Most Portlanders and SW Washingtonians head to Dog Mountain in the Columbia River Gorge in May to see the wildflower displays in the meadows but of course you then deal with the crowds in the dozens if not over a hundred. But, not too many know about Big Huckleberry Mountain, located just a few miles north of Dog Mountain which has more meadows, lots of wildflowers and maybe 1/10 of the crowd. OK, the wildflower displays are not as impressive as Dog Mountain but you can still see bright yellow daffodils and glacier lily in addition to scores of others. Plus, this one feels more remote and you may get lucky like me and run into a bear or two in a meadow.
Big Huckleberry Mountain could be considered a Columbia Gorge Peak as it can be seen from various vantage points along the way but it really lies within the Indian Heaven Wilderness, on the western side of the Big Lava Bed. The Big Lava Bed is the youngest eruption in the Indian Heaven area carbon dated to 8200 years ago. It is almost a cubic kilometer basaltic lava flow that came from an unnamed cinder cone 25 kilometers to the north and flowed south to within 8 kilometers of the Columbia River. This area is dominated by small shield volcanoes that were surmounted by cinder and spatter cones. Most of the flows erupted from the center of the field so the Indian Heaven Wilderness could be considered a large, complex shield volcano unto itself (although it would not rival Yellowstone) with numerous vents.
There are several ways to reach the summit of Big Huckleberry Mountain, the former site of a firelookout. One could take the Pacific Crest Trail from the north or south to within 1/4 mile of the summit (or for a shorter hike of about 6 miles round trip and 1400 feet of gain, one could take Road 68 from the trailhead described in the Getting There section for several miles west to where the Pacific Crest Trail crosses it and head up). One could conceivably take the trail from Indian Heaven from the NW to the same spot but the most popular is the Grassy Knoll Trail from the SE which entails a 10.8 mile roundtrip hike and 2850 feet of elevation gain with all the ups and downs. The Grassy Knoll Trail will take you along clifftop viewpoints and through many meadows and forests with great views of Hood and Adams and the surrounding smaller peaks. Of course, you will also pass multitudes of huckleberry bushes in the forests and open areas so this would be a great hike in late summer as well as May to partake of that bounty.
To get to the Grassy Knoll Trailhead, take I-84 east from Portland (or west from The Dalles) to Cascade Locks (exit 44). Cross the Columbia River on the Bridge of the Gods (toll $1.00 for car) and turn right (east) on Highway 14 for 5.9 miles to the sign for Carson. Turn left onto Highway 30 and go through Carson and 4.0 miles to Bear Creek Road. Turn right there and follow it. It becomes Road 6808. You will travel 3.5 miles on paved road and then 7.0 miles of gravel road to a "T" at Triangle Pass. Fork left here onto Road 68 and go 2.0 miles to where Road 511 comes from the right. This is the trailhead and there is a parking lot on the right and a large sign across the road indicating Grassy Knoll Trail.
Red TapeNone! Can you believe it? At the time of this submission, there was no NW Forest Pass or any permit required.
CampingAbout 3.5 miles from the trailhead on the trail there is Cold Spring Camp, a primitive site with just a sign and a circle of rocks for a fire.
One could also camp in any of the many meadows along the way, almost unlimited spots (but be prepared for possible bear encounters).
For a more established campground, there is Panther Creek Campground on Wind River Road (Highway 30) as well as Beaver Campground.
When To ClimbThe trailhead is at 2830 feet so outside of April to December, the road may be covered with snow. Snow lingers on the trails and in the meadows into May (and possibly June) though.
Mountain ConditionsWeather Site for Big Huckleberry Mountain
Wind River Ranger District