Hikes in the Gifford Pinchot National Forest

Region in Washington State, United States

There are more miles to cover in the Gifford Pinchot National Forest than you could do in one trip, but don’t let the variety overwhelm you. Choosing the perfect adventures in this gorgeous region is easy with our extensive collection of route guides. Take easy lakeside walks, watching the reflections of the mountains quiver in the surface. Summit sky-high glaciated peaks, looking into the craters of still-active volcanoes. Hike through underground tunnels created by lava flow. Toss on your pack and lose yourself in the woods for a week, or take advantage of easy trails to introduce your kids to the outdoors. There’s something for everyone here.

A perk of hiking in Washington is the impressive number of backcountry camping spots scattered throughout the state. Toss on your pack to make a weekend of it! Many trails are also great for mountain biking, horseback riding, fishing, or other outdoor activities. The sky’s the limit in the Gifford Pinchot National Forest.

15 Amazing Hikes in the Gifford Pinchot National Forest

Ready to start exploring? We’re making it easy to get going with 15 of our favorite hikes in the Gifford Pinchot National Forest. Our list includes short, laidback trails to intense treks and everything in between. Take a quick day hike or plan a longer backpacking adventure, getting away for the weekend or for as long as you like. What stays consistent? The natural beauty of the forest all around you, from the quiet mountaintops to the shimmering Columbia River.

Our top hikes in the Gifford Pinchot National Forest are chosen to give you an idea of what makes this region so great to explore. While starting with these 15 hikes is a great way to experience the forest, remember that we’ve got many, many more route guides in the forest and Washington in general if you want to keep going.

  • High Rock Trail - High Rock is high, indeed. This viewpoint rises high above the surrounding South Cascades, giving you the best view you can find in the area! The views are truly panoramic and the trail to reach them isn’t that difficult. At 3.2 mi in length and with moderate elevation gain, it’s a suitable trek for most skill levels and for active families.
  • Hidden Falls via Tarbell Trail - Hidden Falls via Tarbell Trail is a moderate hike that features beautiful waterfalls, and longer adventures on the Tarbell Trail can take you very far and through changing scenery. In this section, you’ll explore a very lush forest, check out multiple waterfalls, and stroll through clear-cut areas that open up your view.
  • Ape Caves Trail - The Ape Caves Trail takes you into a lava tube discovered in 1951, created by an eruption of nearby Mount St. Helens. At 2.5 mi long, this trail is the longest continuous lava tube in the continental United States and the third-longest lava tube in North America. Nearly 200,000 people hike through the tube each year, making this a very popular trail.
  • Mount Adams South Climb - The Mount Adams South Climb is the least technical approach to Mount Adams’ summit, leading you to the top over the course of 10.9 mi and over 6,700 ft of elevation gain. While this is the least challenging way up Mount Adams, it’s still best taken on by experienced adventurers with the proper gear and a healthy dose of gumption.
  • Panther Creek Falls - Panther Creek Falls is a beautiful waterfall that cascades over a mossy slope. The hike to the viewpoint for the falls is extremely easy and quick, making it possible to enjoy for most adventurers. There’s a nice viewing deck for the falls that you can take advantage of.
  • Lewis River Falls Trail - Lewis River Falls Trail is a delightful hike in every way. The trail is in great condition, the scenery is immaculate, and despite the heavy traffic, visiting on a weekday or early morning/late afternoon can score you some solitude. There are also multiple access points for this route to shorten or lengthen it.
  • Dog Mountain Trail - Dog Mountain Trail is one of the most sought-after hikes in the Columbia River Gorge. This 6.5 mi loop trek is considered hard, with a straight-up stair stepper climb required. However, the changing scenery and plant life make for a very enjoyable trip well worth the crowds. The hike begins with temperate and high-desert flora, but it changes to a cool rainforest and then ends in flower-filled meadows with mountain views.
  • Beacon Rock Trail - Beacon Rock Trail takes you through Beacon Rock State Park to a fantastic viewpoint over the Columbia River Gorge. This 1.5 mi out and back route is less of a hike in the classic sense and more of a pleasant walk with a gentle, consistent incline. The route is paved or on a boardwalk, making it a nice choice for those who prefer even footing.
  • Mount Saint Helens Summit via Monitor Ridge Trail - The view from Mount Saint Helens is very impressive, and it should be on the bucket list of every campable adventurer. The Monitor Ridge approach is challenging, but it requires no technical climbing skills. Take on a big adventure and earn the chance to gaze down into the glaciated crater of the volcano.
  • Johnston Ridge Observatory Trail - Not quite ready to climb Mount Saint Helens? Admire it from the Johnston Ridge Observatory. This very quick and simple walk takes you through the observatory over a 0.5 mi with almost no elevation gain. Part of the trail is wheelchair accessible and the entire path is very family-friendly.
  • Three Corner Rock - Three Corner Rock is a unique rock formation atop a hill that overlooks Mount Adams, Mount Rainier, and Mount Saint Helens. It’s a moderate hike, but the views are what you’d expect of a much more intensive trek. On a clear day, this is a totally camera-worthy viewpoint!
  • Moulton Falls - The hike to Moulton Falls on Lewis River Trail is an easy hike suitable for all skill levels and ages. You’ll hike along a mossy cliff with the river flowing beside you, having the chance to relax at viewpoints and benches on the way. It’s peaceful but also offers the chance to adventure a little if you take side trails to Big Tree Falls or up the Bells Mountain Trail.
  • Takhlakh Lake and Meadows Trail - The 3.3 mi loop hike around Takhlakh Lake and the Takh Takh Meadows is a unique hike in the best ways. The highlight of the trek is a climb up an old lava flow for views of Mount Rainier, a uniquely southwestern Washington experience. The hike doesn’t tend to be very busy despite its fantastic views.
  • Ape Canyon Trail - Ape Canyon Trail is well worth the effort it might require! This hike takes you through a wonderful section of old-growth forest (one of the few remaining stands near Mount Saint Helens) atop a butte with great views of Mount Rainier and Mount Adams.
  • Spirit Falls Trail - Spirit Falls is a stunning spot. The falls are tucked into the forest off the beaten path, hidden in the moss of the trees until you’re right in front of them. The falls are stellar in the warmer months, but they’re especially impressive when they’re surrounded by crystalline white in the winter.

