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High Rock

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Savvy hikers seeking stellar 360-degree views know to look for lookouts. The old fire lookout cabins (sometimes cabins-atop-towers) used by the Forest Service in the pre-satellite radar days were always situated atop high peaks with outstanding views in all directions. The sole purpose of these high lonesome structures was to provide fire lookouts a panoramic view of a broad swath of mountains so they could watch for smoke. As such, the old fire lookout stations are wonderful hiking destinations, and unlike many of the old sites, High Rock still has its tower (which is still used in season). As great as the views are, though, the mountain itself is even more astounding. High Rock is one of the more impressive stone formations on which you're ever likely to sit, not so much for its sheer height (5700 feet) but for its sheer north face (about 600 feet straight down).

The trail begins near a clear-cut and rises 1400 feet through increasingly thin forest before opening to the grand spectacle at the top: a 1929-vintage fire lookout on the tip-top of what appears to be a massive, stone-walled ship's bow. Look straight ahead for one of the most magnificent views of Mount Rainier anywhere in Washington. Look straight down, about 1400 feet, for an overhead view of Cora Lake. You'll want to spend some time here watching Rainier make its own weather, which in turn performs magical shadow-and-light shows across the mountain's full south face; you see these displays in better detail here than from anywhere inside Mount Rainier National Park.

High Rock is a favorite early-morning and late-afternoon hangout for nature photographers. The fire lookout, the only one left in the Cowlitz Valley Ranger District (and one of only three in the Gifford Pinchot National Forest), is staffed in the summer.
Driving Directions:

From Tacoma, drive State Highway 7 east to Elbe and continue on Highway 706 to Ashford. Continue east and turn right onto Kernahan Road. After crossing the Nisqually River, at about 1.5 miles, turn right onto Osborn Road and keep left onto Forest Road 85. Proceed 5.8 miles to FR 8440. Take the left fork, you'll see the sign for High Rock Lookout, and continue 4.5 miles to the trailhead on the left.

An alternative route to get the family sedan to the trailhead. Take Hwy. 7 east from Tacoma to Elbe, then turn east on to Hwy. 706 toward Ashford. Make a right turn on Kernahan Rd., then turn left onto FR 52 at 1.5 miles, and continue 3.3 miles to FR 8440, turn right and go about 9.5 miles on FR 8440 to Towhead Gap and the trailhead. Make sure you stay on FR 8440; there are a lot of forks along the way.

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Recent Trip Reports

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There are 79 trip reports for this hike. See all trip reports for this hike.
High Rock — Jan 04, 2014 — mcooksley
Day hike
Issues: Snow on trail | Road to trailhead inaccessible
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Beautiful (but longer than expected) day on this trail. Drove to within 1.75 miles of trailhead (in...
Beautiful (but longer than expected) day on this trail. Drove to within 1.75 miles of trailhead (in a Subaru Forester/not enough ground clearance/dragging bottom due to deep ruts). Hiked up the road in the dark. Tried to catch sunrise photos (we were 30 min. 'late' due to road hike). Fine hiking on road and trail. Some harder/slick spots on the way up due to VERY LOW snowpack. Made the top in about 2 hours from car. Attempted to move up rock slab to cabin but turned back. Dangerous hard conditions/no crampons = potential for long hard falls. Found a place to the left on ridgeline for good pix. Sun came out and warmed us nicely but it remained very cold and hard/slick in the shade. Another solo hiker followed us up. He eventually took a long, disabling fall midway down the trail (which resulted in a full-blown rescue/carryout for us and Ashford Fire/me and my partner are volunteer Mountain Rescue). Completed our carry-out/patient in litter as sun was setting. Stunning sunset! Back to trailhead after dark. Another cold, but beautiful night.
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High Rock — Nov 29, 2013 — Wendy W
Day hike
Issues: Snow on trail
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We took 85 to 8440 up and went down 8440 to 52. There is snow on the road about four miles from the ...
We took 85 to 8440 up and went down 8440 to 52. There is snow on the road about four miles from the trailhead either way. Four wheel drive is probably a must. Our low clearance Subaru was scrapping bottom in the deeper spots.

The first .25 of the trail has snow then it is clear for about .75 before snow covers the trail again. It gets deeper near the top but we didn't need snowshoes. Micro-spikes were very helpful. There are some icy spots.

It was a very cloudy day so we didn't see any of the amazing views but it was still a nice hike. I love the moss draped trees.

The lookout is in sad shape.
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High Rock — Oct 26, 2013 — Amber
Day hike
Features: Fall foliage
Issues: Blowdowns | No water source
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What a great day for a hike. The weather was sunny and lukewarm to summit the trail. The view is bey...
What a great day for a hike. The weather was sunny and lukewarm to summit the trail. The view is beyond amazing - breathtaking! It is a trek to get to the top as the trail is very steep with very few straight paths to catch ones breath but there are 2 benches along the way and fallen trees to sit on. Thankfully this time of year there were no bugs including the very pesky deer flies so the hike was very enjoyable. Because the trail is steep and sometimes narrow dogs MUST be leashed. Once at the lookout the mountain has a very steep drop off so if little ones are around please keep your eyes on them and keep your dogs leashed. There is no water source or bathroom anywhere (including the trailhead) so come prepared. Some people brought a lunch to enjoy at the top of the mountain while others like myself just enjoyed the view. This is well worth the trek!
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High Rock — Oct 21, 2013 — cookdoggie
Day hike
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While Puget Sound is fogged in this week, it's clear, sunny and WARM at High Rock Lookout. Saw 2 ot...
While Puget Sound is fogged in this week, it's clear, sunny and WARM at High Rock Lookout. Saw 2 other groups while we were there. The road is iffy for a passenger car (go slow). The Y where you turn left on FS8440 isn't marked, but it's clearly a Y at about 6-6 1/2 miles from the start of FS85. It's AFTER the pavement ends but not much farther.

On the drive back down we encountered a lost, small dog. He ran down the road ahead of us. Eventually he turned off the road and went up the hill. We stopped and tried to coax him back but he was scared and ran away. This was at 3pm about 1.5 miles down FS8440 from the trailhead (back towards FS85).
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High Rock — Oct 18, 2013 — Joe Hendricks
Day hike
Features: Fall foliage
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4 minutes of video clips from the hike: http://youtu.be/jW2iC8lAkw0 Perfect day for it! Book direc...
4 minutes of video clips from the hike: http://youtu.be/jW2iC8lAkw0
Perfect day for it!
Book directions are WRONG! You turn LEFT not RIGHT at the unmarked FR#85/FR#8440 junction. That cost me almost 2 hours. Still got started before anyone else was there.
Trail's in great shape. View from the top was spectacular.. all Rainier and the 3 southern volcanoes were viewable with little haze, this sunny day.
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high rock by el tigre
On the brow of the High Rock Lookout - by el tigre
Location
High Rock (#266)
South Cascades -- White Pass / Cowlitz River Valley
Gifford-Pinchot National Forest, Cowlitz Valley Ranger District
Statistics
Roundtrip 3.5 miles
Elevation Gain 1400 ft
Highest Point 5658 ft
Features
Mountain views
Summits
User info
Northwest Forest Pass required
Guidebooks & Maps
South Cascades
Green Trails No. 301 Randle

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Note: the description and driving directions for this Mountaineers Books entry are copyrighted and can't be changed.

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