Vancouver, WA: Trapper Creek Wilderness Loop

Climb through towering evergreens to in-your-face Cascade views.
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Climb through towering evergreens to in-your-face Cascade views.

This off-the-radar pocket wilderness benefits from its proximity to the Cascades: The crowds go there, not here. So you can have your solitude and old-growth too on this 14.7-mile loop. And with elevations below 4,500 feet, the route often stays snow-free through October.

From the Trapper Creek trailhead, bear left onto Trapper Creek Trail #192. Climb through temperate rainforest past waist-high ferns. Pass the Big Slide Trail at mile 2.6; it’s a rough route built by the Mazamas. Stay left and descend into a gallery of towering hemlock, fir, and cedar. After a bridged crossing of Trapper Creek at mile 4.7, the trail rockets upward in a series of switchbacks, climbing 900 feet in .7 mile. Gassed? An off-trail rock slab to the right near mile 4.9 is a perfect rest stop, with views of a 100-foot waterfall.

The route soon flattens into a thicket of huckleberries (ripe in July and August), then dips to an easy ford of Trapper Creek at mile 5.4. Hang a right up the steep, deadfall-choked Shortcut Trail #132B at mile 6.3 to join the Observation Peak Trail #132A in .3 mile. Drop packs and bear right for the half-mile climb to the 4,207-foot summit, where a meadow offers near 360-degree views of Mts. St. Helens, Rainier, Adams, and Hood.

To end the day at Berry Camp, retrieve your gear and continue .4 mile down the Observation Peak Trail to a junction. Turn right to reach the site’s bear hang, fire ring, and pipe spring in .1 mile. The next day, follow the Big Hollow Trail #158 down through spruce and alder for 2.8 miles to join the Dry Creek Trail #194.

Just beyond, ford Bourbon Creek (usually simple and calf-deep; use care after heavy rain). Second-growth forest lines the mellow Dry Creek Trail, and ornate moss carpets the trees. Watch your step: The remaining 3.7 miles are prime rough-skinned newt territory. Look for the tangerine-bellied amphibians marching across the trail. Head back to the parking lot after rejoining the Trapper Creek Trail.

Gear up: REI; 1405 NW Johnson St., Portland, OR. (503) 221-1938; rei.com

Maps: Green Trails Lookout Mountain #396 and Wind River #397 ($7, greentrailsmaps.com)

Permit: Trailhead parking requires a Northwest Forest Pass ($5/day or $30/year; discovernw.org)

-Mapped by Ted Alvarez and Elisabeth Kwak-Hefferan

Trail Facts

  • Distance: 26.8

Waypoints

TCL001

Location: 45.881166, -121.980879

From the Trapper Creek trailhead, bear left onto Trapper Creek Trail #192. Climb through temperate rainforest past waist-high ferns.

TCL002

Location: 45.900307, -122.018548

Pass the Big Slide Trail, a rough route built by the Mazamas, at mile 2.6.

TCL003

Location: 45.905573, -122.032616

Continue straight at the 3-way junction with the steep, Mazamas-built Sunshine Trail, which provides an alternate but very challenging route to Observation Peak.

TCL004

Location: 45.912087, -122.048396

Cross the bridge over Trapper Creek at mile 4.7 and prepare for a 900 foot climb in only .7 mile.

TCL005

Location: 45.913625, -122.049469

An off-trail rock slab to the right is a perfect place to rest.

TCL006

Location: 45.916915, -122.04993

A thicket of huckleberries, ripe in July and August. After picking, continue north.

TCL007

Location: 45.920895, -122.049705

Ford of Trapper Creek at mile 5.4, then bear a right to head east.

TCL008

Location: 45.923895, -122.03683

Climb the steep Shortcut Trail #132B at mile 6.3.

TCL009

Location: 45.925955, -122.031337

Join up to the Observation Peak Trail #132A, then drop packs for a half mile climb.

TCL010

Location: 45.920417, -122.024771

The 4,207-foot summit of Observation Peak, where a meadow offers near 360-degree views of Mts. St. Helens, Rainier, Adams, and Hood.

TCL011

Location: 45.92985, -122.03595

Turn right to reach the site’s bear hang, fire ring, and pipe spring.

TCL012

Location: 45.927343, -121.985482

After following the Big Hollow Trail #158 down through spruce and alder for 2.8 miles, join the Dry Creek Trail #194.

TCL013

Location: 45.925865, -121.984216

Ford the usually calf-deep Bourbon Creek.

TCL014

Location: 45.88217, -121.980193

Head back to the parking lot after rejoining the Trapper Creek Trail.