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Old Snowy Mountain - Elk Pass

South Cascades


South Cascades
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17.0 miles, roundtrip


Gain: 3100 ft.
Highest Point: 7800 ft.


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Parking Pass/Entry Fee

Northwest Forest Pass

Climb through incredible high-mountain meadows, then scramble up a rocky peak to amazing three-volcano panoramas, and along a stark knife-edge ridge to a divide between the Packwood Lake basin and the Tieton River valley.

Starting at the Snowgrass Flats trailhead (96), and walk four forested miles of gentle uphill to the intersection with trail 97 that goes west to the PCT and Cispus basin. Go straight at this intersection and shortly break out into the heather, wildflower bogs and pygmy forest of Snowgrass Flats.

Now climbing in earnest, continue past the junction to trail 86 (Goat Lake) and join the PCT at approx 4.7 miles from the trailhead. Views of Mount Adams to the south and the Goat Rocks massif to the east are stunning. Ascend successive benches, looking for side trails all along the way to lovely view camps hidden in small clumps of trees. Also look for rock formations that look like ancient medieval fortifications, well guarded by marmots. The way gets more and more rocky, with some snow patches to cross (no ice axes required) until finally you break into views of Mount Rainier to the northwest and Goat Lake just west. Soon you will come to an unmarked junction where the way goes right, through the boulders up to Old Snowy, or left clinging to the precipice toward Elk Pass.

First go right, with the hordes, switchbacking steeply for about a half mile to a point where poles and gear can be stashed for a final scramble to the top of Old Snowy. A bit of hand-climbing required but nothing highly technical - just watch for rocks kicked loose by the people climbing just above. At the top there is room to sit for a snack and take pictures of the amazing panorama encompassing the McCall, Conrad and Meade Glaciers around Ives and Gilbert Peaks, down along the spine of the Goat Rocks toward Mount Adams, southwest to St Helens, west to Goat Lake and Packwood Lake, north along the bare rocky ridges, and northeast through the forested valleys past McCall Basin and on to White Pass.

Back down Snowy to the PCT junction, head due north. The trail is scraped into the precipice but still fairly secure; just don't take any chances with passing horsepackers or bad weather. Some times of year may have to cross a steep snowfield so be sure to wait for a bit of melting in the morning to get a secure purchase. Hiking poles provide some very welcome added security along the way. Then the trail becomes a queasy but wonderful ramble up, down and around a knife edge ridge up to the top of one rocky knob and down the other side, around and up another and down, over and over again with blustery wind and amazing views to distract.

The 7000 foot high point of the PCT in Washington is reached along here. Finally the trail descends to a saddle at Elk pass at 6700 feet, approx 8.5 miles from the Snowgrass Flats trailhead. From here, trail 2000 heads downhill to the east toward White Pass, while trail 79 heads on and down along the next ridge toward Packwood Saddle and a number of other trail options.


Old Snowy Mountain - Elk Pass

Map & Directions

Co-ordinates: 46.4577, -121.5060 Open map in new window


South Cascades

Snowgrass Flats (#96), Pacific Crest Trail (#2000)

Gifford Pinchot National Forest, Cowlitz Valley Ranger District

See weather forecast

Guidebooks & Maps

Day Hiking: South Cascades (Nelson - Mountaineers Books

Green Trails Blue Lake No. 334

Green Trails White Pass No. 303

Green Trails Walupt Lake No. 335

Buy the Green Trails Blue Lake No. 334 map

Buy the Green Trails Goat Rocks-William O Wilderness No. 303S map

Buy the Green Trails White Pass No. 303 map

Buy the Green Trails Walupt Lake No. 335 map

Getting There

From Packwood drive 2.5 miles east on Highway 12 to Johnson Creek (Road 21). Go east for approximately 15.5 miles to a junction with road 2150, signed "Chambers Lake". Follow the signs approximately another two miles to the Snowgrass Flats trailhead (NOT the Berry Patch trailhead which goes toward Goat Ridge and Goat Lake).

Parking Pass/Entry Fee

Northwest Forest Pass

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Old Snowy Mountain - Elk Pass

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