Wild and Easy
Waterfalls, meadows, glacier, canyon overlook it's all here!
Stroll at a mostly moderate but steady incline from the banks of Bird Lake up through meadows ablaze with color, crossing streams, viewing waterfalls, and listening to dozens of different birds en route to one of the most breathtaking viewpoints in the Cascades: the Hellroaring Meadows Overlook. The wildflowers, the streams and waterfalls, or the birds alone would be reason enough to do this hike; the Overlook makes it a"must." From your perch at the foot of Adams' southeast flank, you gaze up 5,800 feet toward its summit and straight down 1,000 feet over a precipice to the Eden of Hellroaring Meadows below.
Meadow fans interested in less of a hike may want to take the shorter, out-and-back route to Bird Creek Meadows. Follow the driving directions below as far as Mirror Lake, then continue straight ahead to the Bird Creek Meadows parking lot and follow the trail west to the meadow and picnic area. This will result in about a 1.5-mile round-trip hike, but will miss Bird Lake, Bluff Lake and Crooked Creek Falls, all highlights of the loop hike. The Trail of the Flowers loop and the Hellroaring Overlook, included in the full loop hike detailed below, can be added to extend the shorter Bird Creek Meadows hike.
Whichever version you choose, be prepared for a tapestry of amazing color; every wildflower of the Cascades seems to bloom at Bird Creek Meadows. Birdwatchers will also appreciate the variety of species who call this area home: flycatchers, wrens, jays, flickers, and more. Plan extra time and lots of stopping on this trail; it's a five-star experience not to be rushed.
Hiking within the Yakama Indian Reservation requires a special permit. The Bird Creek Meadows Loop hike requires this permit. The Yakama Nation permit system available on site in season. The cost is $5.00 for one day's use. For current information, call the Bureau of Indian Affairs in Toppenish, Washington, at (509) 865-2255.
The only viable route to Bird Creek Meadows and the other Mount Adams hikes on the Yakama Reservation is through Trout Lake. A road exists between Glenwood and Bird Creek Meadows, but it's a deeply rutted, nasty trek even with a high-clearance four-wheel-drive vehicle the locals wisely advise going through Trout Lake. Even the route described here can be difficult and slow; be sure to check with the ranger station as to road conditions before embarking.
From the gas station Y in Trout Lake, take the east fork (that's the right fork as you head north toward"downtown"). At 1.1 miles, stay right at the fork, following the Mount Adams RECREATION AREA/BIRD CREEK MEADOWS sign. At 1.4, stay right again at another fork.
At 4.3 miles, you pass into the Gifford Pinchot National Forest, and a sign informs you that you are on Road 82. At 4.4 miles, the road narrows and turns to gravel, and you come to a Three-way fork. Take the middle option. Immediately after this fork, signs confirm you are still on your way to Bird Creek Meadows and you are still on Road 82.
At 10.2 miles, follow a sign left onto Road 8290. (This is the obvious route, and is signed BIRD CREEK MEADOWS.)
At 10.7 miles, just after a sign warns "NARROW, ROUGH ROAD," you come to an unsigned fork; stay left. (Indeed, if you thought the road had been rough so far, you're in for some really rugged surprises on the ensuing gravel one-lane.)
Pass through a gate at 11.7 miles, then another at 12.9. Immediately following the second gate, you cross over Bird Creek. At 14.7 miles, you come to Mirror Lake; you can see the lake on your left. Continue just past the lake to a large intersection. A sign indicates that Bird Creek Meadows is straight ahead, and, indeed, a parking area in that direction provides the shortest in-and-out route to the meadow. For the loop detailed below, however, turn left, following the sign toward Bird Lake.
Follow this hairy little road for 1.0 mile, passing the right-hand turn to Bird Lake Forest Camp, and parking at the end of the road. You'll see some trailers parked to your left; someone in the trailer area will take your $5.00 day use fee and give you a permit/receipt. If no one is around, don't worry you can pay after your hike.
Take a moment to enjoy Bird Lake from the parking area; you won't see it again until the hike's end. Walk through the administrative (i.e. trailer) area to the left of the parking area and stay left for the Bird Lake Trail 100 trailhead (the lake is at your back as you face the trailhead). Two A-frame pit toilets are provided 100 feet up the trail.
The trail inclines gradually through stands of young trees; clearings filled with lupine, beargrass, and mountain daisies give you a foretaste of the glorious meadows to come. It's hard to imagine a better beginning to a hike than this gradual ascent, with Mount Adams looming ahead.
