Just 20 miles north of Mount Adams, Washington, the peak of Mount Curtis Gilbert juts above the forest along the Cascade crest. Also called Gilbert Peak, this 8,201-foot crag is the highest summit in the Goat Rocks Wilderness. As famous for its wildflowers as it is for its shaggy white wildlife, the Goat Rocks Area is a very rewarding destination for backpackers, trail riders and nature photographers.
The area is composed of a half-dozen peaks over 7,000 feet that form the spine of the Cascade Range north of Mount Adams and NE of Mount St Helens. On either side of the Goat Rocks, snowfields and small glaciers feed the Cowlitz, Cispus, Klickitat and Tieton Rivers. And just below the snowfields, glorious meadows burst with color during the brief alpine summer. Snowgrass Flat and Cispus Basin on the west side, and McCall Basin and the cirques below the Meade and Conrad Glaciers on the east side of the crest are especially beautiful during the August-September flower show.
Popular trails lead up into the wilderness from Packwood, Chambers and Walupt Lakes on the west side of the Goat Rocks. From the east, trails follow the north and south forks of the Tieton River into the wilderness. Most of these access trails eventually merge with the Pacific Crest Trail that runs the length of the north-south Goat Rocks ridge. The Crest Trail can be intercepted at White Pass, but it is over 20 miles from there to Old Snowy Mountain in the heart of the Goat Rocks Wilderness Area.
We have seen elk and goats every time we have visited the Goat Rocks. Even in the very popular Snowgrass Flat meadows, we have heard and seen elk. This summer, camped high on the SE shoulder of Gilbert Peak, we had trouble sleeping for all the elk barking, bugling and busting through the brush near our tent. Mountain goats are also plentiful on the crags and rocky buttresses of the Wilderness Area.
Old Snowy is a relatively easy, hike-up summit toward the north end of the Goat Rocks chain. From its popular 7,950-foot summit, hikers enjoy a wonderful view of Mount Rainier to the northwest and Mount Adams to the south, Washington’s two tallest and most massive peaks. Mount Curtis Gilbert at the south end of the Goat Rocks ridge is a more remote and challenging climb, best done with a safety rope.
As with all designated Wilderness Areas, motorized vehicles are forbidden. The Conrad Meadows trailhead SE of Gilbert Peak is especially popular with horseback riders. If the sound of rifles echoing off the cliffs is disturbing to you, avoid hiking on the east side of the Goat Rocks during hunting season.
From Portland, the trailheads into the Goat Rocks Wilderness are about three to four hours away, depending on whether you choose to go in the west, north or east sides. The most direct way is to drive I-5 north to Exit 68 and turn east on Highway 12 through Morton and Randle to Packwood. Enjoy!