Our Hiking Time: 3h 45m
Total Ascent: 1200ft
Highest Point: 4500ft
Total Distance: 7.5 miles
Location: N 47° 22.2540, W 121° 32.1000
Required Permit: Northwest Forest Pass
We’ve spent a lot of time exploring the peaks and valleys that line the I-90 corridor. We’ve managed to hit most of the trails between Seattle and Snoqualmie Pass over the last few years, but there are quite a few destinations still to explore. Recently we trekked up to the top of Little St. Helens, a nondescript ridge tucked between Mount Gardner and Humpback Mountain.
For a variety of reasons, Little St. Helens does not see many hikers, and as a consequence there’s not much written about this overlooked highpoint. As to the name, we assume that like nearby Humpback Mountain, the ridge reminded folks of Mount St. Helens, though we had trouble seeing the resemblance. Few guidebooks mention this route -- the only one we know of is Dallas Kloke’s out of print Winter Climbs: One Day Ascents in the Western Cascades. If you have a little more information or background on this hike, we’d love to hear about it!
The route begins at the Hansen Creek Trailhead and follows a series of logging roads up to the summit. From the gravel pit, head west past the gate through sparse stands of young fir and hemlock. In a little under a mile, after walking up a long switchback you’ll reach a four-way intersection. Head right and uphill onto the flanks of Little St. Helens. As you continue, the trees increasingly give way to talus fields offering views of Humpback Mountain and the Snoqualmie Valley. Before long, the road wraps around the front of the ridge and soon delivers you to the nearly treeless summit. From here you can easily pick out Mt. Defiance, Bandera Mountain and Granite Mountain to the north. Humpback Mountain is directly to the east with Silver Peak rising in the distance. On a good day, Mt. Rainier looms large to the south. Mount Gardner lies to the west along with McClellan Butte’s sharply pointed peak.
Although the hike is not far out of the way, it sees very little traffic. For the most part, folks visiting Little St. Helens are zealous peak baggers, adventuresome mountain bikers and the occasional snowshoer looking for something a little different. The hike does feel a bit like a walk through a tree farm rather than a forest, and that probably makes it a little less appealing than many nearby hikes. Yet it is still able to offer some of the same panoramic views with a relative ease. If you’re looking for a new hike and want to beat the crowds, Little St. Helens is a great alternative. It might also be a good choice for relatively new hikers, as the road grade is fairly gentle and should not pose too much of a challenge.
To get there, take Exit 47 off I-90 and take a right over the bridge. At the intersection, turn right onto Tinkham Road (aka Forest Road 55). Continue for roughly a mile to a fork and veer left onto the Hansen Creek Road (aka Forest Road 5510). Follow the road for roughly four miles under the old railroad trestle and up two switchbacks to a former gravel pit that serves as the trailhead parking lot. -Nathan
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