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Thursday, February 22, 2024
Feb. 22, 2024

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Spectacular Silver Star: Recreation planners foresee area as next big zone for increased hiking and camping access

By , Columbian staff writer
7 Photos
Pyramid Rock rises alongside the Grouse Vista Trail.
Pyramid Rock rises alongside the Grouse Vista Trail. (Scott Hewitt/The Columbian) Photo Gallery

SILVER STAR MOUNTAIN — On a June day when it was 90-plus degrees in Vancouver, snow still coated some upper reaches of the steep Grouse Vista Trail to Silver Star Mountain.

It’s likely to be gone by the time you read this. But summiting Silver Star remains a challenge that’s a bit daunting yet supremely rewarding for hikers who may be more used to the Columbia River Gorge’s generally tamer roadways and well-worn trails.

Recreation planners see Silver Star as the next big zone for increased hiking and camping access. At the same time, they want to protect natural and cultural resources from being overrun.

Major traffic — foot or motor — isn’t usually a problem now at Silver Star, about an hour’s drive from downtown Vancouver. To reach the Grouse Vista Trail, take Northeast 139th Street east from Hockinson, keep going as the same road becomes Rawson, then Road 1400. Take a sharp left on Road 1000, which passes the Larch Corrections Center.

That’s where the pavement ends. Calling the rest of the unpaved roadway “gravel” is paying it an unearned compliment, because it’s really closer to “rubble.” While plenty passable, the going gets bumpy — especially if your car doesn’t have much clearance — as you pass the Yacolt Burn trailhead and turn right on Road 1200, driving upward toward the Grouse Vista trailhead.

The trail, an old jeep road opposite the pull-out parking area on Road 1200, is much the same: a rubbly, jagged ascent that makes for complicated walking. Trekking poles are an excellent idea for balance.

The Grouse Vista Trail to the Silver Star summit is 6.2 miles round-trip, with 2,000 feet of elevation gain. It climbs past a connection with the Tarbell Trail and keeps heading upward.

There’s no big profusion of wildflowers here, but you’ll notice a few patches, especially when the trail levels off and transforms into a tight green corridor of trees and shrubs. Intermittent views eventually give way to a huge vista to the north and west as the trail meanders below the dramatic ridge of Pyramid Rock.

The rounded peak of Silver Star Mountain is directly ahead of you, and the stark rectangle of Sturgeon Rock is a little to the left. Behind you, denuded sections of forest are the unmistakable evidence of industrial-scale logging in vast Rock Creek Valley.

A short spur trail here leads up to a saddle trail along the Pyramid Rock ridge. A steep but quick scramble to the south provides lesser-known, still-terrific views of Pyramid Rock, the Silver Star ridge, the Bluff Mountain trail — and far in the distance, layer after layer of mountain ridges with Mount Hood reigning over all.

This wide-open section of trail promises that you’re nearing the peak. But first there’s more steep climbing up a rubbly trail (and, perhaps, banks of snow). A final stretch of open meadow congratulates you with colorful summer wildflowers and, straight ahead, the incredibly scenic ridge that leads to the rocky, rounded summit.

You’ll probably share that summit with other hikers. Thanks to the Eagle Creek Fire that closed big portions of the Columbia River Gorge in 2017, day hikers and backpackers seem to have discovered Silver Star in a big way in recent years. The Grouse Vista Trail is the easiest way to reach it from Vancouver.

More in This Series

Pyramid Rock rises alongside the Grouse Vista Trail.
Spectacular Silver Star: Recreation planners foresee area as next big zone for increased hiking and camping access
On a June day when it was 90-plus degrees in Vancouver, snow still coated some upper reaches of the steep Grouse…

Another way is the 5-mile Silver Star Trail/Ed’s Trail loop, which approaches the peak from the opposite direction, coming down from the north. More wide-open and dramatically scenic than the Grouse Vista Trail, the Silver Star Trail is a great choice for anybody who’s got a really rugged off-road vehicle, given that access is via increasingly difficult Roads 1100 (rubble) and 4109 (deep ruts and big boulders, nearly impassible).

The 360-degree view from the comfortable summit of Silver Star (where there’s a crumbing concrete observation platform) is one of the high-altitude wonders of the Pacific Northwest. Up here, at nearly 4,400 feet elevation, when the weather is clear, you can see five different mountain peaks: Rainier, Adams, St. Helens, Hood and Jefferson.

Work schedule

The Silver Star Vision Plan is a long-term framework for future improvements and maintenance at Silver Star, but plenty of maintenance work is going on there now, according to Ryan Ojerio of the Washington Trails Association.

Here are highlights:

  • June 8-10: WTA and Chinook Trail Association work party on Ed’s Trail.
  • June 15-16: WTA work parties at on the Grouse Vista and Tarbell Trails.
  • June 17: WTA work party on Pyramid Rock Trail.
  • June 24: On Washington Trails Day, WTA Trailhead Ambassadors greeted visitors at the Grouse Vista Trailhead.
  • July 15: Friends of Road 4109 road maintenance volunteer work party.
  • Later this summer: Chinook Trail Association to repair off-road barriers that prevent incursions into sensitive meadows and cultural resources near the Silver Star trailhead; WTA and Mount St. Helens Institute volunteers to survey trail for maintenance and sign replacement.