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. It was renamed the Gifford Pinchot National Forest in 1949.
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 your National Forest.
Located in southwest Washington State, the Gifford Pinchot National Forest now encompasses 1,312,000 acres and includes the 110,000-acre Mount St. Helens National Volcanic Monument established by Congress in 1982.
Your National Heritage
For more than 6,000 years, people have played a part in the ecology of the Gifford Pinchot National Forest. The earliest Native Americans hunted in meadows below receding alpine glaciers. As the climate warmed, descendants of these early hunters gathered an abundance of food and other necessities. Familiarity with the Gifford Pinchot National Forest and surrounding areas's resources allowed larger, more settled populations, and the natives began to manage the landscape for game and other food. One method the natives used was burning areas to increase huckleberry production. Archaeological investigations on the forest continue to discover new and exciting information about the lives of the first Americans. Read more about Gifford Pinchot National Forest History.
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.
Events on the Forest in the twentieth century have been strongly influenced by nationwide developments. Between 1933 and 1942, Civilian Conservation Corps projects were undertaken throughout the Forest as part of the Federal response to the Great Depression. Young men from around the nation were summoned to build trails, roads, and buildings. Many of the facilities we enjoy today are the result of their handiwork. The demands of two World Wars resulted in major efforts to plant, harvest, and protect from fire the abundant timber resource. Population growth and new perspectives have placed further demands on the Forest, not only for timber, but for other values as well, including wildlife, recreation, fisheries, and wilderness.
The Gifford Pinchot National Forest's heritage is told in objects, sites, and buildings preserved and protected by law. When an artifact is removed or a site damaged, the forest's legacy becomes incomplete, much as a book would be incomplete if words were erased or pages torn out. If you discover a site or object of interest, leave it undisturbed and report your discovery to the nearest Forest Service office. Help us pass on the history of our National Forests to our children and grandchildren, and answer Gifford Pinchot's call to manage our forests for "the long run."
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 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 one 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. More information about these areas can be found on the Mount St Helens area website.
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.
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.
The Gifford Pinchot 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
All fireworks are prohibited on the Gifford Pinchot National Forest.
Whether in a campground or on a trail, please keep your pets under control or on a leash. To protect plant and animal life and provide for visitor safety, pets are prohibited at all recreation sites and trails within the Mount St. Helens National Volcanic Monument’s restricted area.
Several campgrounds are designed for stock use. These "horse camps" are located on or near horse trails. Please use high picket line with tree padding when corrals or tie stalls are not available; disperse manure into native vegetation or provided receptacle; hobble animals that paw; and please practice "no trace" camping. Leave your campsite the way you'd like to find it. Remember, horses are not permitted in campgrounds unless designated as horse camps.
Keep pack or saddle stock at least 200 feet from any lake or stream, except for watering, loading, unloading, or traveling on established trail routes. Forage may be limited, so you should carry feed. Avoid tying stock to trees at campsites for prolonged periods.
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 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 the Gifford Pinchot 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.
Products From Your National Forest
The Gifford Pinchot National Forest provides a variety of natural resource products, while maintaining healthy, diverse and productive forest ecosystems. In addition to the harvest of trees that provide lumber and other wood products, many other products are harvested, such as cones, evergreen boughs, transplants, Christmas trees, mushrooms, beargrass, salal, edible berries, firewood, and common minerals.
The harvest of forest products usually requires a permit for both personal and commercial uses. Permits allow the Forest Service to monitor the demand and use of various products to ensure that areas are not overused. Please check with your local Forest Service office for the permits you will need before removing anything from the Gifford Pinchot National Forest.
Wild and Scenic Rivers
The abundant rain and snowfall in the western Cascades feed an extensive river system on this forest. Many rivers are popular for recreation and contain remarkable features. Ensuring these features and the free-flowing character of popular rivers are maintained into the future, the Forest has recommended four rivers be added to the national Wild and Scenic Rivers System. They are: the Cispus River, the Lewis River, and the Clear Fork and Muddy Fork of the Cowlitz River. Thirteen additional rivers are being studied as potential Wild and Scenic Rivers. The only river currently designated as a Wild and Scenic River is the White Salmon River.
Travel only where motorized vehicles are permitted.
Respect the rights of hikers, horseback riders, skiers, campers and others so they can enjoy their activities undisturbed.
Educate yourself. Obtain visitor maps and regulations from public agencies, comply with signs and barriers, and ask owners' permission to cross private property.
Avoid streams, lakeshores, meadows, muddy roads and trails, steep hillsides, wildlife and livestock.
Drive responsibly to protect the environment and preserve opportunities to enjoy your vehicle on wildlands.
Safe Driving Tips
Drive at a reasonable speed. Most forest roads are not designed for high speeds. Your line of sight is often obstructed by trees, brush, hills, or sharp curves, and your vehicle cannot stop as quickly on gravel or dirt surfaces as on paved streets. Wildlife are frequently encountered on Forest roads.
Many forest roads are one-lane wide. On curves, keep to the right and use turnouts to allow oncoming vehicles to pass. Please do not block turnouts or use them for an "extended" stop.
Use a vehicle that is suitable for rough travel and carry extra supplies. Food, gas, and lodging are seldom available along National Forest roads. Take adequate clothing along with you, and let someone know where you are going and when you expect to return.
Forest roads are not maintained for winter travel; be aware that ice and snow can cause problems even on paved roads.
Log trucks and logging activities may be encountered at any time, even on weekends. Be alert!
State traffic regulations apply when traveling on Forest roads. If an injury accident occurs in the Forest, call 911.
Why is this Road Closed?
There are a number of reasons some modes of travel are restricted within National Forests. These are not always well understood, particularly if encountered unexpectedly. Here are some reasons for them ...
Wildlife Habitat Protection -- Many closures are put into effect to protect critical areas where big-game animals live. These areas are sensitive and often include winter ranges, calving grounds, or security areas. These same areas are often open to vehicle use during other times of the year when big game are less likely to be disturbed.
Water Quality and Erosion Control -- Some roads and trails are closed during wet weather to prevent rutting and other roadbed damage. This reduces erosion and the amount of sediment that can be transported to streams. Sediment is a serious threat to spawning and rearing grounds for steelhead, salmon, and other fish.
Public Safety -- In some specific instances, certain types of travel are prohibited to ensure user safety. Even so, caution should be used on every Forest route.
Recreation -- One goal on the Gifford Pinchot National Forest is to provide a broad range of recreation settings and opportunities. Some areas of the Forest are designated for nonmotorized recreation to achieve a balance a balance with motorized recreation opportunities.