Is a wilderness area to vast and far to enjoy? Is it there only for the extreme explorer? Fortunately a congressionally designated wilderness area can be either magnificently vast and extreme and sometimes easily accessible and breath-taking. Within just minutes of my home here in the Columbia River Gorge, we have multiple designated Wilderness areas. A personal favorite of mine is the Mt. Adams Wilderness Area. You’ll find it on the flanks of Mt. Adams which is just north of the small town of Trout Lake, Washington and the larger Hood River, Oregon.

Looking for a great day hike that will get you into the alpine setting of the wilderness? Then keep reading on because this moderate hike will expose you to many natural elements all from a USFS trail.

Our day hike started at the Stagman Ridge Trail Head in the Gifford Pinchot National Forest. The nearest town is Trout Lake, Washington. The drive itself is super simple with some gravel suitable for even a family sedan. I don’t know that I’d want to drive something with low clearance, but you don’t need high clearance to make the drive. We found there was ample signage to show us the way to the trail-head. We used our phone GPS with the On-X mapping app which not only showed us the way, but it also tracked our path for the drive. We used the same app for the hike itself. The trail-head is very well marked and complete with a self registration box for hiking in the wilderness area.

This particular hike was part of our warm up for seeing the beauty of next week’s climb to the summit of Mt. Adams. We were pretty excited to explore the tree-line area of the mountain that we would be looking down on while we hiked the summit. We were not disappointed. For this days hike we would travel up Stagman Ridge, connect to the famed Pacific Crest Trail, which then connects with the Round The Mountain Trail and then take the dead end trail to Looking Glass Lake. The total one-way milage for this trek is 6 miles and only gains about 1,200 feet in elevation.

The views on this hike are so remarkable. The photos don’t do the actual view justice. We walked along huckleberry patches and through the lush green re-birth of the forest floor the results of a major forest fire from about 10 years ago. Snow melt creeks were plentiful and we even found one spectacular waterfall sliding over a large rock cliff. At every turn I expected to see mountain goats as their tracks were prevalent. Alpine meadows greeted us as we traversed the fairly flat Round the Mountain trail. Hiking into Looking Glass lake is worth every step. Eat lunch here! Its not just the views that make this hike magnificent. All of your senses will absorb the elements of this wilderness hike. Take time to touch the rock formations, listen carefully for the multitude of natural sounds. You can almost taste the freshness of the outdoors. Don’t be in a hurry. There is much to take in and sitting still is one of the best ways to do so.

As with all fun adventures please go prepared. Let people know where you are going and what time you plan to return. Key items that I always travel with are a backpack with water, lots of snacks, my GPS mapping system, a whistle along with a few emergency items such as matches, emergency blanket and a small first aid kit. Then, always check the weather forecast so you can dress appropriately. While we did not use any bug repellent on our trek it seems like it would be a good idea because of the amount of water.

The wilderness is nearer than you might suppose, and with a little planning, you can find ways to access it even on a short day hike.

Location and other information can be found on the USFS website.

As always, never hesitate to hit me up with any and all questions about fun things to do in the Columbia River Gorge.

Older male guide and company owner, Mark, holding his raft paddle and smiling.
Mark Zoller has been guiding whitewater rafting trips on the White Salmon and Klickitat Rivers since 1985. He lives in and loves the Columbia River Gorge