You know those places you go just because you have to? We all have them, I’m sure. The places that for some unexplained reason, you are just drawn to them. Sometimes I wake up (usually early) on a Saturday and simply because of a hectic work week, I just haven’t had the time to seek out somewhere new to roam and sometimes it just isn’t in the cards to take off the whole weekend and travel up to the North Cascades, a place that is magical and always worth the effort. Anyway, when I have one of those weekends there are a couple of hikes within two hours of Portland that are always on the top of my list. Silver Star Mountain in SW Washington is one of them.
This particular weekend I knew it was going to be hot so I wanted to get up into the mountains where the higher elevations would call for cooler temperatures. I had a couple friends who wanted to join me as well (a welcome change of pace). I am more of a solo hiker, for the most part it’s just me, my thoughts and my dog for miles at a time, so having some friends to break up the internal conversation was welcomed.
We took off around 9:30am and it was already 80 degrees outside. My fourth floor apartment was bound to become an inferno so I couldn’t wait to be on top of Silver Star, sitting at roughly 4,400 feet and 6 miles RT. It’s certainly not the highest point you could reach in a day, but where it sits between Washington and Oregon provides you a 360 degree view of some of the most prominent peaks from Mt. Adams to Mt. Jefferson on any given clear day – which this was.
We set out from Grouse Vista Trail, which is a bit longer than taking off from Ed’s Trail, but the road to get there is better. Grouse Vista is still a few miles of driving on gravel roads deep within old logging roads but Ed’s trail leads you through some pretty gnarly unmarked foresting and hunting roads that I wouldn’t recommend attempting without a 4 wheel drive car that has good clearance. The beginning of the trail begins with steady elevation gain and starts on the opposite side of the parking lot. For the first quarter mile you are just heading up a rocky and stump laden path with trees on both sides. However, you will reach a point where everything opens up and you are greeted with gorgeous and expansive views of the Gifford Pinchot National Forest, and if it’s the right time of year – dozens of wildflowers line the trail like particles of a rainbow.
For the most part, the trail looks like this (above photos) as it winds up to the summit, which doesn’t suck. Even on a hot Saturday morning, where most of Portland is looking to get out of town, we only saw a dozen or so people on the trail and summit. Making it so, at times, it was just the mountains, our dogs, the wildflowers, and our conversation, which really doesn’t suck. To deal with the heat I took a small 18L backpack, 2 1L water bottles, some snacks and wore a comfortable pair of shorts, a sweat wicking tank and low profile hiking shoes. Since this hike has so much uneven terrain I would definitely recommend some sort of hiking shoe or hiking boot over road running shoes or regular tennis shoes.
After about 2.5 miles there is one last pitch and a right hand turn up the summit trail (PRO TIP: there is an undesignated camping spot just past this summit tail and the sunrise from Silver Star would be INCREDIBLE) and then you are greeted with the expansive 360 views, usually a nice breeze and a bit (or a lot) of sweat trickling down your forehead.
Looking to the right you see Ms. Hood, in all of her glory, just past that you can see Mt. Jefferson, scanning left you can see Mt. Adams, Mt Rainer, Mt St. Helens, the lower and usually snow covered Goat Rocks (more about that area later – TEASER ALERT – AHMAZING) I have one particular rock below the right hand summit that I like to go sit on. If it’s a crowded day that rock always seems to be free and fits my dog and I perfectly for some serious mountain top lounging time. I won’t tell you anymore because it’s my secret rock.
We visited both the left and right summit areas. Both sides offer incredible deep green valley and snow covered cascade mountain views. Because the view is completely exposed there is nothing to obscure the 360-degree view of the expansive mid cascade region all the way down past Mt. Jefferson, there really is nothing like it. Since the summit has so much exposure there is always a chance of wind or snow depending on the season. Make sure to come prepared with a light wind jacket no matter what time of year, sunscreen in the summer and boots with traction in snow from late fall to early spring. After about an hour, some food and a few hundred photos we started heading back down. When it’s just me, I usually hang at the summit for a while – there’s no better way to clear your mind AND get a tan than on a quiet mountain a few thousand feet above sea level.
When heading back, go back the way you came down, which is a lovely second chance to take in the views and wildflowers while working the “downhill” muscles. There are some loose rock so if you have weak knees or ankles, a pair of hiking or trekking poles could be needed. An hour of so had past and we were back down and in the parking lot ready to head back for some social scenery, fully pleased with the much-needed re-charge and outdoor goodness barely two hours outside of Portland.
Here are some stats below for more travel and gear info.
Portland –Trail Head: 1 hour 30 min
Car-Summit: 3 miles/ 2040 ft. (info taken for Portland Hikers Field Guide)
Car- Car: 6 Miles / 3 -3.5 hours
My trusty and well used Montrail Mountain Masochist hiking shoes. I didn’t bring hiking poles but they could be used.
And most importantly: Good Vibes Only