Bear Meadow: Adventure for the Hardy Hiker

posted in: Mount Saint Helens | 0

Rating: Moderate  

Distance: About 12 -13 miles, RT

Wind along a conifer-bristled ridge to an idyllic mountain meadow cross-hatched with mini waterfalls, wildflowers, and choice views of Windy Ridge and Mounts Saint Helens, Adams, and Rainier.

Starting on the opposite side of the Boundary Line viewpoint across from the parking lot on Forest Road 99 out of Randle, the rugged Bear Meadow trail cuts through a well-shaded forest along a ridge overlooking the 1980 blast area, then descends to a beautiful meadow. 

Overgrown and sorely neglected, this trail doesn’t look like it’s had any real attention since Daniel Boone cleared the Cumberland Gap. The trail head is well marked, but that’s about it as far as signage goes. 

After crossing the road to the trail head, the trail begins with a gentle climb roughly paralleling Forest Road 99. It turns away from the road, crosses a slight draw, and starts climbing at about one mile. Also at this point, there’s a junction. And no signs indicating what’s what. Turn left at the first switchbsck to continue to Bear Meadow. The trail mostly levels our along this side of the ridge. There’s some undulation, but no hard climbing. You’ll pass three small waterfalls and scramble over or under numerous downed logs. Turn around occasionally for peek – a – boo mountain views.

Note that although the initial portion of this hike is through thick forest and good shade, the final stretch was affected by the 1980 eruption. That is, no big trees. And little to no shade. The switchbacky descent into Bear Meadow, though not particularly steep, is exposed, in direct sun. If you hike this trail in summer, plan on an early start. Wear a hat. Slather on the sunscreen. Also, this is a “dry trail,” with little or no water sources. BYO H2O.

Keep in mind that the return hike may be challenging. Much of it is in direct sun, over a lousy trail. Be sure to fuel up the after-burners.

The BearMeadow trail would get higher marks if it was in better shape. Unfortunately, this scenic trail is in deplorable condition. It’s littered with fallen logs, many of them sizeable, especially on the northwest-facing side of the ridge heading down to Bear Meadow. Choked with overgrown bushes and brambles in places, the trail all but disappears more than once. A hiker has to push through shoulder-high foliage to regain the trail on the far side of the ridge. As the trail narrows to ribbon-width, it sometimes disappears into a mere suggestion. The bridge is also out at Bear Meadow. 

When we hiked this trail in July, mosquitoes were minimal. But black flies were out in force and voracious.

As previously noted, signage is non-existent after a lone posting on a tree at about Mile 1 indicating the Forest Service Road is 5.5 miles further. Inexperienced hikers may easily get lost or confused as a result.

Indeed, the Bear Meadow trail has the dubious distinction of being the worst maintained, most neglected trail I’ve hiked in a decade. Maybe more. If you’re up for a rough trail, however, the hardy hiker will appreciate the from-here-to-eternity vistas, truckloads of emerald green, wildflowers by the bushel, and endless blue skies.

Hike to Bear Meadow on You Tube: