Mileage: 6 miles RT
Elevation Gain/Highest: 1900/5610 ft
Map: Green Trails McCoy Peak No. 333
Favorite Eats After Hike: This one is a Pack A Cooler hike.
As always, practice Leave No Trace. Pretty Please.
5/28/2016 We were car camping down on the Cowlitz this weekend and decided to try a bunch a trails up HWY 12 that were accessible now despite road damage and snow. Juniper Ridge turned out to be perfect despite less than perfect weather.
Road 29 is in pretty good shape but 2904 has a lot of up and down similar to what you would find on a decommissioned forest road. I’m guessing it keeps the bikes happy. Yes, bikes. Although we had done research on the hike, I missed the part about the trail being open to bikes.
Setting out from the car a little after 11am with about 6 other cars in the parking lot, we encountered our first motorcycle coming down off the trail. Uggh. The large collection of beer cans in the parking lot did not seem to be a good omen. Oh well, we’re here so let’s go.
Although the trail was relatively clear of downed trees, there was plenty of debris and it is deeply rutted and damaged from wheel traffic. It made it awkward to walk a lot of the time. Don’t get me wrong, it’s designated for bikes so I get it. It’s just hard to see as a person who does trail work. I will say, there was no actual garbage on the trail except for a few lost bike pieces.
There were patches of snow starting about about 4000ft and stopping at the ridge but nothing bad and they didn’t seem to slow the bikes down as their tracks were evident all the way to the ridge. Plenty of mud puddles but not much brush.
Even with the clouds, the views were amazing. We saw parts of Rainier, Adams, Mt. St. Helens and Hood peaking from under the bottom of the cloud cover. There were wildflowers, the bright red paintbrush was a great contrast to the grey rock along the ridge.
Due to time, we went along the ridge past Juniper Peak with views of Sunrise and Shark about 30 minutes and then turned around. We only saw 2 other hikers the whole time, unexpected for a Saturday. They were camped below Juniper Peak and reported more snow at Sunrise, enough to turn them around.
We also saw only 2 motorcycles while hiking and that was on our way out. I started to think that maybe the threat of diesel fuel odor and bike noise was keeping the crowds away. Might be worth the trail damage to have the ridge to oneself.
We were back down to the car a little after 4pm, probably doing about 7 miles total. We added the Layser Cave Trail to our day on the way back down the road.
Directions: From Randle, drive 1 mile south on Forest Road 25 (the main insection in town) and then turn left (east) onto FR 23. Continue south 9 miles and turn right onto FR 28. Continue 1 mile and turn left onto FR 29. Four miles down FR 29, turn left onto FR 2904, and in another 4 miles look for the trailhead on the right (south) side of the road at about 3600 feet elevation.