October 6, 2012

Indian Heaven Wilderness: Cultus Creek

Distance: 8.2 miles
Elevation gain: 2,100 ft.
Location: Southern Washington Cascades, between Mount St Helens and Mount Adams

The most beautiful fall color can be seen on this trail in early October. The high meadows of Indian Heaven Wilderness are filled with huckleberries that turn brilliant shades of red and orange.

We started at the Cultus Creek campground trailhead and ended at the Lake Wapiki overlook just past Lemei Rock. The trail starts in heavy forest, and halfway up, there’s a great opening with wide views to Mount Adams, Mount Rainier and Goat Rocks. There’s still quite a bit of smoke in the air due to wildfires in the region, so the views were a little obscured, but the mountains were still visible.

After a grueling 1-1/2 miles with 1,200 ft. elevation gain, we were in the meadow and lake filled area. We stopped at Cultus Lake for a bit, then tried to decide whether or not to go on the trail towards Lemei Rock, or take a different route to a lake filled region. We started on the different route path, but after half a mile of hiking through forested area, we decided to turn back since didn’t want to miss the huckleberry meadows. This added a mile and more elevation gain to our overall hike, but it was well worth it. Back on the Lemei Trail, we crossed through meadow after color-filled meadow and to the side of Lemei Rock, the highest point in the Indian Heaven Wilderness. It is possible to scramble up the rocks for great views, but we kept on the trail so we could reach the Lake Wapiki overlook and hike out before it got dark.

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  • I took my 4 kids on a 3-day backpack into Indian Heaven for the first time. We hiked up to Cultus Lake on Trail #33 and then to L. Wapiki on Trail #34 where we spent the first night. The trails are in generally good shape with some areas on the way up along Lemei Rock somewhat torn up by horses. It gets a little steep on the way up and it is discouraging losing so much altitude as you go down to the lake, but it was worth it. L. Wapiki is a great place and the blueberries were at their peak. It was difficult to cover ground fast because of the many berry picking stops. We finally had to make a rule that you could only stop if there were enough berries for everyone. The 2nd day we hiked back to Cultus Lake and then over to Deer Lake where we spent the night. Again the trail was in good shape. Surprisingly for this summer, the weather was not too cooperative. It was foggy at times and there was a cool wind on L. Wapiki. The weather was great on the 2nd day, but it started raining towards morning on Sunday and we hiked out in an ocasional light rain. We took the PCT north from Deer Lake over the shoulder of Bird Mt and down Trail #179, Cultus Cr to Cultus Creek Campground. I am glad we weren’t going up #179 because it was a steady steep grade. We saw quite a few people, but had plenty of privacy when we camped.