Some of the most brilliant fall color I’ve ever seen is in the huckleberry-filled subalpine meadows of Indian Heaven Wilderness.
Located between Mount St. Helens and Mount Adams in the Gifford Pinchot National Forest, Indian Heaven Wilderness contains almost 21,000 acres. A high plateau with elevations from 4,500–5,500 feet, this area contains over 150 lakes and ponds scattered amongst the open forests and many subalpine meadows.
The huckleberries ripen in late August to late September, and their leaves begin to change color in mid to late September, peaking towards the end of the month and into early October.
A culturally important area for Native Americans, “Indian Heaven” was originally called "Sahalee Tyee,” which means “the chief’s high, heavenly ground.” For over 9,000 years, Northwest Tribes gathered here to pick huckleberries, fish the many lakes, hunt elk and deer, trade goods, and celebrate this area’s bounties. In the southern part of the wilderness, they raced horses frequently enough to create tracks that are still visible. In a rare handshake agreement in 1932 between the Forest Service and the Yakima Tribe, the Sawtooth Berry fields on the northeastern side of the wilderness area were reserved for local tribes.
The Pacific Crest Trail (PCT) crosses through the wilderness from north to south, for just over 16 miles. Eight other trails provide access to this area, and many of these intersect with the PCT.
Thomas Lake Trail #111: A popular trail on the western side of Indian Heaven that leads to numerous lakes, including Thomas, Dee, Heather, Brader, Naha, Rock, Umtux, Sahalee Tyee, and Blue Lake. The first three lakes are located just over half a mile on an easy grade from the trailhead. Climbing through dense forest, the trail then passes through open forest of hemlocks and firs lining the edges of the many meadows. The trail ends at Blue Lake and a junction with the Pacific Crest Trail.
Indian Heaven Trail #33: Starting at the Cultus Creek campground on the northeastern side of Indian Heaven, the first 1.5 miles of trail steeply climb up the side of Bird Mountain through thick Douglas fir forest. About one mile in, an opening in the ridge offers outstanding views of Mount Adams to the east, with Mount Rainier, Goat Rocks, and Sawtooth Mountain visible to the north. The trail levels out near the base of Bird Mountain and goes through several sections of pine forest and open meadow before reaching the splendid subalpine beauty of Cultus Lake. A short side trail just before this leads to Deep Lake. At the trail junction past Cultus Lake, turn left on the Lake Wapiki Trail and continue just over a mile through several open meadows with stands of noble and Pacific silver fir to Lemei Rock, an ancient volcanic crag and the highest point in the Wilderness. Go past Lemei Rock and through an uphill wooded area to an opening with a view down towards Lake Wapiki, a bright blue lake that sits in an old cinder cone. Views of Mount Adams dominate to the east. You can continue another mile to the lake, or turn around and return the same way.