Pull out your bucket list. This is one to add for next summer. Photographer Andy Porter outlines why this is a favorite.
The allure of finding the perfect wildflower display is born out of an addiction to bright colors. Blue skies, red paintbrush, purple lupine and lush green grasses combine to start a chemical reaction in my brain. My particular obsessive-compulsive “disorder” commands me to seek out early summer meadows, take scads of pictures and smile a lot.
Last July, I was entranced by the Goat Rocks Wilderness. Located in the southern Cascades of Washington State, between Mount Rainier and Mount Adams, the Goat Rocks boasts post-card views of both peaks and yes, more than a few wildflowers!
Heading up into the high country in July is always somewhat dicey: finding trails that have melted out enough so that they can be easily hiked is not easy, getting accurate up to the day reports on current conditions not easy to do.
My Goat Rocks Trail Guide described a sort-of loop along the Lily Basin Trail, up over Goat Ridge and into the Snowgrass Flats area. We arrived and the first day hoofed it up along the ridge to a fantastic camp site with views of all three volcanoes, Mounts Rainier, Adams and St Helens.
The sunset on the ridge is unforgettable.
The next day we navigate west, along the trail up Goat Ridge. But we find the way blocked: the snow fields are miles long, steep and treacherous. With no ice axes and 40 lb packs a slip would mean getting airlifted out with lacerations and fractures. We considered all options and agree to hike out the way we came, stay in a hotel that night, and then drive around to the Snowgrass Flats Trailhead and so arrive in wildflower heaven from the other side.
The way back along the Lily Basin Trail is hot and tedious…until we enter the Cathedral of Avalanche Lilies. I feel like I’ve been teleported to Avatar, the flowers are ALIVE and they are talking directly to me.
Their joyous message assimilated into my being we head back to the car and off to Packwood for Burgers and a shower.
The next day we arise at the crack of dawn and head up the valley. Our maneuver to out-flank the snow fields is a success and we soon find ourselves in the midst of famous Snowgrass Flats.
Expecting to camp among endless meadows of flowers I am somewhat distraught at the rather uneven topography of the “flats”, but no worries, we set a base camp and head out to explore.
Our path soon meets up with the Pacific Crest Trail and we begin the long gradual ascent of the Goat Rocks. Remnants of a long-gone volcano the ‘Rocks’ are a perfect setting for the myriad flower displays. We hike up and up, to the highest point on the PCT in Washington Sate, where the trail itself has been blasted in to the very summit of the peak…
The views here are breathtaking, mountains, rocks, sky and flowers, fresh air, warm sun, it is all perfect.
The next two days are all about exploring, commiserating with flora and lots more smiling. One of the perks of arriving so soon after the snow melt is that the flowers are FRESH. The new blooms are rich, clean, fragrant and bursting with colors. Image 9
I discovered a wonderful camping spot, high on the ridge in the midst of the grandest spot I’ve seen in quite a while.
Yes, I will be coming back soon!
To access the Goat Rocks Wilderness: Head east on Hwy 12 to the town of Randle then drive 12 miles on Highway 12 to forest service road 21. Follow it about 14 miles (dirt road) to forest service road 2150. Turn left onto FS 2150 and drive 3.5 miles staying right at the Chambers Lake turnoff. Follow the signs to the Berry Patch trailhead.
This trail is best accessed in mid to late summer when wildflowers will be at their peak.
For more info check out the guide at WTA.org.