Greenwood Lake–Solitude in the shadow of High Rock

Quick Facts:

Location: Nisqually River Valley

Land Agency: National Forest Service

Round Trip: 4.0 miles

Elevation Gain: 1450 feet

Contact:  Cowlitz Valley Ranger Station (Randle), Gifford Pinchot National Forest

Green Trails Maps: Randle, WA no. 301

Notes: Road to trailhead can be rough. Trail is open to motorcycles but sees little use as it receives little maintenance.

Access: From Elbe, follow SR 706 east for 10.1 miles. Turn right onto Skate Creek Road (FR 52) and follow for 4.7 miles. Turn right onto FR 84 and follow for 6.8 miles bearing right onto FR 8440. Continue 2.7 miles to trailhead for High Rock. Park here; Greenwood Lake Trail begins on old road spur south of the High Rock Trailhead.

Good to Know: solitude, wildlife viewing opportunities, trail open to multiple use, trail sees little maintenance, dog-friendly, good mountain views, Practice Leave No Trace Principles


High Rock and Mount Rainier from Cougar Gap.

One of the region’s least traveled trails, a handful of surprises awaits those who venture upon it.  Hike along a high ridge admiring big trees, showy wildflowers and far reaching views. Good chance too, you’ll have it all to yourself. Lying just to the south of the popular High Rock Trail, very few people hike the Greenwood Lake Trail. For one thing, most folks don’t even know it exists. There are no signs and the approach isn’t obvious. Secondly, the area surrounding the lake was intensely logged in the 1980s and 90s. But pockets of old growth and mature timber still grace the way. And the areas that were cutover a couple of decades ago—they now sport brilliant wildflowers come mid-summer and excellent views from Mount Rainier to Mount Adams any time of the year.

From across the road from the High Rock Trailhead, locate a closed to vehicles spur road taking off south. Follow it. On a double track lined with bear grass admire a nice view of Mount Rainier and the Tatoosh Range to your left. Stop for a minute too to cock your head back and enjoy a good view of High Rock with its historic lookout teetering on its precipitous summit.

After about .25 mile the double track ends and real trail begins. Old growth forest too. Now start descending. The tread is good but be aware of face-whackers; vine maple branches creeping over the trail. The trail is a little brushy in spots too, so that’ll keep you concentrating on the way as well. Skirt beneath some ledges and a large fallen fir before crossing a small creek (el. 4,000 feet). Then begin grinding upward beneath a canopy of big hemlocks.

The way steepens in spots, but that’s the worst of it—the rest of the trip to the lake is pretty enjoyable.  At 1.5 miles reach an old logging road  at Cougar Gap (el. 4,460 feet). The Allen Mountain Trail takes off from the road a short distance to the left. The Greenwood Lake Trail continues right staying just below a ridge crest and traversing an old cut. Enjoy excellent views north of High Rock, Sawtooth Ridge, and Mount Rainier.

At .4 mile from Cougar Gap pop up on an old logging road spur. Turn right and pick up trail again shortly afterward. Continue to climb traversing an old cut draped in bear grass and gorgeous wildflowers. Enjoy excellent views south of nearby Purcell Mountain and Whalehead Ridge and to Mount Adams, Mount St Helens and the Goat Rocks in the distance. Reach a small gap on the ridge crest (el. 4,800 feet) and once again enter mature forest. Now on smooth tread, begin a downward journey into cool old growth forest.

At 1.8 miles from the trailhead note a spur left dropping to a nice camping area and great access to the forest flanked Greenwood Lake (el. 4,460 feet).  Small and placid, the lake’s waters reflect the surrounding primeval evergreens. Take a break or continue hiking. The trail continues west crossing the lake’s outlet on a slanted bridge that’s close to collapsing for good. It then slowly ascends and traverses a steep side slope before ending at 3.5 miles at FR 8511 at the edge of an old cut.

For detailed information on many other great hikes (including High Rock) in and around Mount Rainier, pick up a copy of my best selling 100 Classic Hikes Washington (Mountaineers Books). Get your copy today and start exploring some of the best trails in the state!

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