The trail winds back and forth across Crooked Creek, making bridged crossings at 0.25, 0.5, and 0.75 mile. The creek's banks are lined with moss and a profusion of wildflowers. At 1.1 miles, arrive at Crooked Creek Falls, a pretty waterfall that would be a destination by itself were there not so many delights ahead.
Cross through the first of many bench meadows just after the falls: lupine, paintbrush, daisies, butterweed, meadow parsley, and more flowers greet you. More creek crossings, more tapestries of color, then you arrive at the junction with Round-the-Mountain Trail 9 at 1.4 miles; turn right.
As you wind your way north and uphill toward Mount Adams, don't forget to look behind you, to the south, to catch a view of Mt. Hood a particularly fine vista occurs in an open meadow at 2.0 miles.
At 2.1, turn to your left to take the Trail of the Flowers loop, a popular trail around Bird Creek Meadows accessed by hikers from both directions. At 2.5, stop on a rocky, flat viewpoint and turn again to look at Mt. Hood. On a clear day, you can see the peak of Mt. Jefferson to its left. In front of both, the Columbia Gorge yawns. On a crowded day, this might serve as a good picnic spot, an alternative to the crowds at the Bird Creek Meadows picnic area and the Hellroaring Meadows Overlook.
About 150 feet past this viewpoint is the left turn to the Overlook, signed HELLROARING VIEWPOINT. This out-and-back 0.9-mile round-trip spur is not to be missed. Climb a creekfed meadow, taking care to stay on the trail as it crossed rock slabs and, much of the season, snow patches.
Just before 3.0 miles, reach the top. Words nor photos can do justice to the view that awaits you at this Mother Of All Picnic Spots. You stand at the foot of the Klickitat and Mazama glaciers, the glory of Mount Adams' southeast flank stretching up, your view of it unimpeded. In front of you is a rather sheer 1000 foot drop-off, with the lush basin of Hellroaring Meadows at the bottom. Find rock, sit, and just try not to be awed.
When you've had your fill of Hellroaring views, retrace your steps downhill and rejoin Trail of the Flowers at 3.4 miles; turn left to complete the loop. Trail of the Flowers ends at the Bird Creek Meadows picnic area. Here, at 4.0 miles, you reach a T-junction with Round-the-Mountain Trail 9; the alternate Bird Creek Meadows parking area is to the left; you go right, following the sign toward Timberline Camp.
At 4.2 miles, turn left on Bluff Lake Trail 105. Drop down into a damp, mossy raw, heading south. Creeklet waterfalls cascade down the side of the draw to your right; stay to the left side of the draw to stay on the trail. Wind gently down the mountainside through the shadiest part of the hike. Another waterfall awaits you just after 4.6 miles, just before a stream fording.
Arrive at Bluff Lake just after 5.0 miles. Ignore Dry Creek Trail 90 where it intersects your trail from the east, on the north side of the lake. Stay to the right of the lake, where you'll find a couple of small, rocky beaches from which to enjoy this pretty, isolated lake.
Leaving the main lake, you will walk around a backwater lakelet adjacent to the main body of the lake; stay right at every opportunity, avoiding social trails that tend to draw you left. Climb a short hill back toward the north as you leave the lake.
The next half mile of the trail is subject to washouts; you may encounter a tricky stream fording or two.
Emerge at Bird Lake Campground at 5.6 miles. Go left along the road through the campground until it intersects with the road on which you drove in; turn right to find your car. Alternately, as you walk along the road, you will see social trails leading to your right down to the shore of Bird Lake. Follow these and work your way right along the lakeshore to the parking area where you left your car. Either way, it's about 5.8 miles total.
The return route along Upper Falls Creek Trail is a pleasant, gentle downhill. After 1.2 miles on this path (1.9 miles from the falls, 3.7 total miles on the route), you come back to Falls Creek. In another half-mile, you come to a fork. Take the left fork to work your way back to the Lower Falls Creek Falls trailhead. Cross a bridge over the creek, then reach a signed junction; follow the sign left toward LOWER FALLS CREEK TRAIL 152A.
Walk along at creek level for awhile; several toe-dipping opportunities. At 2.1 miles (2.8 from the falls, 4.6 total), intersect with the Lower Falls Creek Trail. No sign at this junction, but you can't miss the wide, flat trail when you T into it. Turn right and proceed the final 0.1 mile back to the parking lot.
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication