The Gifford Pinchot National Forest in southwest Washington is a vast area (about 1.3 million acres). It includes Mt. Rainier and Mt. St. Helens. One of our favorite destinations is a place where you can see Mt. Rainier, Mt. St. Helens, Mt. Adams and Mt. Hood by simply standing in one spot and turning in a circle. This amazing and beautiful place is the 5304 foot high Burley Mountain.
First you have to traverse a long, winding, rain-worn, single-lane road along steep cliffs. If you like that sort of thing, you’ll love this drive – if not, just close your eyes while someone else drives, because the view at the top is well worth it.
You can choose to park at the bottom of the final hill at a small parking area and take a short walk up the road to the top. Or for the adventurous, you can drive all the way to the top – you just want to be confident of your ability to either turn around in a very small area or back down yet another steep, single-lane, cliff-side road.
But as soon as you are at the top – stop. Look southeast and you will see Mt. Adams standing tall and perfect against the deep blue sky.
Directly south you can catch a glimpse of the top of Mt. Hood in Oregon. Look north and you will see Mt. Rainier peaking at you a little further in the distance.
Then look southwest – there is Mt. St. Helens looking beautiful but ominous. We always wonder how it would have felt on May 18, 1980 if we would have been standing on Burley Mountain. It looks so close you just shiver at the thought.
Another nice surprise at the top of this little mountain is the Forest Service Lookout cabin.
It is usually open during the summer and you can go in and see the “amenities” – a woodstove, a couple of single beds with worn
mattresses, a sink without running water, and a couple of chairs. There are also two notebooks where visitors can record the date of their visit along with their impressions. The view is almost as good from inside as it is outside. Small signs above the windows tell you what geologic feature you are seeing out each window.
On our most recent visit we ate our lunch inside the lookout, relaxing in the folding chairs. There is a picnic table outside below the lookout but on this day there were quite a few visitors and one family was already enjoying their lunch at the picnic table. A cinder-block vault toilet is located downhill from the picnic table.
Unfortunately there are also many electrical towers near the lookout which detract a bit from the “rustic” feel of the area, but we have never let that interfere with our enjoyment and from the number of other visitors, neither have they. One of the families we met was from Spokane and they said that they come to the Gifford Pinchot area every year on Labor Day.
You will definitely want to take a camera because you can’t help but notice all the opportunities for nature photography even if you thought you weren’t into that. Everywhere you look you will feel like you’re looking at a postcard!
It’s hard to know when to leave. As you sit quietly and look all around you, you’ll notice the scenery changing with the daylight or as clouds roll through and move on. Eventually you do have to leave – driving those roads at night would not be a good idea. But you also know, just as we do and the family from Spokane does, that you will come back again and again because there is simply no other place like Burley Mountain.
For more information here is the website to the Gifford Pinchot (pronounced pin-show) National Forest: http://www.fs.usda.gov/giffordpinchot
From Randle, drive 1 mile south on Forest Road 25 and then turn left onto Forest Road 23. Continue on FR 23 to FR 28/21 and go right, cross the Cispus River, turn right onto FR 76, and continue past the Cispus Environmental Center to FR 77 on the left. Follow it for about 13 miles where you will see a sign directing you to turn left to go the last mile or so to the small parking lot at the bottom of Burley Mountain.