Hike a short section of the Pacific Crest Trail in southwest Washington. It takes hikers through an experimental forest all the way up to a high point at Big Huckleberry Mountain (though the views aren't much from the top, you'll enjoy some peek-a-boos from the forest on the way up).
The Wind River Experimental Forest abuts the Panther Creek Division, hence this trail's unusual name. The role of experimental forests has changed a lot from the days when they were established to study logging and silvicultural practices. Today, the National Ecological Observatory Network, a nationwide research effort to investigate the impacts of climate change, land-use change, and invasive species ecology, is proposing to gather instrumental and observational data over 30 years in the Wind River Experimental Forest. The research will include soil, atmospheric, aquatic and terrestrial studies. Learn more about the forest here.
Beginning from the trailhead off Forest Road 68, hop on the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT) and head north. The trail climbs through a pair of switchbacks in the first half mile, then goes into a long, climbing traverse of the ridge. At about two miles, cross an open bald, then at 2.6 miles, pass a junction with the abandoned Cedar Creek Trail (a sign still marks it on the tree). After 3 miles of hiking, the PCT passes under rock outcrops covered with rock penstemon and climbs to another bald.
From this bald, on a clear day you may see the Columbia River Gorge in the distance. In the spring, you'd be rewarded by a host of wildflowers here.
It is another 1.1 miles to the junction with the Grassy Knoll trail and Big Huckleberry Mountain, but the summit does not offer any views -- trees long ago reclaimed this old fire lookout site, but peakbaggers may want to add the extra mileage. The summit trail is short (since the PCT goes by, but not over Big Huckleberry. If you go, look for the summit trail taking off to the right immediately past the junction with the Grassy Knoll Trail. It climbs about a quarter mile to the top.
WTA Pro Tip: It is possible to access this hike from the Panther Creek Campground if you are staying there. It adds 4.3 miles and 1900 feet of elevation gain to your approach to Big Huckleberry. The trail leaves from the back of campsite 28. Please respect campers if there is someone occupying the spot, and take the following alternate route to the PCT.
Return to Forest Road 65. Turn left from the campground entrance and follow the road about 200 yards. Find the PCT about 50 paces beyond the sign for the Panther Creek Horse Staging area on the left side of the road. Follow that down to the bridge crossing of Panther Creek.