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Sunday, February 25, 2024
Feb. 25, 2024

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Get to know Indian Heaven with hike on Lemei Lake trail

Meadows, lakes, huckleberries along 10-mile loop

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Rush Creek begins on the slopes of Lemei Rock, then flows into Lemei Lake, shown here, before leaving the lake at the other end and flowing in the North Fork of the Lewis River.
Rush Creek begins on the slopes of Lemei Rock, then flows into Lemei Lake, shown here, before leaving the lake at the other end and flowing in the North Fork of the Lewis River. (Allen Thomas for The Columbian) Photo Gallery

CARSON — The huckleberry bushes so profuse in Indian Heaven Wilderness are just starting their autumn transformation in a hundred hues of purple, yellow, orange and maroon.

Which makes it a great time to hike in the 20,784-acre gentle plateau straddling the crest of the Cascade Mountains in the southern Gifford Pinchot National Forest.

The wildflowers are mostly gone, but so the are unrelenting swarms of summer mosquitoes that come with a place with 150 lakes.

“September, there’s no better season,’’ said Greg Lewis of Portland, taking a break last week along the shore of Lemei Lake. “It’s very beautiful here this time of year.’’

A week earlier, Lewis hiked through the Mount Margaret backcountry north of Mount St. Helens.

But hiking in Indian Heaven feels like home, he said.

“I came here with Scout troops, with my dad,’’ Lewis said. “It’s wonderful to get back in touch with the meadows and lakes.’’

Hikers only have to gain about 700 feet in elevation from most of the Indian Heaven Wilderness trailheads to reach the Pacific Crest National Scenic Trail, which bisects the wilderness.

“It’s accessible, it’s beautiful, it’s a great place to bring people new to backpacking,’’ Lewis said.

A fine introductory hike in Indian Heaven is available via East Crater trailhead visiting several of the lakes and meadows synonymous with the area.

The 10-mile semi-loop includes East Crater trail No. 48, Pacific Crest National Scenic Trail No. 2000, Indian Heaven trail No. 33 and Lemei Lake trail No. 179.

The route begins at East Crater trailhead on GPNF road No. 6035 and gently climbs 2.5 miles and about 600 feet elevation to the Pacific Crest trail.

The tarns (shallow lakelets on their way to becoming meadows) begin about half way up East Crater trail and at 1.5 miles the trail skirts the edge of the East Crater wildfire of 2017.

Indian Heaven Wilderness was closed for a couple of weeks in September 2017 as crews battled the fire, which burned almost 500 acres.

Once at the junction of East Crater trail No. 48 and the Crest trail, hike north for 2 miles to the junction of the Crest trail and Indian Heaven trail No. 33. Almost immediately on this northbound leg of the loop you will pass Lemei Lake trail No. 179. Stay on the Crest trail, you’ll return to this junction again on your way out.

At the junction of the Crest trail and Indian Heaven trail No. 33, turn right and climb briefly past a large talus slope and Clear Lake to the junction with Lemei Lake trail No. 179 in a half mile.

Now, the best part of the trip begins.

The 2.4 miles of Lemei Lake trail are a delight. There’s a large meadow, then the crossing of Rush Creek at its entrance to Lemei Lake, then a tiny climb to another series of mid-size meadows before dropping to Junction Lake.

At Junction Lake, you are back on the Crest trail heading south ever so briefly before the left turn and 2.5 miles back to East Crater trailhead.

Lewis rated the loop “an eight or nine’’ on a scale of 10, admitting his bias for Indian Heaven.

“So much of where we hike is changing, especially with wildfires,’’ he said. “But this place feels like coming home. It feels comfortable.’’

How to get there

From the Carson junction on state Highway 14, go north for five miles to the north junction with Old State Road, turn right, then left almost immediately on to Panther Creek road, which becomes Gifford Pinchot road No. 65. Follow road No. 65 to the junction with Carson-Guler road No. 60 at Four Corners. Turn right and head east on road No. 60 to Goose Lake campground. Go for two miles beyond Goose Lake, then turn left on road No. 6030. In only 0.1 mile, go straight on road No. 6035 and follow it 4.2 miles to East Crater trailhead.

Location Mileage Elevation

East Crater trailhead 0.0 4,135

Burned area 1.5 4,709

junction E. Crater/Pacific Crest trails 2.5 4,813

junction PCT-Indian Heaven trails 4.5 4,950

jct Indian Heaven-Lemei Lk trails 5.0 5,061

jct Lemei Lake trail-PCT 7.3 4,784

East Crater trailhead 10.1 4,135

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