Scroll down to see the full list of hiking trails in the Gifford Pinchot National Forest.

When is the Best Time to Hike in the Gifford Pinchot National Forest

Gifford Pinchot National Forest generally experiences warm, mild summers and cool winters with lots of precipitation. While you should be prepared for rain any time of the year, visiting in the summer months of July and August tend to give the warmest, driest weather. Shoulder season (spring and fall) can bring heavier rain and snow, and winter tends to be snowy and cold.

While the summer months offer the best weather, they do also bring the heaviest crowds. If you’re okay with occasionally cooler or wetter conditions, visiting in June or mid-September can give you more privacy on the trails while still offering suitable hiking weather. If you’re hiking to enjoy golden larches, visits in late September and early October are usually best.

Other Outdoor Activities in the Gifford Pinchot National Forest

While the trails are excellent, hiking is not the only way to explore the Gifford Pinchot National Forest! This region boasts plenty of space for other outdoor activities.

Adventurers on two wheels can take advantage of the many mountain bike and dirt bike paths. Those with four-legged friends can explore horse and dog-friendly trails. Fishers will find lakes stocked with trout, and campers will be able to choose from many sites. Many hiking paths can be extended for backpacking trips thanks to the ease of backcountry camping in the forest. In the winter, skiers, snowshoers, mushers, sledders, and snowmobilers can make use of the region’s snowfall.

How to Plan a Trip to the Gifford Pinchot National Forest

A trip to the Gifford Pinchot National Forest is a worthwhile venture, but you’ll want to put enough time and energy into planning to make sure your trip runs the way you want it to. You’ll need a Northwest Forest Pass for many trails in the park, and some require a Discover Pass. If you plan on camping, make sure you plan out your campsites beforehand and check which ones are walk-up and which require advance booking.

Some popular trails have limited parking available, so try to plan your busiest hikes as early in the day as you can. Additionally, the forest roads that service many trailheads are subject to potholes and poor conditions. Planning to have a high-clearance 4WD vehicle for your time in the park is essential if you want to hike trails serviced by certain forest roads.

