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Tatoosh Ridge

South Cascades

Tatoosh Ridge offers numerous choices, all involving a steep approach. Contentedly amble through a steep slope of wildflowers, with occasional mountain views. Drop into a valley with a pair of alpine lakes, or climb to the site of a former lookout. If you like, do all of the above. Continue reading


South Cascades -- White Pass/Cowlitz River Valley
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6.2 miles, roundtrip


Gain: 2900 ft.
Highest Point: 5775 ft.


3.73 out of 5

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  • Wildflowers/Meadows
  • Ridges/passes
  • Dogs allowed on leash
  • Mountain views
  • Old growth
  • Summits
  • Lakes

Parking Pass/Entry Fee


WTA worked here in 2020 and 2019!

Tatoosh Ridge can be a destination unto itself; there are two trailheads to permit a one-way hike along a slope covered in wildflowers. But you can see everything from the north trailhead in one reasonable-length out-and-back day hike.

Yes, the beginning of the trail is steep, but at least most of the elevation gain is done in the shade. Begin by ascending through moderately open forest sprinkled with a few old growth trees. Undergrowth is sparse among the trees, but the trail is bordered by blueberries and huckleberries at various places, and even a patch of wild strawberries. At two miles, the trail breaks free of the tree canopy into sloped open meadow. At 2.4 miles, where the trail continues straight uphill on some stone steps, an unmarked path is visible to the left. This leads to a viewpoint of Mount Rainier in 0.3 mile, and eventually into the National Park. But much better views are straight ahead.

The Tatoosh Trail is seldom flat; most of it is along a steep sidehill covered in wildflowers. Lingering snow could make it somewhat treacherous and also difficult to follow. Even when fully melted out, the trail is concealed by its surrounding vegetation, often preventing you from seeing where it is heading.

Continue to 2.5 miles and a signed junction with Tatoosh Lakes Trail 161B at 5600 feet. This spur trail climbs 150 feet, crests over a ridge, then drops over 600 feet to two picturesque lakes tucked into a cirque. The lake basin is closed to camping.

If you choose to go further, continue south-southeast from the junction, contouring along the steeply sloped natural meadowlands. Views of Mount Rainier open up behind you until at a small pass at three miles, the trail heads east and slightly downhill, blocking the views of Mount Rainier temporarily. The mileage shown in this guide assumes a turnaround point here.

To get to the site of the former Tatoosh Lookout, continue over and around the small pass, heading east, then south once again, passing beneath Tatoosh Peak and a frequent rock slide area at 3.6 miles.

At 4.5 miles and 5800 feet is the signed junction for trail 161A to Tatoosh Peak. Switchback sharply to the left and begin climbing on it. The 0.7 mile spur trail is somewhat rutted and can be windy once you are on the exposed ridge. From the former lookout site at 6400 feet, a turquoise tarn is visible below, providing a photogenic foreground for Mount Rainier, to the north. On a clear day, Mount Adams, Mount Hood, and Mount St. Helens are also visible, scanning from south to southwest.

Hike by WTA Correspondents
Ken Giesbers

Tatoosh Ridge

Map & Directions

Co-ordinates: 46.7131, -121.7160 Open in Google Maps


South Cascades -- White Pass/Cowlitz River Valley

Tatoosh (#161)

Gifford Pinchot National Forest, Cowlitz Valley Ranger District

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Getting There

From the eastern end of Packwood, turn north from Highway 12 onto Skate Creek Road S. After four miles, turn right on gravel road FR 5270. The road is little more than one lane wide, and has numerous potholes. At 9.7 miles from U.S. 12, bear right at the ‘Y’ and continue to the trailhead sign “Tatoosh Trail 161” at 11.1 miles. A wide shoulder provides parking for about a dozen vehicles. The trailhead kiosk provides the required self-serve Wilderness Permit, but there are no other amenities. This is known as the north trailhead.

Alternate (south) trailhead: From the eastern end of Packwood, turn north from Highway 12 onto Skate Creek Road S. At 0.8 mile, turn right on Cannon Road. At 5.1 miles, the road rounds a curve and suddenly turns into potholed gravel; be ready for it. The road remains rough, rocky, and potholed until at 6.9 miles it splits into three unmarked roads. Take the left branch, through a gate (which is closed December through March) on better road. At 7.9 miles, turn right and drive the final 1.2 miles to the trailhead, and a small lot with room for 7 or 8 vehicles. The trailhead kiosk provides the required self-serve Wilderness Permit, but there are no other amenities.

Parking Pass/Entry Fee


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Tatoosh Ridge

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