Hiking Silver Star Mountain // Skamania County, Washington

Mt. Hood over yonder!

Mt. Hood over yonder!

Lately I’ve been feeling bummed and limited without a vehicle. Maybe it’s because I got the sweet taste of car-ownership while Colin was vacationing in August, or maybe it’s because he was able to go hike Three Fingered Jack on a whim (sans me). I would love to do more hiking, camping, and backpacking on my own… But it’s difficult to escape to trails, besides those of Forest Park (Portland), without some wheels.


So I was psyched that Colin was down to spend my surprise Monday off outside. His friend, Rob, just moved here and as our temporary roomie, we invited him along as well.

We hit up Silver Star Mountain, in Skamania County, Washington, via the Grouse Vista Trailhead – a little over an hour away from Portland, though it’s roughly 40 miles. The last 20-30 minutes are spent on steep dirt roads inching to closer to Silver Star’s peak.

This was actually one of the first hikes Colin and I attempted to do when we moved to Portland. We were lured in by one of the trail’s most prominent features, “Sturgeon Rock.” Note: Colin likes to call me sturgeon since it sort of rhymes with my last name.

However, we failed on our initial try because we couldn’t locate the trailhead. We were distracted by the one across the road! So heads up, when you park at the trailhead, Grouse Vista is located on the opposing side (probably behind your car).

This time we knew what we were doing – it helped that Colin has also completed the hike since.

We made a loop out of it, by taking the clearly marked Tarbell trail on the left. The trail is almost entirely traversing, even a little downhill, for nearly 3 miles… Making it an easy start! Taking the Grouse Vista trail ups the difficulty a bit, with a steep and rocky incline from the get-go. Depending on whether you prefer to start with the hard stuff, or not, will help you determine the best route for you.

Personally, I like to slowly ease myself into the tougher hiking.

After 2.8 miles, you hit a junction. Tarbell continues straight, but we took a right onto an unmarked trail. It’s unusual wideness had us second-guess it, but we realized it was likely a retired logging road. On the map, it is marked “Sturgeon, 180C.”

This is the route we took. Map courtesy of OregonHikers.org, disoriented purple lines courtesy of me.

This is the route we took. Map courtesy of OregonHikers.org, disoriented purple lines courtesy of me.

This is where the “tougher hiking” began for me. The moment you get onto Sturgeon, the trail becomes very steep, and loose rocks make you feel like you’re walking through quicksand. I wanted so badly to keep up with the boys, but I just couldn’t do it. I started to get a slight headache, and I did not want to deal with the whole nausea, sickness thing again… Especially in front of someone who is not my boyfriend (I’m sure he didn’t want to see me puke either).

I recently read about a Vermont State Trooper who died while training outside in sunny, 80 degree weather. An investigation revealed heatstroke was the cause. I looked into it, and the symptoms are scarily similar to what I get when I push myself in warmer temperatures. After that, I’m extra cautious about overexertion! I happily lagged behind the guys, and tried not to feel embarrassed when I lost sight of them or when they had to wait a solid 10 minutes for me to catch up.

I did feel a bit discouraged though, because in retrospect, it wasn’t that long of the “hard part.” I guess I am coming to terms with the fact that I need to work a little harder and get into better shape.

As you could probably guess by its name, this trail runs right alongside Sturgeon Rock, which really didn’t look like a sturgeon, or at least from where we saw it from. Perhaps it is a more fish-like shape as seen from the other side. Its walls are pretty epic, think “Cliffs of Insanity”… but smaller. (Yes, that was a Princess Bride reference).

Colin and Rob found a way up – don’t worry it was safe, and not like the Cliffs of Insanity. I chose to sit it out, but apparently missed some nice views of Rainier, St. Helens, Adams, and Hood – the quadfecta. Their side venture gave me some time to recover from the haul up, and then we headed to the peak of Silver Mountain together – which involves taking a left onto the Silver Star trail, then going right/up onto a little side trail (which leads to the Bald Mountain trail). See map above to clarify.

We saw the quadfecta again and many rolling hills. We agreed Silver Star is like the Camel’s Hump of the Pacific Northwest. Very similar views… Just with some volcanoes thrown into the mix.

Sturgeon Rock.

Sturgeon Rock.

If you look closely, you can see all four mountains! Click to view larger.

If you look closely, you can see all four mountains! Click to view larger.

There are a couple of neat camp spots up near the peak as well, so if you’re ever interested in a backpacking trip. In terms of crowds, this is a great hike for avoiding people (in our experience anyway). There are many access trails to Silver Star, so it’s possible to see people at the peak but not anywhere else. I think the drive deters many hikers. Another plus, you pretty much get full service on the trail – in case you’re like me and need to send a quick work email (HEY, I do try to avoid it…).

We took the Grouse Vista Trail back to the car. It was pretty scenic, cutting into the sides of hills and overlooking meadows and forests. Then it went downhill for the latter half, all on that annoying loose rock. The boys seemed exhausted with it, so I made up for being the slow poke on the way up and took the lead. What can I say… I’m great at going downhill.

Overall, a nice last minute hike. I highly recommend taking on this hike when the weather is pleasant and the skies are clear – it would be a shame to put in the work to get to the top and not be able to take into the amazing views.


Hike Takeaways:

– It’s really ok to trail behind your hiking companions… Even if it’s far behind. Sometimes it’s even nicer. I’m realizing that although I prefer backpacking with Colin, I mostly like hiking alone – I think I enjoy it more, I live in the moment more, and it benefits me more, mentally.
– Don’t be afraid to, as Missy Elliot would say, “flip it and reverse it.” OregonHikers.org recommends this loop in the reverse order, but base your trip on what you prefer. Personally, I think it would be a pain in the ass to go up the Grouse Vista way, since I can handle going down steep terrain but struggle going up ‘em. Know your hiking style and preferences, and don’t be afraid to customize your trip to them!
– Bring a map. I say this a lot, but there were points on this trail where we were happy to have a iPhone screencap of the map handy. It wasn’t that the trail was confusing, but the “Sturgeon” portion was unmarked and seemed very un-trail-like, so it’s always nice to have a map to double check! Getting lost happens – yes, even on SHORT hikes – but a map can help prevent that, confirm you’re on the right path, and it just generally guarantees some worry-free hiking!


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