Category Archives: Fire Lookout Updates

ROCK CANDY MOUNTAIN LOOKOUT HIKE UPDATE

HIKE SUMMARY: This is a good example of hikes in the Capitol State Forest. There are several ways to reach the destination; each involves numerous junctions and a few road crossings. Trail conditions come and go, as do the well-intended trail signs. The trails to Rock Candy Mountain are shared with bicycles all year, and motorized bikes May through November. Despite these drawbacks, the views of snow-topped Cascade and Olympic peaks can be wonderful, and sections of the forest are truly beautiful. The convenience of the hike to the state capitol area cannot be beat.

Round trip Distance High Point Elevation Gain Season
6.4 miles 2364 feet 1700 feet Year-round; Best: April
A Discover Pass is required

GETTING THERE

  • From Interstate 5 in Olympia, exit to US Highway 101 northbound.
  • Drive west 5.8 miles and keep left on State Route 8, where US Highway 101 turns north.
  • Pass milepost 17. Get in the left lane to exit left.
  • A road sign indicates a left turn to the Rock Candy Mountain Road and a right turn to Summit Lake. Pull into the median left turn lane and cross the two eastbound lanes to enter the Capitol State Forest.
  • Drive a short distance and park in the parking lot on the right, or adjacent to it during the winter season when the lot is gated.
  • The trailhead is across the road from the parking lot.

HIKING ROUTE: Cross the road to a clearly marked trailhead for the Rock Candy and North Rim #1 trails. Do not let the trail names draw you in. The route that starts with the North Rim #1 Trail offers the most direct hiking path to Rock Candy Mountain. The route of the Rock Candy Trail is more than 2 miles longer and goes to the same destination. The 0.1-mile trail shared by the two routes briefly crosses open land before entering the forest. In winter 2022, the trail and land between the trail and creek showed clear signs of flooding that scoured the trail and forest floor.

The trail splits under the trees, with the Rock Candy Trail crossing an attractive bridge and heading east. The North Rim #1 Trail heads south into a mixed forest without any enticements beyond a well-maintained walking surface. The route’s first road crossing appears at 0.33 mile.

A sign before the road indicates the non-motorized trail ends here. About 100 feet into the trail across the road is a narrow brown sign confirming the North Rim #1 Trail’s continuation. A few corners later, the trail turns south and passes a recently replanted area with two spindly groves of seed trees offering filtered views of the south Olympics and western Capitol Forest.

At 0.8 mile, turn left (east) at a 3-way intersection. The sign here in early 2022 says North Rim Trail continues east and west. Maps indicate the North Rim Trail continues west from this point, not continuing toward Rock Candy Mountain.At 1.16 miles cross another section of old forest road whose use is now reserved for two-wheeled, horse, and hiking traffic. The shared trail starts with concrete trail support blocks, necessary for the heavy wheeled traffic. This fortunately leads to what is currently the prettiest section of trail ascending the west slope to the Rock Candy Mountain Lookout site.

The route climbs the hill in moderately steep zigzags, with more and more of the Olympic Mountains appearing as you ascend. The evergreens are tall here, making them subject to future timber harvest projects. The forest currently contains a mixture of conifers and low shrubs, with hedges of Oregon grape, sword ferns, and other native flowering and evergreen plants often bordering the trail.

At 1.8 miles, the trail ends just past a Divide Trail North sign. Turn right on a drivable road currently identified as the Divide Trail North on Capitol Forest maps. The west slope of this section of the ridge was harvested, 2018˗2021, offering broader views in that direction. In a short distance there are additional wooden signs on the left side of the road, identifying the destinations of downhill trails as Waddell Creek and Porter Creek.

Continue on the broad gravel road as it gradually becomes steeper, turns right, then left. At 2.5 miles it reaches a grand viewpoint offering Mount Rainier, Mount Adams, and Mount St. Helens to the east, and a panoramic forested landscape at your feet.

