Added by Gemina Garland-Lewis
Take in expansive views of many of Washington's volcanoes. This backpacking trip offers beautiful backcountry campsites and fewer visitors than nearby areas for a more remote experience.
Bordering Mt. Rainier National Park and situated in Gifford Pinchot National Forest, the Tatoosh Wilderness is a great place to explore if you want unparalleled views of Mt. Rainier and other nearby volcanoes with much more solitude than the National Park itself. Although this trip can be done as a day hike, it also makes for an easier there-and-back overnight - and the views are worth sticking around for.
Start at the Tatoosh Ridge/Tatoosh Lake trailhead (#161) and fill out a wilderness permit (provided at the trailhead), required for both day use and overnight visitors. The trail will waste no time in getting to the elevation gain as you climb back and forth over the many switchbacks cutting through the old-growth forest, which make up about the first 1.5 miles of your trip. A little under two miles in, keep an eye out as the trail splits in two directions and you'll want to head sharply up to your left (which may be tricky to see depending on overgrowth). No worries if you don't find this right away, though, as you'll very quickly pass a sign that says "abandoned trail" if you continue straight instead of left - just walk back about 15 feet and you'll see the main trail cutting up the ridge.
At 2.2. miles in you'll pass the junction with the Tatoosh Lakes trail, which descends steeply to the left. Continue on straight ahead along the side of the ridge here and keep your eye out for Mt. Rainier starting to loom behind you as you get further up. You'll be able to gorge yourself on blueberries and huckleberries here if you hit the season right, too. About half a mile later you'll reach the first backcountry campsite - it will be obvious as the only flat and clear place you've seen on the trail yet. This site has expansive views of Mt. Rainier, Mt. Adams, and Mt. St. Helens, and is a good spot if you have more than a couple people in your group. Set up camp early on and continue your trek to Tatoosh Peak without weight or keep on forging ahead to get a spot further down trail. Continuing on, you'll soon crest on top of the ridge with a four way trail intersection - to your left is the short (but steep!) trail up to a high point on the knoll with great views, to your right is a short dead-end trail with another good place to set up camp if you're in a one or two person tent, and straight ahead you'll see the main trail descend and wind around the noses of a couple more ridges on its way to the Tatoosh Peak trail.
You'll find one other good campsite before the trail meets 161A and you turn off to head up Tatoosh Peak/Tatoosh Lookout - this site is larger and more forested than the others. The junction with 161A is signed on a tree on the left side of the trail but can be hard to see right away - it will cut up sharply to the left at about two miles past the junction with the Lakes trail. If you reach an opening with new and incredible views to the south and the trail dropping off down the ridge, you've just missed the junction with the Lookout trail. The trail heads up to Tatoosh Peak slowly at first, cutting its way steadily up through meadows until you reach the top of the ridge. From here the trail gives no sympathy and heads straight up to the top of the peak. When you top out at 6,310ft you'll see the remnants of the fire lookout, now just a USFS marker and four concrete blocks, and a cairn to mark your achievement. On a clear day you'll have unbelievable views of Rainier straight ahead, the Goat Rocks Crest to the southeast, Mt. Adams to the south, and Mt. St. Helens to the southwest. There's one more campsite (on the smaller side) just down from the lookout if you're in the mood for an epic (but exposed) evening under the stars. If this is home for the night settle down and enjoy, otherwise head back to where you set up camp earlier on the trail. There are good places to hang a bear bag near most all of the sites. And although the campsites are few, remember to practice good backcountry ethics and not set up on an unestablished area or in the meadows.
Although sleeping in can be great, it's more than worth it to set an alarm and get up just before sunrise to see the light change on the mountains and the sun crest over the ridge. Remember to break out the hiking poles on the knee-pounding trip back to your car! Stop by the Naches Tavern in Greenwater on your way back for a beer and hot meal with a cozy cabin atmosphere.
** Keep in mind that this trail does not have a reliable water source year-round and that the last late-season water source you may encounter is 1.5 miles in, meaning that you need to filter all you need early on or be prepared to carry in all you'll need from the start. Bringing meals that don't require much water to prepare is a good way to keep weight down on this trip and maximize drinking water availability.
Getting there: Coming south on Highway 12 into Packwood, look for Skate Creek Rd. on your right just before the Shell station. Follow this for four miles and then take a right on FR5270. Follow this dirt road for seven miles (at about 5.5 miles you'll reach a junction with FR 5270-990 on the left, just continue to the right) and you'll see the trailhead on your right. Parking is limited to the wide areas on the left side of the road across from the trailhead sign. Co-ordinates: 46.7131, -121.7158.
- 10 essentials
- Tent with rain fly
- Sleeping bag and pad
- Layers - nights can get chilly
- Rain gear
- Hiking poles
- Stove and fuel
- Plenty of water and water filtration device (see note above on water availability!)
- Food and snacks
- Camera and tripod for night sky shots
- Northwest Forest Pass
- Bright clothes if hiking during hunting season
Please respect the places you find on The Outbound.
Always practice Leave No Trace ethics on your adventures. Be aware of local regulations and don't damage these amazing places for the sake of a photograph. Learn More
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