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Trapper Creek Wilderness Loop Hike

From Oregon Hikers Field Guide

Mt. Adams from Observation Peak (bobcat)
In the woods, Trapper Creek Trail (bobcat)
Basil Clark sign, Trapper Creek Trail (bobcat)
Douglas-firs, Trapper Creek Wilderness (bobcat)
Trapper Creek, Trapper Creek Wilderness (bobcat)
Loop around the Trapper Creek Wilderness shown in red (not a GPS track) (bobcat) Courtesy: Caltopo
  • Start point: Trapper Creek TrailheadRoad.JPG
  • End point: Observation Peak
  • Trail Log:
  • Hike Type: Lollipop loop
  • Distance: 14.5 miles
  • Elevation gain: 3575 feet
  • High Point: 4,207 feet
  • Difficulty: Difficult
  • Seasons: Summer and Fall
  • Family Friendly: No
  • Backpackable: Yes
  • Crowded: No

Contents

Hike Description

A deep forest loop using the Trapper Creek Trail #192 and the Observation Trail #132 takes you around the tiny but important Trapper Creek Wilderness in the Gifford Pinchot National Forest. While small, this wilderness preserves some of the most extensive lowland old-growth forest remaining in southern Washington: at many points along the route, you'll have the chance to admire huge Douglas-firs in an area that has never been logged. The Mazamas have been active in creating maintaining trails in this pocket wilderness and, along the way, you’ll encounter the whimsical little trail markers and signs carved in the 1980s by Mazama Basil Clark, now deceased, in his trademark font. Another attraction is 100-foot Trapper Creek Falls, and a short extension to Hidden Creek Falls is also described. Expansive views to snow-capped Cascade volcanoes can be experienced from the old lookout site at Observation Peak, another detour from the main loop.

Take the Trapper Creek Trail #192 past the information kiosk and permit box. Keep left at the Trapper Creek-Dry Creek Trail Junction. Hike along a forested flat of Douglas-fir and western hemlock in an understory of Oregon grape, sword fern, vanilla leaf, pathfinder, and inside-out flower. Keep trekking up along a slope after crossing a dry creek bed and pass the Trapper Creek Wilderness sign. Cross “Stump Step” Creek (The stumps here offer no assistance crossing the creek, which runs dry in late summer). Come to the four-way Trapper Creek-Observation Trail Junction at a couple of big Douglas-firs and keep straight to cross another creek.

The trail traverses up along a slope above a bottomland and, at another huge Douglas-fir, crosses always-running Howe Creek to arrive at the Trapper Creek-Soda Peaks Trail Junction in a grove of impressive old-growth cedars. Continue up the slope on the Trapper Creek Trail, which from here is maintained by the Mazamas, and switchback twice to continue rising in an old-growth forest of Douglas-firs with younger hemlocks. Make a traverse in a carpet of salal, Oregon grape, and vanilla leaf to drop into a dry gully and pass a big Douglas-fir. Reach the Trapper Creek-Big Slide Trail Junction and, 50 yards later, the Trapper Creek-Deer Cutoff Trail East Junction. While the Deer Cutoff Trail would take 0.4 miles off your day and crosses a scenic creek, keeping to the Trapper Creek Trail takes you down to Trapper Creek itself and some quiet campsites.

To do this, keep left at the junction to traverse down and switchback under larger Douglas-firs. The trail drops and negotiates fallen giants and snapped-off behemoths to pass above “Terrace Camp” and cross a footbridge over a gully. Continuing to wind down, the path passes above a campsite on Trapper Creek, and a spur leads to the stream. The tread then winds along parallel to the creek among deer fern, vine maple, sword fern, vanilla leaf, red huckleberry, and foam flower, and passes above a spring. Cross a creek on a log and head into a stand of impressive old growth trees. Soon the trail heads up steeply to the Trapper Creek-Deer Cutoff Trail West Junction.

Go left here on a narrow rooty track to cross a mossy footbridge at a spring and traverse a slope with the sound of Trapper Creek coursing below. Reach the Trapper Creek-Sunshine Trail Junction. Continue on the Trapper Creek Trail, and head up to cross a trickling creek before traversing down to Hidden Creek, where the “new” bridge has been moved to the center of the stream by the forces of nature. Hike up the slope to find a campsite and two Basil Clark signs at the Trapper Creek-Hidden Creek Falls Trail Junction. The Hidden Creek Falls use trail, about half a kilometer long, plunges up the ridge through the huckleberries and can be followed fairly easily except where there is windfall that obscures the trail. Each time you encounter a downed tree, you will have to wade through the underbrush or clamber over fairly large trunks in order to find the tread. Eventually, you fetch up above a steep slope with Hidden Creek Falls partially visible below. Scramble down the slope – it is steep! – to come to the creek and get a view of the 20-foot falls plunging into its mossy amphitheater with a rooty cedar ascending from its rim. The falls are small but pretty at the end of the summer, but become a roaring spate in the spring. Enjoy this quiet and secluded spot before returning to Hidden Creek Camp.

