding skills to use this route; otherwise, return from Tombstone Lake via the Pacific Crest Trail. Note that this loop is about 1 1/2 miles shorter and travels at a lower elevation than a return on the PCT, but doesn't necessarily take less time!

The trail heads up the slope and into the woods. It rises and falls over small ridges and into shallow gullies. There is some blowdown and much debris on this almost forgotten trail. In some places, like many of the trails in Indian Heaven, the path is a braided rut. In others, berry bushes crowd the path, making the excursion a very damp one on a day of rain or heavy dew. The trail continues to drop and then a large meadow, rimmed by Sitka alder, can be seen to the left through the trees. There are springs along the western part of the meadow, which is a boggy, mosquito-infested sedgeland until late summer. Heading along, you will find more access to the meadow on old spur trails. Soon, reach a spring in the woods that is churned up by elk tracks. Here, enter a small meadow rimmed by false hellebore and noble fir. This is the area of Spring Camp, a former sheep camp, and it backs a second large meadow just behind the screen of noble firs. The trail heads up past another spring shaded by Sitka alder and continues above a gully on the left. You will find yourself pushing through fir and hemlock saplings as they begin to take over the trail. After a while, the track levels and veers left to cross the creek bed and soon reaches the Pacific Crest-Cascade Crest Trail South Junction. Go right here for the Indian Racetrack or left to return the 3.5 miles to the Crest Camp Trailhead.


  • Maps: Hike Finder
  • Green Trails Maps: Wind River, WA #397
  • 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

  • Indian Heaven Back Country by Mel Hansen
  • Day Hiking: South Cascades by Dan A. Nelson & Alan L. Bauer
  • Hiking the Pacific Crest Trail: Washington by Tami Asars (PCT section)
  • Washington's South Cascades' Volcanic Landscapes by Marge and Ted Mueller
  • The Forgotten Forest: Exploring the Gifford Pinchot by the Washington Trails Association
  • Skamania 231: A Scrambler's Guide by Kelly Wagner (Berry Mt. and Gifford Peak)
  • Exploring Washington's Wild Areas by Marge & Ted Mueller
  • 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.