The South Cascades region is a hiker’s paradise, with hikes suitable for everyone from hardcore mountaineers to families with young children. While Mount Rainier National Park offers many great hiking options, the National Forest surrounding Ashford offers numerous trails for those seeking a hike-less-traveled, and for people interested in hiking with their canine pals (dogs are not allowed on trails in the Park).
Toward mid-fall, snow will blanket the higher elevations, but through early November you can still squeeze in one last trek before you need to trade in your hiking boots for snow shoes.
High Rock Lookout is a popular trail, known for its spectacular views and easy to moderate difficulty level. Pack up your family and pup, bring your water bottle and snacks, and get ready for a short, steep climb to a vista you don’t want to miss.
Location: High Rock is trail #266 in the Gifford-Pinchot National Forest. From Ashford, you’ll continue east through town and turn right onto Kernahan Road. After crossing the Nisqually River, at about 1.5 miles, turn right onto Osborne Road and keep left onto Forest Road 85. Proceed 5.8 miles to FR 8440. Take the left fork — you’ll see the sign for High Rock Lookout — and continue 4.5 miles to the trailhead on the left.
Distance: Round trip, the hike is fairly short at 3.5 miles, but it’s a somewhat steep climb in places with an elevation gain of 1400 feet.
What to Expect: Be prepared for potholes and bumps along the Forest Service road, and parking at the trailhead requires a Northwest Forest Pass. The trail is well maintained and winds up the slope as the forest gradually thins out. The last 100 feet are a steep, rocky, climb, but you’ll be rewarded once you reach the top: on a clear day, you can see Mt. Rainier, Mt. Adams, Mt. St. Helens, and even Mt. Hood. Look down the sheer 600 foot rock face to see Cora Lake, and enjoy the panoramic 360 degree view (some say it’s the best view in the South Cascades region). The fire lookout is one of just three remaining in the Gifford-Pinchot National Forest, and is often open during the summer season. Spend some time at the top to watch the clouds move over the mountains, enjoy a picnic lunch, and don’t forget to snap some photos of the stunning view before heading back down the trail.