Wildflowers aplenty: Grassy Knoll trail

By Allen Thomas, Columbian outdoors reporter

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CARSON — It's called Grassy Knoll, but at this time of year the name is a misnomer. Floral Knob or Wildflower Crest would be more appropriate.

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Grassy Knoll trail

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Paintbrush, penstemon, phlox, balsamroot, lupine, columbine...the list of colorful, showy flower varieties at Grassy Knoll in the southern Gifford Pinchot National Forest goes on and on.

It's a great time to hike to Grassy Knoll, given its flower display at a time when the high-elevation flowers and meadows remain buried under snow.

Ten days ago, Kent Meyer of Vancouver lead a Mazamas Club group up to Grassy Knoll.

"The group agreed with the flowers out, it rates an 8 or above,'' Meyer said. "Without the flowers, it's a 5 or 6.''

While the balsamroot, with its yellow blossoms, is fading, the paintbrush (red) and lupine (purple) should soon be approaching their peak.

"I think there's going to be flowers there for quite a while,'' said Meyer, author of a 2005 hiking guide to the Gifford Pinchot National Forest. He has hiked Grassy Knoll trail No. 146 an estimated half dozen times.

Fifty years ago, today's Grassy Knoll trail was a segment of the Pacific Crest National Scenic Trail. Meyer said he spotted a PCT marker embedded in a tree during one of his earlier trips up the trail.

A Gifford Pinchot National Forest map from 1963 shows Grassy Knoll as the site of a permanent lookout station.

Remnants of the former fire lookout remain atop Grassy Knoll, 2.13 miles from the trailhead.

The Forest Service built a lookout on nearby Big Huckleberry Mountain in the 1920s and on Grassy Knoll in 1934.

The Oregonian on June 13, 1953 reported Grassy Knoll lookout had been demolished by high winds in the previous winter and that 15,000 pounds of prefabricated building materials were being assembled in 125-pound bundles to be dropped in by airplane.

The newspaper quoted Frank Ritter, Pinchot fire control supervisor, as saying the only way to rebuild the station for fire season was to fly in the pieces.

The flights originated at Troutdale Airport. Even sand, gravel and cement were dropped.

Twenty-foot timbers were toted in by pack mules, with the animals then used to bring back the parachutes.

But it's the flowers that make Grassy Knoll special.

"The large opening at Grassy Knoll is one of the Northwest's finest wildflower gardens in June and July,'' according to Russ Jolley in his 1976 book "Hiking the Gifford Pinchot Back Country.''

Driving instructions: From the stoplight in Carson, follow the Wind River Highway for 3.2 miles to Bear Creek Road. Turn right. In 3.8 miles, the road becomes Gifford Pinchot National Forest road No. 6808. Follow road No. 6808 for another 7.4 miles to Triangle Pass. Go left on to road No. 68 for 2.2 miles to the trailhead. No parking pass is needed.

Location Mileage Elevation

Trailhead 0.0 2,838

Lava Beds viewpoint 1.06 3,810

Grassy Knoll lookout site 2.13 3,642

Trail reenters trees 3.44 3,822

Hiking notes: Trail No. 146 climbs steeply for the first mile to a several rocky outcrops with views of the Big Lava Bed below and Mount Adams on the eastern horizon. The path then drops before climbing to the former lookout site atop Grassy Knoll. While this can be a logical turnaround spot, trail No. 146 continues for another 1.3 miles through open hillsides studded with wildflowers and views of Mount Hood, Mount Adams, Mount Defiance and other lesser peaks. At 3.44 miles, the trail enters the trees again. It will soon pass Cold Springs before ending at the junction with the Pacific Crest National Scenic Trail.