The elevation is about 1700 feet, indicating that most of the elevation gain for the hike has been completed. After admiring the view from the road edge, cross the gravel to a fairly steep bank marked with informal trails. In 2021 several former trails resolved into one shared by hikers, bikers, and dirt bikes. Ten to twelve feet above the road this informal way-trail levels out and wanders through open forest. The route ascends very gradually at first, becoming steeper after 0.25 mile, when it approaches an area with sky visible above young trees.

The clearing is a road end; the road continues the gradual elevation increase for another 0.15 mile. When the road you are hiking veers to the right, take the trail opening in tall salal on the left side of the road, continuing the straight route. Follow the trail through salal and forest for little more than a 0.1 mile, where it emerges at a hilltop road end.

This is the top of Rock Candy Mountain and the site of its fire lookout. The curiously named hill offers panoramic views west and north, over many miles of forest to the Olympics and possible glimpses of the southern bays of Puget Sound. Most of the timbered acreage between here and the Pacific Ocean, and south to the Columbia River, is privately owned. There are only eight publicly accessible fire lookout sites outside of Capitol Forest in the Willapa Hills. Almost all you can see is commercial timber—private tree farms—grown to be harvested repeatedly with little regard for ecosystem health or wildlife.[1]


[1] This opinion echoes that of Robert Michael Pyle in his award-winning book about the Willapa Hills, Wintergreen, Listening to the Land’s Heart.

ALTERNATE MASON LAKE LOOKOUT SITE HIKE


This is offered as an easier route than Hike 35 in Lost Fire Lookout Hikes and Histories: Olympic Peninsula and Willapa Hills. It is still a short, low elevation, year round hike.

Drive to the junction of the Mason˗Benson Road and East Trails Road. Turn right on East Trails Road and drive almost one mile to a gated gravel road on the right. Park near Green Diamond gate number 2385.

Start your hike up the moderately sloped road beside Sherwood Creek. Trees have been retained close to the creek to protect water quality, offering a healthy mixed forest of cedars, hemlock, and fir on the left side of the hiking route. Keep left at the first Y, continuing to parallel the creek, which burbles audibly in winter and spring. Enjoy occasional views of the water, flowing broadly between thick grassy banks.

The road curves to the right (east southeast) at about 0.6 mile, tracing the water course that has gained a swampy patch featuring swamp lanterns (also known as skunk cabbage), before disappearing into dense forest.


At 0.8 mile the hike route turns southwest, away from the creek. After another quarter mile, take a grassy branch road to the right, continuing the moderate ascent through the tree farm. At 1.33 miles, this road ends at a logging landing on the top of a 260-foot-tall hill. Fortunately, the route’s continuation is visible a few hundred yards away, on the next small hill to the southwest. This short section of the road was half-heartedly covered with logging debris after the last harvest here, around 2018. Step over the small downed limbs, and continue your hike. Descending from the second hillock, a crossroad appears in a few hundred yards. When you reach it at 1.7 miles, turn right.


The original route turns left at the next junction, crosses a culvert, then climbs the next ridge on an old jeep track through evergreen huckleberry bushes and young fir trees. Instead, this alternate route continues on the narrow road headed north northeast for another quarter mile, then turns left at the next road junction, to hike southwest between conifers planted in the 21st century. This road’s border includes alder, manzanita, and scotch broom among its young fir trees.


After traveling about 0.4 mile to the southwest, turn left uphill on a narrow but drivable track. Hike a short distance to the viewpoint at the end of the road. No artifacts of the old fire lookout building have been found here, but the high point of this area is beside the ridge-climbing road, at 362 feet elevation. The high point’s coordinates are 47.3473°, ˗122.9145°. The best views are found here too. The view east offers a grand panorama of Mount Rainier and the Cascades. The western horizon features Mounts Elinor and Washington’s snowy peaks, among the Olympics’ rocky skyline.

