Bear Creek Mountain used to be accessible from three different trailheads: the Tieton Meadows trail (which leaves from the Scatter Creek Campground at the end of the North Fork Tieton Road); Conrad Meadows off the South Fork Tieton Road, and from the Section 3 Lake trailhead. While access from Conrad Meadows is lovely, starting from Section 3 is the shortest, offering more views per mile than any other.
If you’ve made it to the trailhead (the last two miles of the road are rough), fill out a Goat Rocks Wilderness permit (they’re free) and head out. The trail starts off weaving and climbing through alpine forest full of pines. In 0.8 miles, you’ll break out into your first alpine meadow, stuffed full of buttercups and a few Indian paintbrush when the season is right. Progress through increasingly stunning meadows, including ever-improving vistas of Bear Creek Mountain to your right.
At 2 miles, cross Bear Creek itself, in a meadow populated with an even more diverse array of wildflowers. Look for monkeyflower, daisys, and lupine in addition to those sweet little buttercups. The trail now begins climbing another 100 feet to a junction with the trail from Conrad Meadows at 2.6 miles. The way may become difficult to follow at times from here on out as it winds through rocky talus slopes and around a couple of high alpine tarns.
The last push, just 0.4 miles from the summit, is a doozy. You’re heading to a high point of 7337 feet; the third highest hiker-accessible point in the Goat Rocks. So take it slow, drink lots of water, and take time to enjoy the panorama of the William O. Douglas wilderness and the eastern Cascades spreading to the northeast, because you’re going to spend all your time staring at the Goat Rocks from the top.
Breaking out onto the shoulder of the summit, take a minute to gasp at Old Snowy, Gilbert and Tieton Peaks, and the McCall Glacier, before following the trail as it leads you to the true summit. While there is nothing left of the lookout that was here until the 1960s, the reason it served as a lookout site is obvious: 360 degree views include Mount Adams, Mount Rainier, and the monumental Goat Rocks, not to mention the countryside to the north and east. See how many peaks, drainages, and lakes you can identify using your map.
WTA Pro Tip: Snow sticks around on the north face of Bear Creek Mountain, which is where your route goes. Bring poles or other traction devices if you're going. Better to be prepared and not need it than not have them and wish you did!