COUGAR — The calendar says it’s almost summer. The lingering snow in the Gifford Pinchot National Forest argues it’s barely spring.
More than 90 inches of snow remains at June Lake, a mid-elevation spot at 3,440 feet on the south side of Mount St. Helens. That’s almost 8 feet.
There’s roughly the same amount of snow at Surprise Lakes, elevation 4,290 feet near Indian Heaven Wilderness. Two years ago today, the lakes were snowfree and trilliums were blooming.
The unofficial start of summer — Memorial Day weekend — is here, but the best of the backcountry in Southwest Washington is many weeks away from access as a snowy winter and cool spring release their grip grudgingly.
Several campgrounds in the 1.3-million-acre national forest are open.
“I’ve had 10 to 15 people ask today about site availability next weekend,’’ said Ron Davis, host at Paradise Creek campground in the upper Wind River area, on Sunday.
There was only one campground site occupied that afternoon at Paradise Creek, but campers will be streaming in beginning today, said Davis.
Backcountry visitors are going to find their choice of attractions to visit in the Gifford Pinchot somewhat limited due to the low snow level. Most locations above 3,000 feet are not accessible on the southern end of the forest.
Here’s a look, by area, of what’s open this weekend
Mount St. Helens — Road No. 83 leading to Lahar and Lava Canyon remains gated shut at Marble Mountain Sno-Park. Portions of road No. 83 are bare, but much of it is under a foot or two of hard-pack snow.
Road No. 81 heading toward Redrock Pass from Cougar Sno-Park is open for about a mile, then blocked at the snow line.
Lewis River road No. 90 near Crab Creek bridge has been repaired. However, owners of large RVs and trailers might want to try somewhere else. Road No. 90 is open beyond the trailhead for Quartz Creek trail No. 5.
That means Lower Falls Recreation Area and popular Lewis River trail No. 31 are accessible.
Pine Creek Information Center is open for summer. Lewis River Horse Camp is open.
Road No. 54 is blocked at the junction with road No. 57. Siouxon trail No. 130 is open, but Canyon Creek campground will not be accessible from the west this summer. Sunset Falls campground is open.
Ape Cave is open. Coldwater Lake and Johnston Ridge Observatory also are open.
Lakes trail No. 211 is blocked by snow not far beyond the end of the Coldwater Lakes.
Wind River — Road No. 30 is open as far north as Lone Butte Sno-Park, then blocked by snow. Eastbound vehicles can get within about a mile of Crest camp on road No. 60 before being stopped by snow.
Road No. 65 is free of snow north of Four Corners, but not as far as Falls Creek Horse Camp.
Government Mineral Springs, Beaver, Paradise Creek and Panther Creek campgrounds are open.
Whistle Punk trail No. 59 and Bunker Hill No. 145 are open.
Road No. 4109 to the trailhead on the north side of Silver Star Mountain is recommended only for high-clearance vehicles.
The lower ends of the Trapper Creek Wilderness trails are open, but hikers will find snow around 3,000 feet elevation. Panther Creek Falls viewpoint is accessible. Falls Creek Falls trail No. 152A is open.
Mount Adams — Oklahoma, Moss Creek and Trout Lake Creek campgrounds are open. Access to Goose Lake is blocked by snow.
Road No. 24 is free of snow only to about the Natural Bridges turnoff, a bit east of Peterson Prairie campground. Road No. 66 is open to within a quarter-mile of South Prairie. Road No. 23 heading toward Randle is open for about eight miles north of Trout Lake.
Road No. 82 is open a few miles beyond Smith Butte Sno-Park.
Road No. 8040 is open within four miles of Cold Springs trailhead.
Cowlitz Valley — Iron Creek, La Wis Wis, Big Creek, North Fork and Tower Rock campgrounds are open. Blue Lake Creek campground will be closed this summer due to flood damage.