Information about this hike provided in partnership with Mountaineers Books.
Copyright © Dan A. Nelson/The Mountaineers Books
Big Lava Bed
Spindly pines cover much of the Big Lava Bed, giving it the appearance of a gentle, young forest from a distance. Get near the lava, though, and the truth comes out: There is nothing gentle about this landscape.
The PCT skirts the west side of the basalt field, and almost immediately after starting the hike, the harsh nature of the lava bed is nakedly evident. Step off the trail, and the landscape is nearly impassable. The lava is abrasive, brittle, and very unstable. Try to scramble to the top of one of the short lava knobs scattered around the area, and you'll find your leather boots not just scuffed but slashed and cut to ribbons. Better to enjoy the rugged beauty of the lava flow from the relative safety of the trail.
The trail leaves the horse camp and within the first 0.25 mile meets the lava flows. The trail then rolls with the flow, as it were, skirting the rough lava on its western flank. To the west of the trail is an open pine forest scarred with clear-cuts, but the buffer of trees along the trail block most of that logging damage from view. Besides, the lava beds will keep your eyes turned away from the other side of the trail.
The terrain in the Big Lava Bed is a jumble of rock. Huge blocks of lava, towering up like black cotton-candy tufts, dot the landscape. Many of these are pahoehoe formations-wrinkled masses of rock formed by fast-moving lava. Pahoehoe is easy to identify: just look for the rocks that remind you of shar-pei dogs, a solid mass of ropey folds and wrinkles. Between the great tufts of lava are fissures, crevices, pressure ridges, and fields of sharp, jagged black basalt.
The trail follows alongside this world of volcanic turmoil for nearly 3 miles before edging away from the lava into a calmer world of pine forests. The trail rolls gently through the forest for another 3.5 miles to the southeast flank of Big Huckleberry Mountain.
For a full day of hiking, turn around where the trail leaves the lava for a short outing over to Big Huckleberry Mountain. Take note that the mountain is aptly named-in late summer the area around the mountain is flush with marble-sized purple fruit. There is no path to the mountain's forested top, so stick to the sun-dappled clearings along the trail.
From Carson, drive north on the Wind River Road (County Road 30) 5.6 miles and turn right (east) onto the Panther Creek Road (Forest Road 65). Continue on the Panther Creek Road 11.3 miles to a junction with FR 60. Turn right (east) onto FR 60 and drive 2.4 miles to the Crest Horse Camp on the right. The PCT crosses FR 60 here. Find the start of the trail to the south just behind the outhouses on the south side of the horse camp.
Recent Trip Reports
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There are 2 trip reports for this hike.
Big Lava Bed — Oct 09, 2012 — JakeHiker
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Nice day hike, glad to have made it before the weather turned. To hazy from all the fires to get a ...
Nice day hike, glad to have made it before the weather turned. To hazy from all the fires to get a good view of anything but Mt. Adams, but still worth it.
The trail is part of the PCT so it's quite well maintained and very easy to follow, no real problems with blowdowns. Relatively level for the most part, and what elevation gain there is is pretty gently. Except for the last bit to get to the summit of Big Huckleberry; fairly steep, but luckily you don't have far to go. Be a good hike for smaller kids if a bit long; about 12 miles roundtrip.
The website description is a little off; after following to lava bed continue past the fork in the trail (the only one you'll have crossed so far) on the PCT. You'll wind through a pretty open forest; no great views but still nice. After about 3 more miles you'll hit a good viewpoint, continue past that and the trail will split again (this time with a sign marking the new trail as the "huckleberry trail") and take you to the top of Big Huckleberry. There's a large open area on top; it's not all forested and you get a decent view.
The driving directions are pretty accurate give or take a little mileage, but the roads are well marked so no big deal there.
If you go up it anytime soon, keep in mind that it is hunting season and there was ample deer and elk sign on/near the trail; passed a couple hunters, so orange might be a good idea.
Big Lava Bed — Jul 04, 2012 — Mr. Pays-Bas
Features: Wildflowers blooming
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It was a wonderful 4th of July hiking day and I set out to hike the Big Lava Bed trail. As a lava an...
It was a wonderful 4th of July hiking day and I set out to hike the Big Lava Bed trail. As a lava and volcano hiker this trail was very tempting.
The trail is in fact along the PCT. From the trail head it is just a few hundred meters before encountering the lava bed. The trail runs along and through the lava bed. Slightly further the lava in some places is 4-5 meters high. The trail in itself is easy going.
After some 3 miles the trail takes a course to the south and the lava bed edge is out of sight. The forest is mainly open with nice views. Following the trail brought me up to the Big Huckleberry Mountain. Going up was more steep than on the trail from Big Lava Bed. But is was worthwhile for the views of Mt. Adams to the east and Mts Jefferson and Hood to the south.