by Andy Stepniewski

revised by Andy Stepniewski

Mount Adams, Washington’s second-highest peak (12,276 feet), is a dormant volcano with numerous glaciers and snowfields. The summit is on the Cascade Crest at the west edge of the Yakama Indian Reservation, roughly 30 miles north of the Columbia Gorge, 30 miles south of White Pass, and 30 miles east of Mount Saint Helens. This remote region has been little explored by birders, even though it is scenic, birdy, and eminently birdable with a bit of preparation and care. Make sure you have a Gifford Pinchot National Forest map and an America the Beautiful or Northwest Forest Pass. Overnight camping expands the possibilities, as there are no motels between US-12 and SR-14, and it is a long drive in and out. Expect birds of wetlands, moist and transitional Wet Side–Dry Side forests, and meadows ranging from lower-elevation zones up to the subalpine. Alpine species such as White-tailed Ptarmigan, American Pipit, and Gray-crowned Rosy-Finch are documented on Mount Adams, but reaching their habitat requires serious hiking, which few birders attempt.


The best access point for the Mount Adams area, and a good base for exploring all parts of it, is the unincorporated town of Trout Lake, which lies in a broad valley between the Indian Heaven Wilderness Area on the west and the mountain on the north. Basic services are available here (gas, cafe, general store). Eastbound on SR-14 in the Columbia Gorge, turn left just after crossing the White Salmon River bridge onto Alternate SR-141, joining the main trunk of the highway in 2.1 miles. From SR-14 westbound, turn right onto SR-141 in Bingen and drive through White Salmon, reaching the intersection with Alternate SR-141 in 4.8 miles. It is about 19 miles north from this corner to the junction with the Mount Adams Recreation Highway in Trout Lake. If you are traveling between Trout Lake and birding sites in the upper Klickitat country (page 335), your connector is Sunnyside Road, which heads east from Mount Adams Recreation Highway 0.3 mile north of SR-141. At an intersection in 3.9 miles, where Sunnyside Road turns right (south), stay straight ahead onto Trout Lake Highway, reaching Glenwood in about 12 miles.

SR-141 continues west through Trout Lake, passing in 0.8 mile the USFS Mount Adams Ranger District station (information, maps, passes). In another 0.8 mile, turn north onto Trout Lake Creek Road. Elk Meadows RV Park (0.9 mile) is a heavily forested campground with excellent facilities for tent and vehicle campers, where birders are welcome. From the northeast end of the campground a wide trail goes east and downstream for about a mile along the edge of marshy Trout Lake (elevation 1,950 feet). Fifty or sixty species can be observed here on an early-morning walk in June, including Hooded Merganser (uncommon), Pied-billed Grebe, American Bittern, Osprey,  Virginia Rail, Band-tailed Pigeon, Common Nighthawk, Belted Kingfisher, Red-breasted Sapsucker, Downy, Hairy, and Black-backed (rare) Woodpeckers, Western Wood-Pewee, Willow and Hammond’s Flycatchers, Cassin’s and Warbling Vireos, Tree, Violet-green, and Northern Rough-winged Swallows, Swainson’s Thrush, Gray Catbird, Orange-crowned, Nashville, Yellow-rumped, Townsend’s, Hermit (uncommon), and MacGillivray’s Warblers, Common Yellowthroat, Western Tanager, Purple Finch, and Evening Grosbeak. Veery can also be found here, but, if missed, return to Trout Creek Road, turn right (north), and check streamside thickets where the road passes close to the creek over the next 2.5 miles.


The Indian Heaven area is reached by going west from Trout Lake on SR-141, which becomes FR-24 upon entering the Gifford Pinchot National Forest (about four miles past the Trout Lake Creek Road turnoff). In another mile, take time to visit the Ice Cave. It is a bizarre experience to leave balmy summer weather and singing Hammond’s Flycatchers, Hermit Thrushes, and Townsend’s Warblers to descend a ladder 30 feet into winter temperatures and snow. Heed the signs advising you to dress up. Natural Bridges, just ahead, is another attraction worth a few minutes’ detour to visit. Returning to FR-24 from the Ice Caves, turn left and continue west 0.8 mile. Turn left onto FR-041, then right in 0.3 mile onto FR-050. Vine Maples line the lava-tube ravine, with a couple of natural bridges adding a delightful architectural touch.

Another 0.8 mile west on FR-24, keep right at its junction with FR-60. In nine miles, stop at Cultus Creek Campground, on the left, where you may find good-looking Hermit Warblers (but you are still in the Hermit-Townsend’s hybrid zone). The Indian Heaven Wilderness Area (20,650 acres) lies just west of the campground. A trail network visits a few of the 175 small lakes in this plateau landscape, where wet meadows fringed by fir and spruce forests alternate with brushy terrain. Mosquitoes can be fierce, so you may prefer to visit at the end of summer after they have disappeared. Singing will have ceased by then for many bird species, but the huckleberry picking is great. In years of White-winged Crossbill invasions, Indian Heaven often has its share of this enigmatic species. Stop at Indian Viewpoint 0.5 mile farther north on FR-24 to enjoy the superb view of Mount Adams and to look for mountain birds in the treetops without having to crane your neck.

The terrain around the Surprise Lakes, 2.9 miles ahead, includes numerous boggy ponds and large brush fields (maintained by burning in the past, less so in recent times) of huckleberries, Mountain Ash, and Beargrass, with extensive forest typical of the Mountain Hemlock and Silver Fir zones. Birds of the meadows and bogs include Mountain Bluebird, Hermit Thrush, and Fox, Lincoln’s, and White-crowned Sparrows. Forest birds include Black-backed Woodpecker, Gray and Steller’s Jays, Mountain and Chestnut-backed Chickadees, Varied Thrush, and Townsend’s and Hermit Warblers (and intergrades). Mosquitoes are very bad in the early season. Starting in late July, large flocks of warblers, sparrows, and other small passerines can be found around the meadows; Nashville Warblers are common at that time. Native Americans camp here in August and September to pick huckleberries.

To reach the south and east sides of Mount Saint Helens, you can turn left from FR-24 onto FR-30 at a fork 0.6 mile farther on, then right onto Curly Creek Road (Ape Cave-Mount Saint Helens) FR-51 in another 10.6 miles. In five miles this road joins FR-90 along the Lewis River, about four miles east of Swift Reservoir (page 237).


The west side of Mount Adams, with several trailheads for the Mount Adams Wilderness, is accessed by taking the Mount Adams Recreation Highway north from Trout Lake, keeping left in 1.4 miles onto FR-23 (to Randle). This road runs upstream (north) along the White Salmon River, crosses the headwaters area of the Lewis River, and enters the Cowlitz River watershed on the northwest side of the mountain. In about 23 miles, where FR-23 goes left, keep right onto FR-2329, which goes right again in 0.7 mile and reaches Takhlakh Lake Campground in another 0.7 mile. Takhlakh Lake (elevation 4,385 feet), amidst tall firs, affords awesome views of the north face of Mount Adams. Many species typical of the higher mountain forests can be found here and at other nearby campgrounds (Chain of Lakes, Olallie Lake), including Gray Jay, Pacific Wren, and Varied Thrush. Be sure to look carefully at any Townsend’s or Hermit Warblers; this is the heart of the hybrid zone. Spruce Grouse are now proved a very uncommon resident in the forests north and east of Takhlakh Lake, especially in areas of sandy soils thick with Lodgepole Pine and a groundcover of Dwarf Huckleberries. Drive forest roads in fall for best results.


Near timberline on the southeast slopes of Mount Adams, Bird Creek Meadows have good subalpine forest birding and beautiful displays of wildflowers. The area is open from July 1 through September 30 (fee, collected by the Yakama Nation; in years of heavy snow the road may not open until later). Go north from SR-141 in Trout Lake on the Mount Adams Recreation Highway. At an intersection with FR-23 in 1.4 miles, keep right onto FR-82. In 0.6 mile, at another fork where FR-80 (the road to Morrison Creek Camp, the base camp for mountain climbers) goes straight ahead, stay right again with FR-82. At the next five-way junction (2.6 miles), make sure to keep easterly on FR-82 (clearly marked). In 5.8 miles, you cross the divide (elevation 4,000 feet) into the Klickitat River watershed and the Yakama Indian Reservation (stay left). Extensive forest fires have altered the landscape along this route. Check for woodpeckers in areas of snags. Williamson’s Sapsucker is also regular here. Mirror Lake is another 4.4 miles over a rough and bumpy dirt road (large trailers not advised). Just beyond the lake (0.1 mile), turn left onto a road that leads in one mile to Bird Lake and a primitive campground in a forested setting where Gray Jay, Varied Thrush, and Townsend’s Warbler are common.

Although a trail to the mountain meadows begins here, perhaps a shorter alternative is to return to the main road and drive north (toward Bench Lake) another 1.1 miles to a trailhead signed Bird Creek Meadows, on the left. Park and begin a 2.5-mile loop, returning to this spot. Birds along the way include Gray and Steller’s Jays, Clark’s Nutcracker (attracted to Whitebark Pines), Mountain Chickadee, Townsend’s Solitaire, Hermit Thrush, Yellow-rumped and Townsend’s Warblers, and Cassin’s Finch. Flocks of migrant warblers and sparrows appear in late summer, along with many other scattered up-mountain migrants. The trail reaches the Bird Creek Meadows Picnic Area (elevation 6,100 feet) in less than a mile. The subalpine meadows to the west are a peaceful alternative to the crowds at Paradise on Mount Rainier.

Find a trail leading north from the picnic area up the side of a ridge. Stay right at a junction, and continue up a sandy, bouldery gully for 0.5 mile to Hellroaring Lookout (6,350 feet), with spectacular views of the south ridges of Mount Adams and the rocky and meadowed valley below. Look for Mountain Goats on the meadows across the valley. Views to the southeast extend downslope to Glenwood and Conboy Lake National Wildlife Refuge (page 335)—a reminder that you are already in Eastern Washington. To return to your car, follow the steep trail that descends the ridgeline to the east.