I love this hike for several reasons. It’s accessible most of the year because it’s low-elevation. I’m a sucker for creekside walks, especially featuring big old trees dripping with moss and ferns. I have a toddler, and this is a good hike for kids. And perhaps best of all, crowds are discouraged by the slow drive along gravel roads, so you are likely to have this piece to yourself. On your way home, check out one of the cozy brewpubs or cafes in Stevenson or Cascade Locks.
This forest is managed for timber by Washington State Department of Natural Resources and you will find interesting old signs indicating the age of the current stand. Start by going southbound, which is due west at this juncture, and pass through a few hundred yards of young plantation trees before nearing Snag Creek, where presumably regulations about riparian zones have thwarted modern logging. There are multiple layers of forest history here. Some towering, fat, old growth trees show the marks of having survived a monumental fire more than a century ago. To me, the giants that perished in the fire are even more interesting than those that survived, because they are either snags standing 100 feet high, full of woodpecker holes, the swirling grain highlighted by fire scab and hues of lichen, or they are lying on the ground as big, beautiful, mossy nurse logs. When I told my 2-year old son that this mossy crumbling log with all the little saplings growing out of it was called a “nurse log,” he nodded and said, “mama tree.”
On the crossing of Snag Creek unless it’s the driest part of summer, you should be prepared to get your feet wet; consider flip flops. Enjoy a snack at Rock Creek, which has a beautiful bridge and a clear stream full of blue-green pebbles, water striders, caddisfly cases, and mini-trout. There’s a nice campsite just up on the hillside here (please don’t camp within 100 feet of the water). At about the 1.4-mile mark you’ll come to another gravel road, known as Road 2000, where you can turn around and go back. Return to road 2070 where you parked, and if you want more, continue across the road northbound on the PCT, where you will find more of the same types of wonders, with the sounds of the North Fork babbling below the trail. A good snack spot and turn-around point on this leg would be the forest opening that features uphill views of sheer columnar basalt, about 1.2 miles in.
Out-and-back, 3-5 miles. To turn this into a 22-mile backpacking trip, keep walking southbound on the PCT from road 2070 to the Bridge of the Gods. Along the way be sure to take the short spur to Three Corner Rock, where you have a 360-degree view including several of our local snow-capped volcanoes.
Trailhead driving directions:
Starting from the Washington side of the Bridge of the Gods, go east on Highway 14 about 1.5 miles, and turn left onto Rock Creek Drive. After about a quarter mile, take the first left, Foster Creek Road. This becomes Ryan Allen Road. After .9 miles, turn left under large power lines onto Red Bluff Road. Soon turn right at fork with Marantha Road, just after a small bridge. Pavement ends here, and you are on Road 2000. Set your trip mileage counter. You will pass many spur roads–stay on the main road, 2000. You will pass a beautiful waterfall. (STOP! Check it out.) At mile 7.4, turn right onto road 2070 (may not be marked). Go about a third of a mile and look closely because the trail crosses inconspicuously. About 200 feet further up the hill there’s an undeveloped wide spot on the left and room for four to five cars.
Agency jurisdiction: The Mount Adams District of the Gifford Pinchot National Forest manages this trail section, though it’s technically on land managed by Washington State in the Yacolt Burn State Forest.
Region: Columbia Cascades