Gifford Pinchot National Forest Adventure Tours

Some of us love trip planning and some of us just… don’t. Take the stress out of your trip with an excerpt-planned adventure tour, letting you let go and focus on the fun stuff. Check out some incredible adventure tours in the Pacific Northwest.

Frequently Asked Questions About the Gifford Pinchot National Forest

Can you hike in the Gifford Pinchot National Forest?

Of course! There are lots and lots of trails worth exploring in the forest, and hopefully this guide can help you start your hiking adventures.

Are there bears in the Gifford Pinchot National Forest?

Yes, there are bears in the Gifford Pinchot National Forest. Be bear aware and practice bear safety while you visit.

What kinds of animals are in the Gifford Pinchot National Forest?

Some of the animals that live in the forest are deer, elk, mountain lions, black bears, coyotes, birds of prey, salmon, and many more.

Where is Gifford Pinchot National Forest?

Gifford Pinchot National Forest is located in Southwestern Washington State, USA.

Explore other great hiking regions in Washington State:

Or check out other amazing hiking regions in the United States.

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Best Hikes in Gifford Pinchot National Forest

Open details for High Rock Lookout Trail

High Rock Lookout Trail

Moderate
5.1 km
396 m
2-3h

High Rock is high, indeed. This viewpoint soars above the surrounding region of the South Cascades, giving you the best view you can find in the area! The views are truly panoramic and the trail to reach them isn’t that difficult. At 3.2 mi in length and with moderate elevation gain, it’s a suitable trail for most skill levels and for active families. You’ll climb up Sawtooth Ridge to a fire cabin, where you can relax and savor the sightlines.

Expect heavy traffic on this hike, making a visit during the week or early in the morning a good choice. Most of the trail is wide, save for a few skinner sections. That being said, no part of the trail is highly exposed.

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Open details for Hidden Falls via Tarbell Trail

Hidden Falls via Tarbell Trail

Moderate
17.5 km
493 m
4.5-6.5h

Hidden Falls via Tarbell Trail is a moderate 10.9 mi hike in Yacolt Burn State Park. This hike features waterfalls, but longer adventures on the Tarbell Trail can take you very far and through changing scenery. In this section, you’ll stroll through a very lush forest, check out multiple waterfalls, and explore clear-cut areas that open up your view. There are a few steep sections where poles would be helpful. These sections may be too steep for younger children.

The trail lacks shade in the clear-cut areas and can get quite hot, so prepare accordingly if you’re hiking on a sunny day. Long pants are also recommended for short sections with poison ivy in the bushes- staying on the trail is a must!

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Open details for Ape Caves Trail

Ape Caves Trail

Moderate
4.8 km
132 m
1-1.5h

The Ape Caves Trail takes you into a lava tube discovered in 1951. The tubes were created by an eruption of nearby Mount St. Helens. At 2.5 mi long, this trail is the longest continuous lava tube in the continental United States and the third-longest lava tube in North America. Nearly 200,000 people hike through the tube each year, making this a very popular spot to explore. The hike itself is quite easy and is suitable for all ages, although those who are claustrophobic may want to evaluate whether this is the right trail for them.

The caves are open between April and October and reservations are required to visit the cave. You’ll need one reservation per vehicle. Make your reservation on the official site.

This guide describes the route through the Lower Cave. The Upper Cave requires about 2 more hours and a bit of scrambling to complete.

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Open details for Mount Adams South Climb

Mount Adams South Climb

Very Hard
21.2 km
2,052 m
9.5-13h

The Mount Adams South Climb is the least technical approach, leading you to the summit over the course of 10.9 mi and over 6,700 ft of elevation gain. While this is the least challenging way up Mount Adams, it’s still best taken on by experienced adventurers with the proper gear: ice axes, crampons, mountaineering boots, and supplies to sleep overnight at Lunch Counter if they’re attempting the hike over two days instead of one. While this hike can be done in a day, doing it over two allows you to attempt the summit in the morning when the snow is firm.

