While snow still blankets most of the high country in the central Cascades, the mid-elevation ridges and mountain tops east of the Cascades below 7,000 feet elevation have melted and are opening up, creating more wildland opportunities for intrepid and more experienced hikers.
Here are two remarkable and easy-to-get-to hikes within 2 1/2 hours of Tri-Cities, west of Yakima. These moderate-difficulty hikes offer some of the best vistas of the Cascades you can experience. One is steeper and harder than the other, but both are truly worthwhile. There are no facilities once you’ve left the highway, so be prepared — these are serious hikes. Bring a day pack with extra clothes, plenty of water, lunch, snacks and all the hiking essentials, and don’t where flip flops.
Goat Peak (Trail 958C)
Last week I went along on an organized hike by the Cascadians (www.cascadians.org), an outdoor recreation and conservation group in Yakima, to Goat Peak in the William O. Douglas Wilderness Area. The trailhead is 52 miles west of Yakima on Highway 410, 14 miles east of Chinook Pass. The parking lot is on the south side of the highway, across from the Hells Crossing Campground. The trailhead sign is well marked and also identifies the much easier Pleasant Valley Loop Trail.
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Goat Peak is named appropriately. This amazing trail goes straight up, rising 3,200 feet in 3.3 miles. The first three-quarters of a mile goes through forest and then follows a short steep valley bottom with a cascading log- and rock-filled creek.
Once you cross the creek, the trail heads east and in places is quite slippery as it crisscrosses dry, sandy and coarse-rock hillsides. It is here that the flowers become more plentiful and diverse. There are pink and purple penstemons galore, scarlet gilia, sedum and phacelia — a blue and purple waterleaf. The views get better as the trail gets higher. At a rock outcrop, the trail turns west and you can look east down the valleys toward Yakima and north at the volcanic layers that compose Fife’s Ridge.
When the trail meets American Ridge, you have just three-tenths of a mile to go until you get to the top. There’s eye candy everywhere.
The summit at 6,400 feet elevation offers a 360-degree view with mountain ranges on all sides. The view includes Mount Aix, Mount Adams, the Goat Rocks, Bumping Lake, Mount Rainier, Fife’s Peak, Mount Stuart, the Stuart Range and the Enchantments. This steep, 6.5-mile round trip hike is chock full of rewards and enjoyment.
Burnt Mountain Trail (Trail 1140)
The trailhead is ten miles off the main highway to White Pass on a dusty gravel forest road, but you don’t need four-wheel drive to get there.
Drive west of Yakima on Highway 12 for 30 miles, and right past the Hause Creek Campground, turn right (north) on National Forest Road 1500, the Bethel Ridge Road. Follow this dirt road for eight miles, and when it hits the ridge top, turn left on Forest Road 199. Go two more miles past Cash Prairie and some recent logging activity, to the Ironstone Mountain Trailhead at the end of the road.
The trail is a relatively easy up-and-down ridgeline trail that offers incredible views of Mount Rainier and the surrounding peaks not one quarter of a mile from the trailhead.
From there you’ll descend a little and then head west, traversing through deep, cool forest with a few lingering patches of snow, and then out onto hillside slopes and ridges that are carpeted with flowers. Growing among the boulder and gravel are yellow daisies, purple penstemons, red and dwarf yellow paintbrush, pink Lewisia (also known as bitterroot), baby blue forget-me-nots, and pink and blue phlox. In the dryer sites, you can find deep blue delphinium larkspur and white camas; in the moister areas are towers of hellebore and even some pretty orchid-like yellow, pink or purple plants called louseworts.
In 2 1/2 miles, you’ll reach a saddle and look up to see two rocky knolls. You then scramble (carefully) the last 100 yards up the rocks and reach the top of Burnt Mountain. The 360-degree view of the Cascades is truly remarkable. From the south, you can see the top of Mount Hood, then Mount Adams and the Goat Rocks; west to Shellrock Peak and Mount Rainier; north to Bismark Peak, Nelson Ridge and Mount Aix; and farther off to the northeast, you can see Mount Stuart and the Stuart Range.
If you are lucky, you might see mountain goats. At the very least, you’ll find clumps of fur sticking to the ground and shrubs on the saddle, and plenty of scat along the trail.
Burnt Mountain is a relatively easy five-mile round trip hike with a 500-foot elevation gain, and a maximum elevation of 6,486 feet.
If you want to extend your stay, you can go another 1 1/2 miles. Be careful — from the main trail, it’s a cross country scramble with no trail to reach the saddle and ridge below Shellrock Peak. You can also head south and go another 2 1/2 miles to Ironstone Mountain.
When you are ready, you can head back the way you came and enjoy the amazing views facing the other direction.
Paul Krupin is an avid local hiking enthusiast, retired environmental specialist, and a member of the Intermountain Alpine Club (IMAC). He has been hiking the trails of the Pacific Northwest since 1976. At least once a month, he leads a free hike to one of the local area trails. Find out more at the Intermountain Alpine Club (IMAC) Facebook or Meetup pages. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.