Cispus Basin-Snowgrass Flats

  • Date: July 14-16, 2016
  • Location: Goat Rocks Wilderness
  • Start: Snowgrass Trailhead
  • Distance: 17.1 miles
  • Duration: 3 days
  • Type: Loop (with out-and-back section)
  • Map: Green Trails Map 303S: Goat Rocks Wilderness

Cassie, our spunky adventure pup, has been a member of our little family for over three months now. Since we adopted her, she’s been a frequent visitor of the great outdoors, joining us on numerous hikes and trail runs in Forest Park, Columbia River Gorge, around Mount Hood, and on the coast. She even carries her own gear! One of our big goals this summer was to take her on her first multi-day backcountry trip, so when I found out that Goat Rocks Wilderness—a trip we’d had planned since last Fall—is dog-friendly, we were beyond excited.

Although I’d originally planned a longer route with high mileage days (so we could explore more of the area), I made adjustments since it would be Cassie’s first trip. We were never more than six miles out from the trailhead the entire time, and our days never consisted of more than seven miles of hiking. It was a relaxing, easy-going weekend getaway. Cassie seemed to enjoy herself (at least there was no behavior on her part that suggested otherwise), and Mack and I got to experience the most beautiful wilderness we’ve seen since the Wallowas last summer.


Day 1: Snowgrass Trailhead to Cispus Basin (5.6 miles; 2 hours 42 minutes)

After 3.5 hours on the road (including a very bumpy hour on rough forest road), we arrived at our starting point. It was just after 11:00 am on a Thursday afternoon, so there weren’t too many cars yet. (Note: This trailhead, along with the alternative starting point, Berry Patch, gets INSANELY packed on weekends) We took our time getting last minute items packed, putting on boots, and outfitting Cassie with her Ruffwear Approach pack. I filled out our permit—these are free at the trailhead—and we hit the trail at 11:45 am.

It was already pretty hot when we started out. Fortunately, most of Snowgrass Trail winds through the forest, so we remained shaded from the sun for much of the hike. Water sources were plentiful on the way up and Cassie enjoyed drinking her fill at nearly every stream we crossed. She even plopped down in one of them to cool herself off! Despite the heat, the overall trek—even the uphill sections—was moderate. Our lighter-than-usual loads also helped with that. Rather than bringing our giant Osprey packs (both around 70 liters), we opted for our smaller Osprey climbing packs (each around 50 liters). It’s funny to compare this to our very first backpacking trip (which was also a 3-day/2-night situation). On that trip, we carried 30+ lbs each! On this trip, we managed to keep pack weight in the low 20s. Oh the wonders a little more experience does for you!

Our final stretch to Cispus Basin was on the PCT. The views finally opened up on this portion of the route. We could see far down into the valley below and look ahead to the South Cascades, including a clear shot of Mount Adams rising above everything else. We continued on for about a mile. As we rounded a bend in the trail, we suddenly found ourselves looking straight into the alpine paradise that is Cispus Basin. Sunlight bounced off the snowfield beneath the towering Goat Rocks massif, illuminating the Cispus River serpentining down into the green meadow below. We found several campsites situated right off of the trail with nearly unobstructed views of this incredible sight.

Crossing Cispus River
Amazing views along the PCT
Mount Adams in the background
Looking for a campsite in Cispus Basin
Gorgeous retaining wall on the PCT

The rest of the afternoon was spent relaxing in camp: basking in the warmth of the sun (until the mosquitos started eating us alive), hiking a little further on the PCT to take in our surroundings a little more, snapping picture upon picture of said surroundings, getting in a light afternoon snooze before dinner, reading, and playing cards. It was perfect. And we were so happy to be sharing the experience with Cassie (who was really digging the natural water sources more than anything else).

Happy as a clam at our first campsite
Mack saying ‘hi’ from the tent

Cispus Basin

The sun was still overhead when we decided to turn in for the night. Although it had been a relatively easy day for me and Mack, the long day of driving and hiking definitely left Cassie pretty exhausted. Rather than curling up on the camp bed I brought for her (Ruffwear Highlands bed with sleeping pad insert), she snuggled up between our sleeping bags and fell fast asleep. Day one was a success.

Cassie’s first time in the tent!

Finally fell asleep


Day 2: Cispus Basin to PCT/Snowgrass  Trail junction (2 miles; about 50 minutes); side-trip to Old Snowy (4.4 miles; somewhere between 2 hours 40 minutes and 3 hours 10 minutes—forgot to stop my watch when we returned to camp)

At some point in the night, Cassie had retired to the foot of our tent. She was finally lying comfortably on her dog bed when I woke up. After taking in that precious moment my focus shifted to the discomfort I was feeling up and down my legs. I knew full well what the culprit was, but I still didn’t expect to count 40+ mosquito bites when I rolled up my pants! Ugh. I will never be too lazy to get out bug spray again.

A quick map check informed us that we were in for an easy stroll to our next campsite, just a mere 2 miles away. We started off in the morning fog, but rays of sunlight were already bursting through just a few minutes into our hike, and the skies cleared up soon after that. As we neared the junction with Snowgrass, we entered a stunning wildflower meadow blanketing the slopes of the Goat Rocks, which were now visible, on our right. Old Snowy and Ives Peak came into view as we continued north and were on full display once we reached the junction. The Rascals’ It’s A Beautiful Morning might have started playing in my head…

View from the PCT/Snowgrass Trail junction
Goat Rocks!

We found a lovely campsite right off Snowgrass Trail, tucked away in a small grove of trees, with spectacular views of both Goat Rocks and Mount Adams (which appeared closer than it had the day before though we were moving further away from it). Our short trek had taken less than an hour, so we decided to relax for a little while before starting our side-trip to the summit of Old Snowy. Since there were no other dogs around (like there had been the day before at Cispus Basin), we let Cassie off her leash so she could move freely within our campsite. The last impression I want her to have of camping is being tethered to a tree the entire time. We kept her close, but she definitely enjoyed having the freedom to choose her own place to lie down.

Incredible campsite near the junction

View of Mount Adams from our campsite

After enjoying some camp time, we strapped on our packs again and returned to the PCT, which leads up to a climber’s trail for Old Snowy. The path led up through the meadow covered slopes I’d been admiring earlier and also onto a few snowfields. My guess is that Cassie had never experienced snow before this trip. She was (literally) prancing with excitement every time we had to traverse a snowfield! And she was mesmerized by little balls of snow rolling down the slopes. We continued onto a rocky ridgeline overlooking the surrounding glaciers on either side of the Goat Rocks.

Taking the PCT up to Old Snowy

Cassie’s first time walking on snow!

The going got a little more tough after we turned onto the climber’s trail. Navigating a boulder field is never that fun, especially with a dog leashed to your waist. We lost the trail at one point but decided to continue heading up, which required lifting Cassie over rock after massive rock. I imagine she could’ve jumped over them with ease if she hadn’t been leashed to me, but the area was pretty exposed—drop-offs on either side—and I didn’t want to put her at risk. We almost turned around. Clouds were rolling in and the wind started to pick up. Eventually, though, we found the trail again—no more boulder hopping!—and continued up (We learned on the way back down that there was a small snowfield that we needed to cross in order to stay on the trail, but we had missed it because we were following what appeared to be a trail up through the boulders) Unfortunately, the last couple hundred feet up to the summit required more difficult scrambling (at least for someone leashed to their dog). At this point, the clouds had now completely obscured the top, making the last push even riskier. Although this last portion wouldn’t have presented much of a challenge for me and Mack, we decided to call it quits for Cassie’s sake. The constant rock hopping (in addition to being lifted and carried by me) really wore her out. She was already falling asleep when we stopped to discuss our options. Old Snowy would just have to wait until our next trip.

Sitting somewhere just below the summit

Old Snowy

When we arrived back in camp, Cassie immediately laid down and fell asleep. We spent the remainder of the afternoon hanging out, looking back on our trip so far, and making plans for “real” food upon our return to Portland. Something other than tortillas and peanut butter sounded great.

Snoozing in the campsite after our summit attempt
Finally using her Ruffwear bed 🙂


Day 3: PCT/Snowgrass Trail junction to Snowgrass Trailhead (5.1 miles; 1 hour 58 minutes)

The trek back out the next morning was more of a quick jaunt than a hike. The sun was still hiding behind the Goat Rocks when we packed up and left. It finally peeked out over the tops of the rocky summits as we made our way down into Snowgrass Flats; a perfect ending to a perfect weekend.

Morning views on the way back to the trailhead

Final view
Goat Creek
1.5 miles to go!

All in all, Cassie’s first backpacking adventure was wonderfully successful! In fact, I was so excited when we got home that I immediately started looking into an alternative trip for our September backpacking weekend. We had originally planned on thru-hiking the Enchantments (without Cassie, since dogs are prohibited) but decided it would be more fun to do one last trip with Cassie before the end of summer. So…Three Sisters here we come!