Back on the main trail, a junction left heralds a primitive trail to Trapper Creek campsites at “Rendezvous Flats.” The trail passes above more large Douglas-firs and then rises into a silver fir woodland. Keep your eyes peeled for Basil Clark's iconic “Ici! B & B” sign, and then wind up to pass some campsites on the right. There are three short switchbacks up a slope with glimpses of rocky pinnacles above. The trail traverses up, levels, and then drops to cross Trapper Creek on a footbridge. The path then makes eleven switchbacks up with Hook Creek on the left and the Trapper Creek valley on the right. Reach a rock ledge with a great view across to Trapper Creek Falls pouring 100 feet down a cliff.

From the viewpoint, the trail heads up and makes four short switchbacks, traverses, and then makes three more switchbacks to a “hiker trail only” sign at a 3,200’ marker. The path enters a cool, lush woodland of Douglas-fir, silver fir, and western hemlock, winds up, and levels. Then you drop above a large spring shaded by Sitka alders and rise past a sign on a tree denoting the “West Rim Traverse to the Big Wall - Primitive!” (This old route, difficult to follow close to the Trapper Creek Trail, leads out to FR 58 on the west side of the wilderness). The trail drops through blueberries and crosses Trapper Creek (There’s an easier crossing upstream from this point). From the creek, the trail rises, crosses a small stream, and rises again through silver fir, Douglas-fir and hemlock. At the crest of a ridge, silver fir dominates. The path drops to cross a dry creek bed and passes the Trapper Creek-Rim Trail Junction. From here, you'll ascend a short distance to the Trapper Creek-Shortcut Trail Junction.

Here, go right on the Shortcut Trail #129B, and swish through bear-grass with a draw down to the right. The Shortcut Trail drops to this draw and heads up it to the Observation-Shortcut Trail Junction. Make a right right on this trail for 25 yards and then go right at the Observation-Observation Peak Trail Junction. The Observation Peak Trail #132A traverses up in silver fir, noble fir, and Douglas-fir forest. A spur left leads up an exposed rock outcrop matted with pinemat manzanita and common juniper. There are views here of Mount Rainier, Goat Rocks, Mount Adams, and the crest of Indian Heaven. Back on the main trail, pass another lookout facing east. Reach the open area at the summit of Observation Peak, and take in the views from Mount Saint Helens down to Mount Jefferson, as well as much of the Trapper Creek drainage.

Descend to the Observation-Observation Peak Trail Junction, go right and make a level traverse. The trail then drops along a ridge crest and traverses down the slope of Howe Ridge. Among the silver firs are more large Douglas-firs. Soon pass the Observation-Sunshine Trail Junction. From here, the tread soon drops to the south side of the Howe Ridge crest and descends gradually. You’ll pass old-growth Douglas-firs and western hemlocks and cross two vine maple framed scree slopes with some impressive big trees. At the second scree slope, you’ll get a view to Soda Peaks across the Trapper Creek valley. Descend through vine maple thickets and pass between two massive Douglas-firs. Continue descending and come to the Observation-Big Slide Trail Junction.

Keep descending under younger Douglas-firs. The trail passes below a mossy rock face and another huge Douglas-fir. Cross a creek with a camp site perched just above the trail. The trail only gradually drops, passing in and out of small gullies, before crossing Howe Creek. Then the path continues down the east side of this creek to the Trapper Creek-Observation Trail Junction. Turn left here and hike back to the trailhead, which is about 0.8 miles away.


Maps

  • Maps: Hike Finder
  • Green Trails Maps: Lookout Mtn, WA #396 and Wind River, WA #397
  • 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

Regulations or Restrictions, etc.

  • Northwest Forest Pass required at trailhead
  • Self-issued Wilderness Permit
  • $2 toll at the Bridge of the Gods

Trip Reports

Related Discussions / Q&A

Guidebooks that cover this hike

  • Backpacking Washington by Craig Romano
  • 60 Hikes Within 60 Miles: Portland by Paul Gerald
  • Hiking Washington's Mount Adams Country by Fred Barstad
  • Take a Hike: Portland by Barbara I. Bond
  • Day Hiking: Columbia River Gorge by Craig Romano
  • Best Old-growth Forest Hikes: Washington & Oregon Cascades by John & Diane Cissel
  • 33 Hiking Trails: Southern Washington Cascades by Don & Roberta Lowe
  • Exploring Washington's Wild Areas by Marge & Ted Mueller
  • Washington Hiking by Scott Leonard
  • Pacific Northwest Hiking by Scott Leonard & Sean Patrick Hill
  • Hiking the Gifford Pinchot Backcountry by the Columbia Group Sierra Club

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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