Gifford Pinchot National Forest is a 1.32 million-acre national forest in western Washington that runs from Mount Rainier National Park in the north, to the Columbia River in the south. It encompasses a number of different ecosystems, including dense old-growth forests, volcanic peaks, glaciers, and high mountain meadows. Over 100 lakes dot the forest and 1,360 miles of running water traverse this wilderness, making it an angler's delight. The diverse ecosystems of this forest provide a home for many different types of wildlife, including threatened species such as the spotted owl and the bull trout.
Miles of hiking and biking trails help anyone from novice hikers to experienced adventurers explore the landscape. Several interpretive trails give visitors information about the history, geology, and ecology of the area. In the late summer and early fall, wild huckleberries and edible mushrooms can be harvested throughout the wilderness. Be sure to acquire a free-use permit before harvesting and be certain of the identity of your mushrooms as poisonous mushrooms also grow here.
While we have highlighted a few of the larger campgrounds, there are actually more than two dozen primitive campsites that dot the landscape. You'll also find several privately held RV parks and private campgrounds just a short distance from the forest. Leashed pets are welcome to accompany their families in most areas of the national forest, but they are not allowed on designated swimming beaches.
Gifford Pinchot National Forest is located in the western portion of Washington State, a little over 100 miles southeast of Seattle. Several highways lead to this massive national park in the mountains. The roads that lead here are well-maintained, paved mountain roads that wind through the mountain ranges, and often pass by breathtaking views.
Most of the roads have a number of twists and turns that require a great deal of attention when driving a big rig or towing a trailer. Fortunately, most of these roads have a number of turn-outs and rest stops that allow drivers a chance to take in the beautiful surroundings. The highways and major roads are much the same in the park itself, but the smaller branched off roads are much narrower, with fewer turnouts and not much of a shoulder.
There are several wildlife preserves within the forest as well, and drivers should be aware of the possibility of animals in the road when driving here. The roads in the larger campgrounds are mostly paved, although a few of the smaller campgrounds have dirt and gravel roads instead. If you are driving a bigger vehicle, make sure that the campground you choose has accommodations for your vehicle, as many campgrounds in this forest are only able to accommodate smaller RVs.
The Iron Creek Campground is situated in the northwestern portion of Gifford Pinchot National Forest, approximately ten miles south of the nearest small town, Randle, WA. It is made up of 80 single-sized campsites that are suitable for RVs and trailers up to 40 feet in length. There are also 18 double-sized sites that can accommodate up to two 40-foot RVs or trailers each. The sites are very spacious and are surrounded by old-growth cedars, Douglas firs, and hemlock trees, giving them a sense of privacy.
While the sites do not come equipped with hookups for electricity, water, or sewer, each of them has nice paved parking spots, a campfire ring, and a picnic table. Generators are allowed during daytime hours. There are faucets with potable water scattered throughout the campgrounds and several vault toilets that are extremely well-maintained. The campground is open from May to September. You dog is welcome to camp with you.
La Wis Wis Campground is located toward the northern edge of Gifford Pinchot National Forest, just a few miles south of the border of Mt. Rainier National Forest and less than ten miles north of the nearest town, Packwood, WA. The campgrounds are comprised of 122 campsites, 76 of which are capable of accommodating RVs or trailers. While all of the sites are spacious and fairly private, the asphalt pads are variable in size, ranging from 18 feet to 40 feet in length, so it is important to check the details on your reservation.
La Wis Wis is a popular campground due to its central location, so you may want to make your reservation well in advance, particularly if you are looking to park a larger vehicle or if you plan on staying on a weekend. The sites do not come equipped with electrical, water, or sewer hookups, but each of them has a campfire ring and a picnic table. Generators with approved spark arresters are allowed during the daytime hours. The campground is open from May to September, and pets are welcome.
The Peterson Prairie Campground sits in the southern portion of Gifford Pinchot National Forest just a few miles from its eastern edge. The closest town is the tiny community of Trout Lake, WA, right around eight miles east of the campground. There are 30 campsites available for registration during the summer months that can accommodate rigs up to 32 feet long. While hookups for electricity, water, and sewer are not provided, the campsites are spacious, well-maintained, and come equipped with campfire rings, hibachi-style grills, and picnic tables.
