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High Lakes Ramble

South Cascades


South Cascades -- Mount Adams Area
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6.4 miles, roundtrip


Gain: 1350 ft.
Highest Point: 4370 ft.


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Parking Pass/Entry Fee

Northwest Forest Pass

The High Lakes Ramble connects Chain of Lakes to Horseshoe Lake along a rough and tumble, multi-use trail. This corner of the Gifford Pinchot National Forest draws hikers, dirt bikers, and horseback riders alike. The trail offers views along the lake shores, including Mount Adams, and dips into the shaded canyon of Adams Creek about halfway between the lakes.

From Chain of Lakes trailhead, proceed north along the grassy meadow between smaller ponds that comprise the Chain of Lakes. Soon the meadow ends and the trail enters mixed conifers with a final lake visible through the trees on the right. At this point the trail begins its 800-foot drop into the canyon of Adams Creek.

Peekaboo views open up once again as the trail switchbacks down into shady forest. This portion of trail suffers from overuse by dirt bikes, with the tread beaten down to a dusty trench in some places. The long plateau along the Pacific Crest can be seen to the east, running from Mount Adams toward the Goat Rocks.

The trail makes a final switchback, now in deep forest, and moves along a mossy ravine until reaching the nose of an ancient lava flow. A wide view opens up here, revealing a flow of chunky, broken igneous rocks topped with firs and pines. The distant high country appears strikingly blue above the autumn blaze of vine maples.

Soon after the trail finally reaches its bottom at Adams Creek, 1.7 miles from Chain of Lakes. Borne on the ice of a 12,000-foot volcano, Adams Creek is swift and cold, even in late summer. A makeshift bridge of downed limbs may allow easy passage across the torrent. However, fording may be necessary, if at all possible. Know your ability and play it safe.

Once across the creek the trail skirts the east bank, a potential rest spot, before climbing deliberately toward Horseshoe Lake. The forest here is notably more open with a sparse understory for most of the climb. At 2.5 miles the trail meets alder-covered Killen Creek, which is easiest to cross in late summer when lower water levels reveal a rocky stream bed.

After another half mile of climbing the trail finally tops out near the shore of Horseshoe Lake. The views across the water look onto the entirety of Mount Adams, whose flanks rise high above the relatively flat surrounding plateau. The sound of voices and car doors from the campground only slightly disturb the tranquility of the scene.

Keep right at a junction with the trail to Green Mountain Lake and arrive at the Horseshoe Lake campground at 3.2 miles. This makes for a good alternative trailhead, as the campground has a vault toilet and well established campsites. Keep in mind the popularity of Horseshoe Lake attracts a lot of commotion on the weekends. Labor Day is notorious for large parties.


High Lakes Ramble

Map & Directions

Co-ordinates: 46.2930, -121.5960 Open map in new window


South Cascades -- Mount Adams Area

High Lakes Ramble (#116)

Gifford Pinchot National Forest, Cowlitz Valley Ranger District

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Getting There

From Trout Lake drive north on FR 23 for approximately 24 miles on good pavement, then turn right to stay on FR 23. Follow FR 23, now on gravel, for another 4.2 miles, then turn right onto FR 2329. Follow FR 2329, staying to the right, for 1.2 paved miles, then turn left onto the gravel Chain of Lakes Road. Parking space for a dozen vehicles. Several campsites are available but the campground is primitive, with no potable water or bathroom.

Parking Pass/Entry Fee

Northwest Forest Pass

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High Lakes Ramble

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