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High Rock

South Cascades


South Cascades -- White Pass/Cowlitz River Valley
View map below


3.2 miles, roundtrip


Gain: 1365 ft.
Highest Point: 5685 ft.


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Parking Pass/Entry Fee


Topping out at 5,685 feet, High Rock is dramatically higher than its surroundings. On a clear day, the exposed summit provides outstanding views all around and down. The trail is moderately steep but short, following Sawtooth Ridge 1.6 miles to the summit, where a fire lookout cabin clings to the top.

Bring water, as there is none along the trail, and no amenities whatsoever at the trailhead. After parking, a look around Towhead Gap will reveal two battered trailhead signs, on opposite sides of the road. You want the one on the northwest side, where the road first widens to form the parking area. The sign may still be legible: “High Rock Lookout Trail 266.” Immediately to the right is what looks like an wider trail heading up. Ignore it; it narrows into an eroding boot path that connects with the main trail in a tenth of a mile.

The main trail starts out somewhat narrow, and lined with vegetation. After connecting with the boot path, it follows the ridgeline up, entering a forest of young fir and hemlock that provides shade for most of the climb. The trail is adequately wide the rest of the way. Huckleberries are plentiful along the lower part. Bear grass, trilliums, and penstemon are less common.

The ascent is moderately steep and has few switchbacks, climbing steadily to the north-northwest just below or along the crest of Sawtooth Ridge. The tread is good, with few roots or rocks to contend with. At 0.7 and 0.9 miles are wooden benches, offering a convenient place to rest. From here on, the trail steepens, as trailside vegetation thins in favor of larger trees.

At 1.3 miles, the trail tops the ridgeline at a rock outcropping and viewpoint. A steep drop-off prevents getting an easy view of the summit, but it is close. Continue up the west side of the ridge top, passing below the visible lookout cabin, to the northern edge of Sawtooth Ridge, where the sheerness of the northern face becomes apparent. Turn right for the final 200 yards, onto the large and flat sloped rock that the lookout building is fastened to. The cabin was built in 1929, but is no longer staffed. Building occupancy is prohibited due to the lack of lightning protection.

The United States Geological Survey classifies High Rock as a “pillar”, a “vertical, standing, often spire-shaped, natural rock formation”. The exposure on this pillar is worthy of caution; there are no longer any cables to protect you from a sheer vertical drop, as much as 600 feet on the north side. Enjoy the views from the rock or from the wraparound deck of the lookout cabin. Mount Rainier is to the northeast, as is Cora Lake, over 1800 feet below you. Admire the rocky cliffs to the west, or just gape at the treetops so far below.


High Rock

Map & Directions

Co-ordinates: 46.6664, -121.8914 Open map in new window


South Cascades -- White Pass/Cowlitz River Valley

High Rock (#266)

Gifford Pinchot National Forest, Cowlitz Valley Ranger District

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Guidebooks & Maps

Day Hiking: South Cascades (Nelson & Bauer - Mountaineers Books)

USGS Sawtooth Ridge

Buy the Green Trails Randle No. 301 map

Download a map to plan your hike

Getting There

From Elbe, about 40 miles south of Tacoma along State Route 7, follow SR-706 east for 10.1 miles. When you pass Ashford, it is approximately two more miles to your next turn, a right onto Kernahan Road.

Follow the road 1.4 miles. Here it curves to the left, and becomes Skate Creek Road, which you follow for 3.3 miles. Turn onto FR-84, a smooth dirt road. Note that the sign for FR-84 is not visible when approaching the trailhead this way. After turning onto FR-84, continue on for 6.5 miles. Stay right when it forks. You are now on Road 8440. 2.6 miles along 8440, the road levels off and gets broad enough to park a dozen or more vehicles. This is Towhead Gap. Park here, at elevation 4320 feet. No pass is required. High Rock and the cabin are visible from the east side of the parking area.

It is possible to drive up to Towhead Gap from the other side, using Road 85, but take caution! Road 85 is considerably worse than Road 84; a couple of the potholes on Road 85 large enough to cause trip-ending damage, even to a high-clearance vehicle.

Parking Pass/Entry Fee


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High Rock

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