Generators are allowed during the daytime as long as they are equipped with approved spark arresters. Vault toilets and potable water are available throughout the summer, but not in the winter months when the campground is technically closed. This campground is very close to a number of volcanic features, including both the Natural Bridges, which were formed by collapsing lava tubes, and the Guler Ice Cave, a spectacular lava tube cave that stays cold enough to remain icy through May and sometimes even into June. It is also a favorite site for campers who are also foraging for wild huckleberries, as many huckleberry bushes grow within close proximity to the campground. Pets are welcome.
Make sure you pack your rod and reel in your campervan if you are visiting Gifford Pinchot National Forest. Over 100 lakes and 1,360 miles of streams traverse this 1.32-million-acre forest, and in these wild waters live more than 20 species of sport fish. Several varieties of salmon, char, and trout swim navigate these bodies of water, including a population bull trout, a threatened species. Some of the native populations of these fish, such as rainbow trout, are supplemented with an influx of stocked fish from nearby hatcheries.
Don’t limit yourself to the larger rivers when choosing a spot to cast your line in this forest, as smaller streams and creeks often yield good-sized fish. The Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife provides anglers not only with rules and regulations for fishing in Gifford Pinchot National Forest, but also with tips for fishing at its rivers, lakes, and streams.
The eruption of the volcano that created the crater that Wapiki Lake now occupies occurred somewhere about 20,000 years ago. The lava flows caused the formation of numerous tubular caves with multiple exits and entrances. The Guler Ice Cave, a spectacular 650-foot long lava tube that serves as one of the forest's many attractions, is located near the eastern edge of Gifford Pinchot National Forest.
Huge stalagmites and stalactites made of ice that persist until early summer. You will want to want to pack a pair of warm shoes with good traction, a helmet and headlamp, and a light jacket in your motorhome before exploring the cave. Navigating the entire cave is not for the faint of heart as it requires crawling and squeezing through tight spaces.
Many visitors to Gifford Pinchot National Forest enjoy foraging for huckleberries and mushrooms. A free-use permit is required to harvest any edible plants in this national forest. This permit allows holders to gather many different renewable resources, from harvesting edibles like berries and mushrooms to collecting transplants or cuttings to use in your own landscaping.
Huckleberries are abundant in many areas of the forest and are typically ready for harvest starting in mid-August. There are many types of edible mushrooms that grow in this forest including morel mushrooms, yellow chanterelles, and the sought after matsutakes. However, are also several types of poisonous mushrooms in the area, so use caution when harvesting and eating mushrooms.
Gifford Pinchot National Forest straddles the crest of the Cascades in Washington state and includes a portion of the Pacific Ring of Fire. There are a number of well-known volcanoes located in this forest including active volcanoes such as Mt. St. Helens, notorious for its eruption on May 18, 1980, and dormant volcanoes like Mount Adams, the second-highest peak in the state. A number of extinct volcanoes dot the landscape as well, such as the Lone Butte, a distinctive, flat-topped volcano. Many of the volcanoes have interpretive sites that discuss their history, as well as a selection of scenic hiking and biking trails.
Visitors to Gifford Pinchot National Forest will want to ensure that their cameras are in their trailers, especially if they enjoy taking pictures of wild animals in their natural habitats. Commonly seen animals include deer, elk, mountain goats, coyotes, and raccoons, as well as a variety of squirrels and rabbits. Some animals, such as bobcats, cougars, and fox, also have healthy populations in this forest but are often harder to spot.
This forest also provides a home to many different varieties of birds, reptiles, and amphibians. Ducks and geese swim in the lakes and ponds, tiny frogs and sandpipers are active along the shorelines, and Virginia rails and marsh wrens flit among the cattails with the dragonflies. Many songbirds populate the area as well including mountain bluebirds, vireos, red-breasted sapsuckers, and an assortment of warblers. If you are patient and lucky you might even capture an image of a northern spotted owl, a species declared as threatened in 2012.
Miles of backwoods trails criss-cross the mountains, forests, and wilderness areas that make up Gifford Pinchot National Forest. There are scenic and educational hiking and biking trails suitable for short adventures to full-day treks that are available for any skill level. The Woods Creek Watchable Wildlife Trail is an easy 1.5-mile interpretive trail that wanders past several active beaver ponds in the old-growth forest. The 2.5-mile June Lake Trail, which ends at an impressive waterfall, is another easy to hike, suitable for novices and families with children.
Those looking for a longer hike may enjoy the Lewis River Falls Trail, a seven-mile loop which features three spectacular waterfalls. Other trails, such the Mount Saint Helens Summit Trail, an 8.2-mile trail that leads to the top of Mount Saint Helens, are great challenges for even experienced adventurers.