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Cowlitz Gap

Difficulty: moderate but off-trail

6.3 miles

Elevation gain: 1920'

Max elevation: 7120'

Camps: none

First hiked by me: 2022

This is an off-trail route. Only come here if your navigation is up to the task of finding your way where there are no trails to follow, and practice Leave No Trace to avoid damaging fragile terrain.

If you enjoy the barren moonscape of the Paradise Glacier trail, where a glacier has recently retreated and the landscape has not yet adapted to that change, then this hike is for you. Follow the Paradise Glacier trail to the 'End of Maintained Trail' sign, turn right, ford Stevens Creek, then head up the valley keeping to the right of Stevens Creek until you reach the pass, which offers stunning views of no less than three glaciers from a single lunch spot (Paradise Glacier, Cowlitz Glacier, Ingraham Glacier).

From Cowlitz Gap, climbers and scramblers may wish to continue to the top of Cowlitz Rocks, but that was too steep to have any appeal for me.

If you visit in the season of things being melted like I did, the terrain consists of rock and dust, not always well bonded together, scoured by gullies. It's a fascinating landscape, but not particularly easy to walk over as you'll frequently have to detour side-to-side to avoid excessively deep gullies.

Many visit here in winter, as the reasonable inclines make it a safe snowshoe choice for days with low or medium avalanche risk. In many ways I expect winter travel would be easier than during summer, as snow will fill the gullies and solidify the loose rocks, but beware snow bridges during the spring melt!

Navigational notes: it seems easier to ford Stevens Creek lower down than higher up. As always with river crossings, if you aren't comfortable, turn back. At the steepest part of the trail, where the creek turns into waterfalls, there's a good way up keeping to the right some distance away from the creek.

I saw a ton of mountain goat sign: footprints and scat everywhere.

The distance shown above is starting at the 4th Crossing trail. This hike could be extended by starting at Paradise via Panorama Point and Skyline Trail, or Reflection Lakes via the Lakes Loop.

The spot where I chose to ford Stevens Creek

Heading up the moonscape toward Cowlitz Gap

Looking back over this bizarre landscape, with the Tatoosh Range in the distance and Stevens Creek running down the valley

A small meltwater pond

The upper remnant of the Paradise Glacier, viewed from near Cowlitz Gap

The Cowlitz (left) and Ingraham (right) glaciers, below Little Tahoma, viewed from Cowlitz Gap

Looking up at the Cowlitz Rocks, from Cowlitz Gap