When satisfied, descend the narrow road and turn right to complete the loop. Bypass a lesser road headed west on the left, but take the next left turn at a T. In another 0.1 mile, turn left again on the road that runs beside Sherwood Creek. You have completed the loop; the trailhead is just 0.15 mile ahead.

KELLY LOOKOUT HIKE EXTENSION

I have always enjoyed hiking to the Kelly Lookout site on the Mason ˗ Grays Harbor County border, and wondered where the roads connecting with the hike route go. Knowing the fire lookout station was on a low elevation ridge between the Middle Fork Satsop and the Canyon Rivers, with lots of hills and valleys interspersed, has intrigued me. Maps of the area are spider webbed with gated forest roads, making it an attractive area to hike throughout the year.

            The map below shows a 6.5-mile loop route with several side roads (thin black dotted lines) you may want to add to your exploration. Start at the junction of the gated Green Diamond Forest Road 6850 with the main haul road through the area, which has several names and no road signs in 2022. My 2007 National Geographic Topo digital background map labels it the Kelly Road. Washington DNR quadrangle maps of similar vintage label it the 500 Road. I remember seeing a road sign with that number, but I have also seen it called the 6800 Road— a number that is appropriate for the Green Diamond road number system.

            Hike up the road from the gate. It soon turns a corner and levels out a bit, then rises again a couple times before reaching the critical Y at about 0.75 mile. Keep right at the Y junction to visit the Kelly Fire Lookout site. Chapter 43 has a more detailed description, if you would like one.

            After visiting the fire lookout site with its green painted artifacts, the first option is to continue down the hill to a logging landing which currently has clear views into the valleys east and west. The rivers are not visible, but forested slopes and landscapes shaped by millennia of water carving through rocks and soil spread in all directions. 

            Return to the Y (where you kept right to visit the Kelly Lookout site). Turn right to continue around the loop. The route is comprised of narrow roads curving through rolling forestland. The curves prevent long views of the road ahead. Tree harvests in this century provide intermittent side views into broad forests as the hike route continues northeast. Self ˗seeded hemlock sprouts border the roadway, along with vigorous salal. The forest is generally a mix of Douglas firs and hemlocks, with occasional cedars and alders.

            The next major junction is at a corner with a 6850 road sign on the left. A side road on the right leads southeast, toward the Satsop River. I have not followed that branch. If you do, and it leads to a riverbank, please let me know. The loop route heads north from here.

            At K˗1 on the map (coordinates 47° 17′ 07″ N, 123° 29’’35″ W), follow the road left into a shadier section of the forest. The attractive uphill road on the right unfortunately ends in a logging landing in about a quarter mile. Continuing on the main route is a better choice here.

            This section of roadway travels northwest, with one surprise in the forest landscape. There is a logger’s memorial on a tree beside the track. A tin logger’s hardhat has been fastened high on a sturdy tree trunk on the right side of the road. It has been there long enough for bark to grow over the hardhat’s rim. A plastic vine with red flowers is draped over tree limbs just below the silver hat. Several other memorabilia, including a date plaque (12˗10˗12), sit at the foot of the broad tree base.

Not far beyond this landmark, the route turns left at a gate and continues a short distance southwest to reach K˗2 on the map. K˗2 marks the junction with a side road on the right that could have a panoramic view west—if a few trees fell or were felled. Only narrow gaps between the trees were found when the 0.4˗mile spur was explored in 2020. Perhaps it has improved.

            Turn left at K˗3 to include an interesting decommissioned road in the hike route (at coordinates 47° 17′ 11″ N, 123° 30’’36″ W). The landscape slopes downhill on the left toward an occasionally visible valley, and uphill on the right. The 1.2˗mile road was closed with two sets of berms and ditches. The first set is shallow; walking around the berm and across the depression requires little if any close attention. The second set has higher berms and an eight-foot-deep ditch with a usually thick mud bottom. An eight-foot-long split tree trunk and rocks were left in the winter mud in 2022 as a temporary aid for foot traffic. Cross with caution.

