"Saha-lee Tyee" -- or "Great Spirit" -- is the name that generations of Pacific Northwest natives gave to a magical area of high meadows, thick forests and emerald-blue lakes in south-central Washington. Formed by massive lava flows and cataclysmic eruptions tens of thousands of years before the appearance of man, the Indian Heaven Wilderness offers spectacular vistas, challenging slopes and soul-refreshing pauses for intermediate to advanced hikers.
Indian Heaven Wilderness is comprised of almost 21,000 roadless acres dotted with 150 lakes at 5,000-feet elevation and traversed by 42 miles of well-marked and maintained trails, including part of the Pacific Crest Trail.
Three recognizable craters and three prominent peaks between 5,000 and 6,000 feet high can be found along the preserve's ten-mile length. From the highest summit in the wilderness area, Lemei (Lem-mee-eye) Rock (5,925'), you can see six Cascade peaks, from Mt. Rainier in the north to Mt. Jefferson 50 miles south of Mt. Hood in Oregon.
Two hours' driving time from Portland makes Indian Heaven one of the more accessible wilderness areas in Washington state. Its proximity to more popular scenic attractions (Mt. Hood, the Columbia Gorge, Mt. St. Helens) means more quiet moments and potentially more wildlife sightings for determined hikers.
Lemei Trail No. 34
Lemei Trail No. 34 is one of the most scenic paths in the park. The first stop on this backcountry trek is the Forest Ranger Station at Trout Lake, on SR 141 just west of town. Buy a map gather info, and then continue on SR 141 to Smoky Creek Campground.
The trail itself begins as a shallow ditch, climbing easily along a gentle slope for the first mile
. The thick forest growth of blue spruce, Douglas fir and white pine is broken in places by small meadows of bear grass and huckleberry bushes. Early freezes in September leave a combination of thin ice and mud in shadowy patches, where you can identify freshly laid tracks of elk and bobcat.
Look for Filloon Trail No. 102 coming in from the north as your first reference point. Within the next half-mile, the trail steepens at the 4,200-foot level, leaving most of the deciduous trees behind and climbing steadily to Lemei Rock for the remaining two miles of the outward leg.
Narrow vistas begin to open up to the north along this stretch, revealing the white mass of Mt. Adams. Goat Rocks Wilderness to the north forms the farthest skyline and Sleeping Beauty stands out on its southern flank.
Near Mile 3, you'll meet Trail 34A, a 0.3 mile sidetrip to Lake Wapiki. Take a break among the tall trees and consider this short trail that gains about 80 feet in elevation along a steep ridgeline.
Back on the main trail, the remaining 3/4 mile ascends 525 feet to the crater floor, giving your legs and lungs the most strenuous activity of the trip so far. After watching your feet for 30 minutes, you emerge from the thinning woods, with a view of the summit crags as your reward. The last hundred yards to the crater floor cross a rock-strewn scree that plunges over 250 feet to the turquiose waters of Lake Wapiki.
The remaining 250 feet from the crater floor to the summit are a very steep combination of loose dirt, shifting rocks and sharp basalt boulders. The view from the top is spectacular, but the climb should be attempted only in the company of experienced rock climbers. For a view of Mt. St. Helens to the west and Mt. Rainier to the north, continue on the trail another 1/4 mile around the bulk of the exposed, rocky summit.
Enjoy a lunch break on the crater floor of the extinct volcano. You'll certainly attract a small crowd of robber jays and ground squirrels, who may eat leftover morsels right out of your hands.
Although you return the way you came, your perspective going downhill is different from the uphill trip. The easterly trail direction steadily draws your attention northwest to Mt. Adams. The sun is now at your back, illuminating red-leafed huckleberry bushes that were earlier in shadow.
If you are traveling in more than one vehicle, you can run a short shuttle to vary the east end of the hike. Leave one vehicle at Smoky Creek CG and another at Little Goose CG, 1.5 miles farther "up" FR 24. Take the Filloon Trail #102 to complete the short loop to Little Goose.
Hike: Lemei Trail #34: FR 24 Trailhead to Lemei Rock and back.
Elevation Change: 3,660' to 5,600' (crater floor) or 5,925 (summit).
Difficulty: Moderate full dayhike.
Distance: Approximately 7 miles round trip.
Hiking Time: 5 to 6 hours.
Best Time of Year: mid-September to early October.
Maps: Available at Trout Lake Ranger Station; call (509) 395-3400 for details.
Getting There: From Hood River, OR (I-84) or Bingen-White Salmon, WA (SR 14): travel north on WA SR 141 for 25 miles to Trout Lake. Obtain maps and directions at Ranger Station.
Special Note: The wilderness area is accessible from the last snowmelt in late July to the first snows of late October. Mosquitoes are prevalent for most of the summer, so bring plenty of repellent. September and October mean no bugs, as well as wildlife on the move, clear skies and mild temperatures.
Contact: Mt. Adams Ranger District, Trout Lake, WA 98650; (509) 395-3400.