DOTW: Gifford Pinchot National Forest

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Registered: 03-22-2003
DOTW: Gifford Pinchot National Forest
Mon, 08-25-2003 - 8:17pm


The Gifford Pinchot National Forest is one of the oldest National Forests in the United States. Included as part of the Mount Rainier Forest Reserve in 1897, this area was set aside as the Columbia National Forest in 1908, and renamed the Gifford Pinchot National Forest in 1949. The Forest, located in southwest Washington State, now contains 1,312,000 acres and includes the 110,000-acre Mount St. Helens National Volcanic Monument established by congress in 1982.

Gifford Pinchot, an active conservationist, was appointed first Chief of the Forest Service. He played a key role in developing the early principles of environmental awareness. Pinchot's philosophy is made clear in his farsighted statement that the forests should be managed for "..the greatest good of the greatest number in the long run." In honor of his leadership, the Columbia National Forest was renamed for Gifford Pinchot in 1949.

Special Areas and Points of Interest

Whether you seek solitude, social activity, creative inspiration, wildlife, forest products or scenic beauty, you can find it in the Gifford Pinchot National Forest. We invite you to enjoy the many different aspects of the Forest. Here are a few suggestions to get you started.

Dark Divide Roadless Area

In this area of rock outcroppings and alpine vegetation, you can enjoy panoramic views of snow-capped mountains in four directions. Badger Lake nestles amid Craggy Peak, Shark Rock, Hat Rock, and Badger Peak. The area can be explored via Boundary Trail #1.

Silver Star

Silver Star Mountain, at 4,390 feet, is the focus of the scenic, high-elevation ridgetop. Repeated wildfires cleared timber from the area now covered with meadows, berry fields, and, in the spring, a spectacular wildflower display. Bluff Mountain Trail #172 traverses the open ridgetop from Silver Star east to Little Baldy.

Lava Tubes, Caves, and Casts

Centuries-old eruptions of pumice and lava from Mount St. Helens created numerous geologic attractions on its south flank. Lava tubes and caves, formed in the cooling lava, range from thousands of feet in length to small bubble like chambers. Most are located on the Mount St. Helens National Volcanic Monument or the Mt. Adams Ranger District.

The Ice Caves, located about 5 miles west of the Mt. Adams Ranger Station, retain ice formations into the summer time. Wooden steps offer access to these caves, but watch your step on the icy floor.

Ape Cave is the longest known lava tube in the continental U.S. (12,810 feet). Be prepared by wearing warm clothing, heavy boots, and head protection. When you enter the caves, be sure to take at least three sources of light. In the summer, lamps can be rented at the nearby Ape Cave Headquarters, where interpretive walks are also available.

Within 1 mile of Ape Cave is the Trail of Two Forests. Explore a 1/4 mile, barrier-free boardwalk interpretive trail through a lava tree cast area and plan for a relaxing break at the picnic area.

Midway High Lakes

Within a 7-mile radius are five high-elevation lakes with developed campgrounds. Each provides fishing and limited boating, with access to nearby berry picking and recreation trails to the Mt. Adams Wilderness. You will see spectacular views of Mt. Adams from some of the lakes. You can reach this area by car during the snow-free period, usually from mid-June until mid-October.

Big Lava Bed

This unusual lava field originated from a crater, now 500 feet deep, located in the northern center of the bed. Lodgepole pine, alder, and other pioneer plants struggle to survive amid towering rock piles, caves, and odd lava formations that fascinate hardy explorers and sightseers. 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.

Packwood Lake

Located east of the community of Packwood, this 462-acre lake can be reached by an easy 4-mile hike. Situated adjacent to the Goat Rocks Wilderness, it provides an excellent view of Johnson Peak. There is also good trail access into the Wilderness. Fishing can be good in late spring.

Berry Fields

This National Forest abounds in edible berries. The best known are the blackberry (common during July in lower-elevation clearcut-harvested areas that are two years old) and the huckleberry (found during August and September in old, fire-scarred areas at higher elevation). Traditionally used by Native Americans, the Sawtooth Berry Fields, west of Mt. Adams, are well known; other extensive berry fields are scattered throughout the Forest. People made jobless by the Great Depression picked so many huckleberries that an agreement (1932) was made between the Forest Service and Native Americans reserving specific areas of the Sawtooth Berry Fields for harvest by local tribal members. Check with the nearest Forest Service office for places to pick the tasty fruit.

Wind River Canopy Crane

The Wind River Canopy Crane is a unique research facility designed to provide scientists with access to the entire three-dimensional space of forest canopies. Constructed in 1995 it is one of only three canopy cranes in the world. The crane provides a key means of enhancing our understanding of how forests work.

Studies will range from the role of lichens and fungi on the uppermost branches to the measurement of volatile gasses and the response of tree to pollutants.

The crane is located in the Thorton T. Munger Research Natural Area of the Gifford Pinchot National Forest approximately 65 miles northeast of the Vancouver-Portland metro area. At 1100 feet elevation, the site exemplifies the old-growth Douglas-fir and western hemlock forests.

Groups that would like a canopy crane interpretive walk need to call (509) 427-3349.

