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Gifford Pinchot National Forest

Gifford Pinchot National Forest is located in southwest Washington and contains 1.32 million acres of forest, mountains, river valleys, waterfalls, and wilderness. The forest stretches along the western slopes of the Cascade Range from Mount Rainier National Park to the Columbia River and straddles the crest of the southern Cascades.

This region of Washington is known for its complex topography and volcanic geology. In fact, Gifford Pinchot contains several noteworthy volcanoes including Mount Adams, the second tallest volcano in Washington, and Mount St. Helens, the site of the most notorious eruption in modern U.S. history. There are 190 named summits in Gifford Pinchot including The Pinnacle, Pikers Peak, Suksdorf Ridge, and Black Thumb.

Mount Adams

Interestingly, the Gifford Pinchot National Forest is one of the oldest National Forests in the states. In 1897, the forest was part of the Mount Rainier Forest Preserve before being set aside as the Columbia National Forest in 1908. In 1949 the forest was renamed to Gifford Pinchot in honor of the first chief of the Forest Service. Gifford Pinchot was known as ‘the father of American forestry’ and under his control, national forests increased to 193 million acres by 1910.

Gifford Pinchot is divided into three Ranger Districts - Cowlitz Valley Ranger District, Mount Adams Ranger District, and Mount St. Helens National Volcanic Monument. The forest also contains seven wilderness areas – Glacier View, Goat Rocks, Indian Heaven, Mount Adams, Tatoosh, Trapper Creek, and William O. Douglas - and a national monument – Mount St. Helens National Volcanic Monument.

The forest receives abundant rainfall which feeds an extensive network of incredible rivers and lakes. Portions of the White Salmon River, for example, have been nationally designated as Wild and Scenic for its natural beauty. There are thirteen additional rivers in the forest that are currently being considered for the national Wild and Scenic designation including the Lewis River, Cispus River, and Cowlitz River.

Gifford Pinchot is a popular destination for adventure-seekers and outdoor enthusiasts. The forest contains over 1,200 miles of trail, 1,360 miles of streams, 100 lakes, and 1,596 heritage resource sites.

Mount Saint Helens

Major Hikes and Attractions

Cowlitz Valley Ranger District

Cowlitz Valley is located in the northernmost portion of the Gifford Pinchot National Forest and contains approximately 575,000 acres of wilderness. The Cowlitz Valley sits roughly between three iconic Washington volcanoes – Mount Rainier, Mount Adams, and Mount St. Helens. This region contains four distinct Wildernesses – Goat Rocks, Glacier View, Tatoosh, and William O. Douglas and encompasses over 500 miles of trail and a variety of campgrounds and accommodations. Popular trails in the Cowlitz Valley include:

  • Boundary #1 trail - This trail marks the southern boundary of this district and was used in 1911 as a principal route for rangers and horseback patrols.
  • Trail #44 Cowlitz – This trail is tucked within the William O. Douglas and includes several alpine lakes. This trail was once used by Native Americans crossing the Cascades and is part of the prehistoric Yakama Cowlitz Trail.
  • Goat Lake – A popular backpacking trail that features stunning views of glaciated peaks, wildflowers, and incredible mountainous terrain.

Mount Adams Ranger District

The Mount Adams area is located in the eastern portion of the Gifford Pinchot National Forest and contains 367,000 acres. This region contains the Mt. Adams Wilderness, Indian Heaven Wilderness, and Trapper Creek Wilderness. Mt. Adams is the most popular attraction in this region. Adams is the second highest summit in Washington and third highest peak in the Cascade Range. There are several routes to the top of the mountain, including a non-technical South Climb that is popular among locals. Aside from summiting Mount Adams, popular trails in this region include:

  • Observation Peak – Located in Trapper Creek Wilderness, the Observation Peak trail leads to a former fire lookout and offers sweeping views of nearby Cascade summits.
  • Falls Creek Falls – This trek takes hikers through dense forest and over a suspension bridge to the base of a cascading waterfall.
  • Muddy Meadows – This trail features incredible vistas of Mount Adams and leads into the Mount Adams Wilderness. The trail traverses forested areas and crosses through pristine meadows before intersecting with the Pacific Crest Trail. This trail was used by Native Americans as a summer berry camp in the 1800s.

Mount St. Helens National Monument

This region contains the illustrious Mount Saint Helens at its center. Established in 1982, the Mount St. Helens National Monument contains 110,000 acres of wilderness that was protected and preserved after the volcano’s eruption in 1980. This region is particularly popular for hiking, camping, fishing, and ranger-led programs. Mount St. Helens offers 200 miles of trails that range from barrier-free, paved walkways to scenic, multi-day treks. Popular trails and attractions include the Johnston Ridge Observatory, Harry’s Ridge, Norway Pass, and Lava Canyon.

Major Cities and Resorts

Portland, Oregon

Portland is the largest city in Oregon and lies on top of an extinct volcanic field. The city is characteristically quirky and is best-known for its offbeat culture. Portland is a popular city for tourists that are looking to explore the Gifford Pinchot National Forest or the Columbia River Gorge. Most travelers start their Oregon adventure by flying into Portland and driving a few hours to their final destination. In the city, you’ll find a variety of accommodations and plenty of amazing restaurants to choose from.

Portland

Seattle, Washington

Seattle is the largest city in the Pacific Northwest region of North America and the state of Washington. The city lies alongside the Pacific Ocean and is known for its cloudy weather and modest temperatures. It has an international airport, Seattle-Tacoma International, and a variety of hotel accommodations, which makes it a great starting point for tourists that are traveling throughout the state. Seattle is the perfect place to stay to explore a variety of wilderness areas, including the Gifford Pinchot National Forest.

Seattle

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