Encompassing a long extinct stratovolcano and covered in snow for much of the year, the Goat Rocks Wilderness is dotted with alpine lakes, rivers, waterfalls and jagged peaks rising over 8,000 feet. When the snow melts, wildflowers erupt on the shores of the lakes and along the trails that weave through the wilderness. Part of what makes the Goat Rocks Wilderness so spectacular is its central location within Washington and the Gifford Pinchot National Forest, featuring panoramic vistas of nearby Mount Rainier, Mount Adams and Mount St. Helens.
On a recent trip, in two days we covered many miles of a small section of Goat Rocks Wilderness near Walupt Lake. The lake sits in a small drainage of Nannie Peak and Lakeview Mountain. Pristine and quiet, a few boaters fish the lake for trout. The banks are densely wooded. Runoff from the steep slopes of the surrounding mountains can be heard, rather than seen, as it flows into the lake. In the shallower sections near its banks, you can see just how clear the water is. Walupt Lake Campground is at the lake’s eastern point, with a few campsites along the water’s edge. As we canoed across the lake at sunset and made our way back to camp, a few campfires provide a beacon to our night’s home.
At the campground entrance, Walupt Lake flows into Walupt Creek, a short flow of the lake’s runoff that connects it with the Cispus River. The two meet at a juncture where Walupt Creek quickly drops 220 feet over basalt rimrock, called Walupt Creek Falls. There is no marker or trail to this waterfall, only a point on the map that caught our attention. From some photographs we knew the waterfall to be worth visiting, so the following morning we set off to find it and see it for ourselves. With only a hunch as how to best reach the falls, our starting point was a nearby trailhead we knew would take us to the banks of the Cispus River a half-mile below the falls with the hope we could find a route to its base.
As soon as we reached the river, the developed trail disappeared. The Cispus River was still swollen with the last vestiges of snowmelt from the higher elevations in Goat Rocks. We walked upstream in search of a path that would save us from having to ford the river, but in short order the path hit a dead-end at a 20 foot wall of basalt that projected out into the river with no way around it. With a dog and no rope, we had no choice but to go back the other direction.
Still hopeful to avoid a river crossing, we headed downstream toward the thicket of underbrush that ran alongside the river, weaving through the understory, and at times fighting directly through the branches that blocked our path. A fallen tree over a narrow section of the river would serve as our bridge to the other side. After a slippery crossing we were on our way back toward our destination upriver, having spent a good hour to get us a mere 200 feet closer to our destination. With less than a half-mile to go, we resumed our search for Walupt Creek Falls. The last portions of the traverse involved a scramble over the debris of fallen trees that over many years had built up in the creek’s basin, up, over and across a scree field of broken basalt, down a steep pitch, and ultimately to a small spit of cliff overlooking the waterfall at the juncture of Walupt Creek and the Cispus River. We had found the waterfall, and we approached in awed silence broken by expressions of joy. More than a waterfall, Walupt Creek seemingly splits in three directions as it careens over the rimrock. After dropping half the height of the falls, it reaches a washout that runs down into the Cispus River. Surrounded by rimrock and fir trees, we had reached the falls by the only route not requiring a kayak or rope. Such a spectacular sight was worth the cuts and scrapes, the wet boots. We still had to return by the same arduous way we came, but the glimpse of the hidden waterfall at the end of Walupt Creek made for a memorable highlight to our morning's adventure.
In the Goat Rocks Wilderness, near Walupt Lake, and in general, there is an amazing array of options for outdoor adventures. Here are links to a few more amazing places to go hiking, backpacking and camping in Goat Rocks Wilderness. August and September are the best months for exploring the area, now that the snows have melted and the weather is warm. Wildflower blooms through August make for an especially beautiful visit to the higher elevations of Goat Rocks.