Looking for a short and manageable hike with stunning 360-degree views that reward you? Look no further than Washington’s High Rock Trail located in the Gifford-Pinchot National Forest near Mount Rainier. The trail is 3.2 miles roundtrip with a moderately steep elevation gain of 1,365 feet. Yes, it is steep, but it is definitely worth every effort for the view that awaits you. There is no entry fee or pass required and a lookout cabin is included.
The directions to the High Rock trailhead on Google Maps is pretty accurate. However, be sure to double-check whether or not it takes you on FR-85, as it may during the winter months when FR-84 is closed. FR-85 should be used with caution, as there are sections of large potholes that may cause damage even to high clearance vehicles.
Head towards the town of Elbe, about 40 miles south of Tacoma, along State Route 7 and follow SR-706 east for 10.1 miles. Approximately 2 miles from the town of Ashford, take a right onto Kernahan Road. Follow the road for 1.4 miles until it becomes Skate Creek Road and continue for 3.3 miles. Turn onto FR-84. After turning onto FR-84, continue on for 6.5 miles. Stay right when it forks. You are now on Road 8440. 2.6 miles along Road 8440, the road levels off and gets broad enough to park a dozen or more vehicles. High Rock and the lookout cabin are visible from the east side of the parking area.
There are no amenities so be sure to bring your own water. There is a portable toilet near the parking area to use before and after the hike. Dogs are welcome on the trail but should be leashed. From the parking area, you will see the trailhead towards the northwest. The trail is shaded with hemlock and young fir for most of the way. Summer showcases a lot of beautiful wildflowers and many huckleberries are to be had in the lower part of the trail. Although the trail is steep, it is short and there are very few switchbacks to worry about.
Hiking High Rock Lookout
A little after the one-mile marker you will come up to the Sawtooth ridgeline and be greeted with a peek-a-boo view of Mount Rainier. Mount Adams is also visible to the right from the edge of the ridgeline. Take extreme caution along the ridgeline at this viewpoint, especially if you have young children as this outcropping of the ridgeline has a steep drop-off below. Keep going. You will have a grander view at the top. Soon the lookout cabin will become visible as you make your way towards the west side of the ridge where the northern face will come into view. Once there, turn right and head 200 yards to the lookout cabin and enjoy the 360-degree views. On a clear day looking northeast from the wraparound deck of the lookout cabin (or from the rock), Mount Rainier will greet you with all its glory. In the distance to the right of Mount Rainier, you can also enjoy the beauty of Mount Adams who also deserves some attention. 1,800 feet below is Cora Lake.
Start early and head up for sunrise and enjoy a packed lunch with some views. Winter and spring may pose some snow conditions so it is not an ideal time to go. However, summer and fall are a perfect time to head up.