Dogs are allowed on this trail but very likely won’t be able to summit with you, so we recommend leaving them at home if you intend to make a summit attempt.

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Open details for Panther Creek Falls Hike

Panther Creek Falls Hike

Very Easy
0.5 km
37 m
0.5h

Panther Creek Falls is a beautiful waterfall that cascades over a mossy slope in the Gifford Pinchot National Forest. The hike to the viewpoint for the falls is extremely easy and quick, making it possible to enjoy for most adventurers. The trail is a mere 0.3 mi long and is nearly flat. The trail is well maintained and offers a great viewing deck for the falls.

The signage for this hike is poor, but it’s not hard to find your way. Download the GPS track to help find the trailhead if you need to.

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Open details for Lewis River Falls Trail

Lewis River Falls Trail

Moderate
13.8 km
297 m
3.5-4.5h

Lewis River Falls Trail is a delightful hike in every way. The trail is in great condition, the scenery is immaculate, and despite the heavy traffic, visiting on a weekday or early morning/late afternoon can score you some solitude. There are also multiple access points for this route to shorten or lengthen it. This guide covers the 8.6 mi from the Crab Creek Trailhead to the Upper Lewis River Falls, which is a moderate trip.

You can start from the Lower Falls Campground to shorten your trip a bit if desired. You can also hike further to Taitnapum Falls.

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Open details for Dog Mountain Trail

Dog Mountain Trail

Hard
10.5 km
911 m
4.5-6h

Dog Mountain Trail is one of the most sought-after hikes in the Columbia River Gorge. This 6.5 mi loop trek is considered hard, with a straight-up stair stepper climb required. More experienced hikers often find it to be very manageable, but beginners may find it quite demanding. However, the changing scenery and foliage make for a highly enjoyable trip well worth the crowds. Expect heavy traffic and come prepared for a very windy summit.

The hike begins with temperate and high-desert flora, but it gives way to a cool rainforest and then vibrant flower-filled meadows with mountain views. Make sure you have your passes in order (see Insider Tips) and arrive early to secure a spot in the parking lot.

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Open details for Beacon Rock Trail

Beacon Rock Trail

Moderate
2.4 km
175 m
1-1.5h

Beacon Rock Trail takes you through Beacon Rock State Park to an awesome viewpoint over the Columbia River Gorge. This 1.5 mi out and back route is less of a hike in the classic sense and more of a pleasant walk with a gentle, consistent incline. The route is paved or on a boardwalk, making it a nice choice for those who prefer even footing. It does tend to get busy in the summertime, but visiting later in the day or in the spring and fall should earn you a quieter trail.

There is a fee to access the parking area for this hike, or you can use a Discover Pass.

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Open details for Mount Saint Helens Summit via Monitor Ridge Trail

Mount Saint Helens Summit via Monitor Ridge Trail

Hard
13.2 km
1,397 m
6-8.5h

The view from Mount Saint Helens is a stunning sight, and it should be on the hiking list of every campable adventurer. The Monitor Ridge approach is challenging, but it requires no technical climbing skills. This approach is just over 8.0 mi long and requires 4,583 ft of vertical gain. It’s important to plan your hike in the summertime on a day that’s as clear as possible. Weather can make this route decidedly less friendly, so you won’t want to be hiking it in snow, rain, or the relentless wind that can howl at the summit. On the flip side, the trail can be a bit loose when it’s very dry, so just watch your footing.

Bring microspikes and poles and certainly wear good boots. Prepare for the summit wind- goggles and a buff will be lifesavers.

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Open details for Johnston Ridge Observatory Trail

Johnston Ridge Observatory Trail

Very Easy
0.8 km
20 m
0.5h

The Johnston Ridge Observatory has one of the best views of Mount Saint Helens you can earn without climbing anything. This very quick and simple walk takes you through the observatory over a half-mile with almost no elevation gain. Part of the trail is wheelchair accessible and the entire path is very family-friendly. If you want to experience the beauty of Mount Saint Helens with as little work required as possible, this is definitely the way! While you observe, you can learn about the history of the volcano, including the deadly eruption that occurred in 1980.

There are restrooms at the observatory but no other amenities are available. Lodging, gifts, and food are available in nearby communities.

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