Gifford Pinchot National Forest Overview
|Gifford Pinchot National Forest (Paul Edmondson/National Geographic/Getty)|
Gifford Pinchot National Forest is one of America's oldest national forests. Located in southwest Washington and covering a good portion of the area's Cascade Mountains, it encompasses 1.3 million acres, including the dramatic Mount St. Helens National Volcanic Monument. The forest also abuts Mount Rainier National Park to the north, Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area to the south, and the extensive Yakama Indian Reservation to the east.
Formerly known as the Columbia National Forest, the forest was renamed for Gifford Pinchot in 1949. Pinchot was an active conservationist and visionary environmentalist who became the first chief of the United States Forest Service.
Whether you seek solitude, creative inspiration, wildlife, scenic beauty, or outdoor recreationincluding time spent hiking famous paths like the Pacific Crest Trailyou can find it in the Gifford Pinchot National Forest.
Hike a Long Trail
Gifford Pinchot National Forest is for hikers who dream. There are over 1,100 miles of walking paths covering the full gamut in difficulty, from easy interpretive nature strolls to sections of the dirt-tough Pacific Crest Trail. Take time to appreciate the rocky outcroppings and alpine vegetation of the Dark Divide Roadless Area, the high wildflower-bright ridgetop of Silver Star Mountain, and the ease of Midway High Lakes. The most popular backcountry hikes include Sleeping Beauty Trail, Bluff Mountain Trail, and the Boundary Trail.
Bike The Cascades
Many of Gifford Pinchot National Forest's 1,000-plus hiking trails are open to mountain bikers. Check ahead with the ranger stations to learn what is open and advisable for two-wheeling. There are some highly technical steep trails in the park that only the most skilled could dream of tackling. The most popular rides include the 12-mile Siouxan Trail (#130), known for its amazing views and proximity to downtown Vancouver, and the 10-mile Lewis River Trail (#3) complete with scenic waterfalls. Beginners should stick to the Old Man Pass Trails.
Paddle Nationally Renowned Rivers
The abundant rain and snowfall in the western Cascades feed an extensive river system in Gifford Pinchot National Forest. If you're interested in canoeing, kayaking, rafting, and other forms of boating, you'll find them here. Swimming is only for the hardy willing to stand the cool waters of mountain lakes or streams. The Cispus River, Lewis River, and the Clear Fork and Muddy Fork of the Cowlitz River are under consideration for addition to the national Wild and Scenic Rivers System.
Ski a Dormant Volcano
Gifford Pinchot National Forest's Mount Adams is the leading winter sports destination for the region. It is covered with cross-country skiing trails, rife with backcountry skiing and snowshoeing areas, and home to three winter recreation areas: Pine Side, Smith Buffe, and Atkisson. The 50-plus miles of signed track and limitless expanse of open areas will keep you entertained for days on end.
Enter a Lava Tube
Centuries-old eruptions of pumice and lava from Mount St. Helens created numerous geologic attractions on the mountain's south flank. Lava tubes, caves, casts, and fields all formed in the cooling molten rock. Ape Cave, the longest known lava tube in the continental United States, has been developed for unguided exploration. Bring warm clothing, heavy boots, head protection, and at least two sources of light. One mile from Ape Cave is the Trail of Two Forests, with a quarter-mile of barrier-free boardwalk interpretive trail through a lava tree cast area. Big Lava Bed is an unusual lava field originated from a crater, now 500 feet deep, located in the northern center of the area. No trails or roads cross the lava field, generally limiting exploration to the perimeter. If you choose to explore the interior, choose your route carefully. Compasses are not always reliable due to local magnetic influences in the vast expanse of rock.
Berry With the Best of Them
Gifford Pinchot National Forest abounds in edible berries. The best known are the blackberry (plentiful in July) and the huckleberry (found during August and September in higher-elevation, old, fire-scarred areas). While the Sawtooth Berry Fields west of Mount Adams are famous, other extensive berry fields are scattered throughout the Forest. Check with the nearest Forest Service office.
Visit an Animal Sanctuary
The Lone Butte Wildlife Emphasis encompasses 12,450 acres of distinctive habitats. Lone Butte, Cayuse, and Skookum Meadows are particularly rich communities offering countless chances to view elk, deer, beaver, common snipe, warblers, and turtles. Roads leading into the area are closed to motorized vehicles, reducing stress on wildlife and creating unique recreational opportunities. Bring binoculars, field guides, food, and water.
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication