The Gifford Pinchot National Forest holds so many hidden gems in southwestern Washington. Stretching between Mount Rainier National Park and the Columbia River at the Oregon border, this forest encompasses over a million acres of woods, waterfalls, lakes, rivers and mountains – including the 2nd highest peak in our state (behind Rainier), Mount Adams, and the infamous Mount St. Helens. These are just six of the many remote treasures you can find hiding amid this lush, beautiful forest.
1. Ape Caves
Even if you’re not a spelunker or experienced hiker, you will love venturing through Ape Caves. These lava tubes on the south side of Mount St. Helens are like something from Middle Earth. At about 2 ½ miles long, they’re also known to be the longest lava tubes in the United States, with both an upper and lower level you can walk through. The lower section is level and eventually ends, requiring you to turn around, but the upper one offers a more challenging, rugged trip and eventually leads out to an exit.
2. Lewis River Falls
Photos don’t really do Lewis River Falls justice – this cascade is much larger and more enchanting to see in person. The lower falls drops 43 feet and measures a whopping 200 feet across, and can be reached by an easy walk through dense old-growth forest. Looking for a longer hike? Continue upstream for another mile and a half and you’ll reach the Middle Falls (though the viewpoints here are limited). You can also keep going further to see the Upper Falls and a bonus cascade known as Taitnapum Falls.
3. Takhlakh Lake
Sure, “Takhlakh Lake” is hard to pronounce, but the views from here are second to none. The water lies in the shadow of Mount Adams, with a popular campground on the shores and 54 sites available on a first-come, first-served basis for tent and RV campers. Or if you’re not looking to camp all night, you can still take in glorious views by hiking the short Takhlakh Loop Trail which circles around the lake.
4. Panther Creek Falls
Panther Creek Falls is an easy hike with a huge pay-off. From the parking area, it’s only about a half-mile walk down through the woods to reach a viewpoint of this waterfall plunging 136 feet in two tiers. For a closer view you can also take a rougher path to the base of the falls, but it’s often muddy and more dangerous in the rainy season.
5. Goose Lake
Goose Lake has excellent fishing, boating and camping. It’s also known for these old dead tree trunks (aka snags) that stick up out of the water, which make for some pretty awesome photo ops.
6. Falls Creek Falls
Falls Creek Falls has an upper and lower section, but most people will tell you to not even bother continuing up to the upper part – the view from the lower falls is much more impressive. To reach it, the hike winds through forest for about five miles round-trip, along a creek and over a unique suspension bridge, with lots of other, smaller cascades to see along the way.
Have you been to any of these gorgeous places in the Gifford Pinchot National Forest before? What are some of your other favorite places in this area?