Lone Butte Wildlife Emphasis Area

Leave your motorized vehicle behind and bring your walking shoes, bicycle, or horse to explore the Lone Butte Wildlife Emphasis Area (LBWEA). This project embraces the ecosystem approach to New Perspectives in natural resource management. The LBWEA encompasses 12,450 acres of distinctive habitats.

Lone Butte, Cayuse, and Skookum Meadows are rich communities offering countless chances to view elk, deer, beaver, common snipe, warblers, turtles, orchids, huckleberries. 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, and enjoy this intriguing area. Snowmobiles are permitted December 1 through April 16.

Camping, Picnicking and Other Activities

The Forest contains numerous campgrounds and picnic areas. The Gifford Pinchot National Forest Visitor Map includes a list of facilities and activities available at each location. To avoid crowds, visit mid-week if possible. Most of our recreation sites are being improved for barrier-free access. Camp spots are available by reservation or first-come, first-served basis. Please call one of the Ranger Stations for more information.

Choosing a Campsite

Locate your camping spot outside of fragile meadows and restricted areas, preferably on bare or mineral soil. Camp out of view from major roads and trails, where possible. Camping at least 100 feet from the shoreline of lakes and streams will help protect plants and animals that use these areas. Avoid trenching around sleeping areas by selecting a site with good natural drainage. Cutting boughs from trees for a bed is not an acceptable practice.


Campfires are a favorite camping tradition. Help protect he site and forest with a few precautions. Using a camp stove helps conserve ground cover resources. If you must have a fire, use an existing fire ring. If not available, build it small, in a safe place, cleared down to dirt, away from overhanging branches. Remove the upper layers of organic soil (decayed leaves, plants, etc.) and save this soil for covering up the fire scar. Gather only dead and down wood for your fire. Never cut (or nail into) live trees. (A firewood permit is required to remove wood from the Forest.) You should have a bucket, a shovel, and an axe to control or extinguish escaped fire. Never leave a fire unattended. Put out campfires by drowning them, stirring them with dirt, and downing again. Ashes should be cool to the touch, including charcoal. Do not smoke while walking through the forest. Smokers should stop, clear a space to dirt, and smoke in the cleared area. Matches and cigarettes should be crushed and carried out. Remember Smokey's Message: "Prevent Forest Fires." Be sure your fire is DEAD OUT before you leave. Report any forest fire your see. Contact any Forest Service employee, sheriff's deputy, or telephone operator.

Human Waste

If there are no toilets available, choose a suitable, screened spot at least 200 feet from any stream or lake. Dig a small hole about 6 inches deep by 8 inches in diameter. After use, fill the hole with soil and replace the duff. This allows the waste to decompose naturally. Bury toilet paper in the same hole. Empty built-in or portable toilets at sanitary dump stations.

Camp Waste

Always "PACK IT OUT!" Please leave your campsite cleaner than when you found it. Clean up and remove any manure, hay, and straw before leaving.

Drinking Water

Streams and lakes are home to many microscopic organisms; some of them can make you sick. So don't take a chance; treat your water or bring water from home. And, of course, never clean dishes or fish in a stream or lake. Safe drinking water supplies are only maintained at recreation sites with developed water systems.

No-Trace Ethic

Forest users are encouraged to adopt the no-trace ethic. "No-trace" means each one of us will make every effort to leave no evidence of our visit. The "ethic" comes from a respect and appreciation for the natural systems and a regard for those who will follow us.


Whether in a campground or on a trail, please keep your pets under control or on a leash.

Water Sports

If you're interested in canoeing, kayaking, rafting, and other forms of boating, you'll find them here. However, gas powered motor are prohibited on most Forest lakes. Swimming may be limited to those hardy persons who can endure the cold waters of mountain lakes or streams. But everyone should avoid the hazardous falls and cascades on some of the rivers. If you're planning to float streams, you should contact the nearest Forest Service office for specific information.


You may see a wide variety of birds and animals if you watch carefully. Generally, the best time to observe wildlife is in the early morning or late evening.

Woods Creek Watchable Wildlife area offers a barrier-free, interpretive 1.5 mile trail through old-growth forest past several active beaver ponds.

Fishing and Hunting

The Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife sets seasons and possession limits. A Washington State license is required to hunt or fish in the National Forest. Please consult current regulations prior to fishing or hunting in your National Forest.

There are more than 20 species of fish in the 1,360 miles of streams and over 100 lakes in the Gifford Pinchot National Forest. Three species of anadromous fish (chinook and coho salmon, and steelhead trout) and several species of resident salmonids (rainbow trout, kokanee salmon, brown trout, and cutthroat trout), including two species of char (bull trout and eastern brook trout), can be found within forest waters. Over 90 percent of the streams on the Forest have a self-sustaining resident fishery. Fish populations are supplemented with hatchery fish in some forest lakes and streams. High mountain lakes may not be accessible until the late-spring snow melts.

Wildlife species that are hunted include deer, elk, black bear, cougar, mountain goats, and small game species of grouse, bobcat, coyote, fox, raccoon, and rabbits.

For more information about any of the many camping and other recreational opportunitites availabe at Gifford Pinchot National Forest, please visit their website at: