The view of the Bluff Mt. bluffs from adjacent Little Baldy Mt. The Chinook Trail is seen traversing the cliffs below.
Bluff Mt. is the easternmost major peak of the Silver Star Mountain
complex and its ridges and summit area offer great views in all directions. The Silver Star area is composed of basalt that has eroded to the point that none of the lighter components of a volcanic landscape remain in view (such as cinders, mudflows, etc.) and the rock appears almost granitic in character with an occasional vein of (apparently) quartz, especially at the lower elevations.
The peak's name derives from the pronounced bluffs along the north ridge which can be enjoyed from the top via a bushwhack route up the ridge to the summit or from below on the traversing Chinook trail.
The Chinook band of Native Americans populated this area for millennia and they traveled these hills collecting seasonal berries and hunting game. There are apparently only a few animal trails and seldom trod bootpaths on the peak today but some of the trails you may travel in the area may very well be the same ones the Chinooks built and used for many thousands of years.
On September 11th, 1902, a huge forest fire started near Carson in the Columbia River gorge and in just 36 hours, swept in from the east and climbed up and over Silver Star Mt. and most of the surrounding ridges and peaks. In those long-ago days, there was no means or even attempt to battle such a wide spread fire and the result was one of the worst - if not THE worst disaster - to ever befall the area: 38 people were killed, at least 146 families lost their homes and over 370 square miles of forest were burned. Some of the stumps of the fire-killed trees still stand throughout the area.
Much of the higher elevation areas have not re-grown a mature forest to this day, leaving large areas for huckleberry fields and offering the opportunity for sweeping vistas of the area from most of the many trails.
Click this link
for more details on the forest fire.
From either direction off I-5, exit 9, take SR 502 (aka NE 10th Ave.) 2.0 miles north to 219th St. Turn right and travel east to Hwy 503 (aka NW 10th Ave.) for 5.5 miles and turn left (north). Follow this road for 5.4 miles to and turn right on Rock Creek Rd. This highway turns into Lucia Falls Rd. Go 8.4 miles, and just past Moulton Falls, turn right on NE Sunset Falls Rd. There will be a sign pointing the way to Sunset Campground. 7.4 miles later, at Sunset Campground, take a hard right, cross the river on the one-lane bridge and go left up the hill on the gravel road. (Road 41). Go 8 3/4 miles on Rd. 41 and park at the large turnout. The trailhead is at the south end of the large parking area. The gravel road should be easily navigated by normal 2wd vehicles with some clearance and is in decent shape as of this writing - except for a few potholes. It should take you less than an hour to travel from the I-5 exit to the trailhead.
The trailhead could also be gained from the east out of the Gorge via Carson and then through the town of Stabler on the Wind River but it's a circuitous path and a lot of gravel road I have yet to explore.
From the trailhead on road 41, hike 2.5 miles to the saddle on the brush covered north -northeast flank of the peak: (photo
) From this obvious saddle, leave the main trail and take the path of least resistance up the ridge and traverse the cliffs and rock outcrops on their left. The relatively open summit is a fairly easy 8/10-mile climb up this huckleberry-carpeted hill. Total distance is 6.6 miles with 1,480' vertical gain, round trip.
The peak can also be reached from any of the three principal trailheads to Silver Star Mountain: Grouse Creek Vista Trailhead, Tarbell Trailhead or the North Ridge Trailhead, and then following the Chinook Trail to the forested saddle and climbing the NW ridge or continuing on to the saddle on the north-northeast ridge. These other approaches would make the total distance, round trip, 11.5 miles (North Ridge), 13.3 miles (Grouse Creek Vista) or 21.5 miles (Tarbell).
Once at Bluff Mt.'s summit, if you wish to continue on to adjacent Little Baldy Mt.
or on to Silver Star Mountain you could continue bushwhacking down the northwest ridge and rejoin the Chinook Trail in the Silver Fir forest on the saddle between Bluff Mt. and Little Baldy. There's a nasty infestation of vine maple and slide alder but most of that can be avoided by staying to the left of the trees as you descend and once on the saddle and under the forest canopy, head north and rejoin the trail.
No red tape at the road 41 trail head or at Grouse Creek Vista or Tarbell as of this writing. The NW Forest Pass signs keep disappearing at the North Ridge Trailhead but it is occasionally posted.
Seasonal forest fire restrictions will be in place in the late summer and fall.
When To Climb
Road 41 will be closed by snow at some point in the winter and since the trailhead is at 3,549 feet elevation, expect it to stay closed until at least April or May in most years. Grouse Creek Vista is usually open most of the year since it's at about 2,375' but that's a long snowshoe or ski trip.
Camping is allowed but there is no water from mid summer until the fall rains begin and then only from a couple of small trickles along the Bluffs.