            Although we lacked a thermometer to test our intuitive assessment, the last section of the decommissioned road seemed significantly cooler than the rest of the route. In early February 2022 the only patches of snow we saw on the entire hike were beside the road in this part of the route. It does not have the highest elevation on the hike, and it did not appear especially shady, but it was definitely cooler. A look at the map reveals this section of the path parallels an unnamed creek that runs into the Canyon River a half mile west of the Kelly Road. The nearby creek may well contribute to the cooler microclimate experienced here.            

The decommissioned road ends on a maintained gravel road which is gated at its junction with the 500 or Kelly Road. Turn left at K˗4 on the map. Hike 0.6 mile to return to the trailhead and your vehicle. Keep an eye out for the creek crossing under the roadway in a forested valley. It is one of the subtle waterways that were the first designers of the area’s interesting landscape

BAD NEWS FOR SOUTH MOUNTAIN LOOKOUT HIKERS

Sometime in the second half of 2021, free public access to the South Mountain Fire Lookout site through the surrounding private forest lands was eliminated by the Green Diamond Company. Until sometime that year, the long bicycling and hiking route to South Mountain, the southernmost peak of the Olympics, has been accessible from the Shelton˗Matlock Road, year round. Until this autumn, the forestland gates at that main road, and within the tree farm have been opened, allowing cars and trucks to drive to a gate four miles from the 3000-foot South Mountain summit, during the September through December hunting seasons. From there it has always been an enjoyable hike to the top.

Without any announcement beyond their website, Green Diamond developed and published new access maps for their forestlands in Mason and Grays Harbor Counties in 2021 (NEW – Grays Harbor/Mason County). The previous practice of press releases published in local newspapers, and listed on the company website News page: (https://www.greendiamond.com/news) was not followed. This information was probably shared within the company, and with current Recreational Access Permit holders. In the past, the public affairs office answered the phone for questions. This year no one answered the phone or returned my call to ask about the new maps.  

Continue reading

UPDATE ON THE ARCTIC LOOKOUT

(Good News and Bad)

The State (Division of Forestry, at the time) built a 54΄ pole tower with cabin on top on a ridge west of the Artic* townsite in 1948 and took it down in 1973. Until a few years ago, hikers visiting the site followed the first side road leading to it—through a Weyerhaeuser tree farm. When Weyerhaeuser started charging steep recreation fees in the Twin Harbors Tree Farm in Grays Harbor County, hikers looked for another route.

In general terms, the lookout site is located south of Aberdeen and Cosmopolis, west of U.S. Highway 101. To be specific, drive U.S. Highway 101 south past milepost 75 and turn right on Hilliard Lane, just before the North River Bridge. Drive 5.5 miles to the Hancock Forest Management gate that blocks the road, and park. A sign beside the gate welcomes non-motorized recreation beyond that point.

Hike about 0.4 mile and turn right on Forest Road LD4010/EF4213. Follow that route to a Y and continue straight on LD4011/AN4310. This road snakes up to a ridge that provides great views into the North River Valley. The hillside has been harvested, so the landscape presents as a patchwork of forest, fields, narrow roads and streamlines.

About 2.5 miles from the Hancock gate, and a short distance before the spur road leading to the Arctic Lookout site, is another gate. Now for the bad news: in summer 2019 a new sign appeared beside this gate. Rayonier Timber Company now requires a hunting lease for entry here. This area does not appear among the Rayonier properties that can be visited with a 2019 Non-Hunting General Access permit—$135 for a family pass. Perhaps it will next year. You can check their website https://property.rayonierhunting.com/Permits/PermitDetails.aspx to see if that has become available.

            ‘* Are you wondering why there are two spellings of Arctic here? The lookout was named for a little town which locals hoped to name “Arta” for the wife of the town’s founder.[1] Their application for a post office was not clearly written, and Artic was the name that came back from the US Postal Service. The state agency, fifty miles away in Olympia, used the more conventional spelling of the name.


[1] James W. Phillips. Washington State Place Names, 1971. p.9.