Discovering Pleasant Surprises on NF52

Somehow this seasonal road that connects the entrance to Mt. Rainier and Gifford Pinchot National Forest has stayed off my radar. What a shame, because it has quite a few surprises.

National Forest Road 52

With two weeks supporting the AVO (Alaska Volcano Observatory) team in Alaska just around the corner, Theresa and I were hoping to get away and do a bit of camping away from the crowded State Parks. A quick glance at the Hipcamp page and I found this great camp just outside of the Mt. Rainier National Park. Wilderness Path fit the bill, but what I wasn’t expecting was the gem of NF52.

NF-52 is a National Forest Service road that connects Ashford and Packwood. I was surprised by the many dispersed campsites along the road. Most had access to Skate Creek which parallels the road and despite it being a summer weekend many were available on a Saturday morning.

If you decide to explore this area, and you should, just be aware that it is a seasonal road which is closed in the winter. You can read any closures and alerts here.

High Rock Lookout

By far the highlight of the trip was visiting the High Rock Lookout. Undoubtedly one of the most spectacular lookouts in America, High Rock is in the Gifford Pinchot National Forest just south of Mt. Rainier National Park. The 14′ x 14′ gable roof L-4 ground house with catwalk was built in 1929 and staffed the same year it’s last officially sanctioned use was in 2003 when Lawrence “Bud” Panco “retired” after 17 seasons serving as the volunteer fire observer at High Rock. It is perched on the edge of a 1200′ sheer cliff. The historic site is carefully maintained by the Forest Service and is reached by a 1.6-mile trail which is usually free of snow by July 1.

Somehow this seasonal road that connects the entrance to Mt. Rainier and Gifford Pinchot National Forest has stayed off my radar. What a shame, because it has quite a few surprises.

Somehow this seasonal road that connects the entrance to Mt. Rainier and Gifford Pinchot National Forest has stayed off my radar. What a shame, because it has quite a few surprises.

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Looking down on our campground from atop Tower Rock. It's a straight 2000' straight drop from here. ...

Driving up to Mosquito Meadows I noticed a dark shadow and gap just off the forest road. This small but picturesque waterfall on Pinto Creek was the reward for pulling off to investigate.⁠ ...

Heading out to Gifford Pinchot National Forest to explore a few new areas. ...

After a week of sitting on the shoreline waiting for the weather on Augustine Island and her volcano, we finally had our chance to paddle over to the mainland. Fortune smiled at us that day! ...

A kayaker making his way across Coldwater Lake with the crater of Mt. St. Helens in the background. ...

On May 16, 1898, the North Head Lighthouse was put into service as the primary navigation aid at the mouth of the Columbia River and still stands as a sentinel overlooking this treacherous body of water, the confluence between the Columbia River and the Pacific Ocean. ...

This root was near our campsite. I was intrigued because it looks like an entire forest wrapped around it. ...

Mt. St. Helens seen from Windy Ridge. ...

Cispus River with Tower Rock in the background. Our camp was locate on the banks of the river. ...

River bank of the Cispus River inside the Gifford Pinchot National Forest. ...

Headed back to Mt. St. Helens for the weekend. Hoping to visit some of our favorite places as well as discover new ones. ...

Buck Creek is one of the many waterways that feed the Suiattle River. We spotted this view during our last Wild and Scenic Rivers fieldwork. ...

During our recent Wild and Scenic River Survey we had the opportunity to do a bit of exploring. Here's Buck Creek which drains into the Suiattle River. ...

Theresa taking a sample for the Wild and Scenic Rivers project with Adventure Scientist. We'll be heading out to the Suiattle River this weekend for another round of data. ...

Looking out over Crescent Bay from Tongue Point. We recently experienced the lowest tides in a decade here in Washington. ...

Back when the lookout was constructed folks had to hike over 10 miles to reach this jagged summit. But over the decades’ roads were punched closer to this peak for timber extraction. The days of the big cut are over in the Gifford Pinchot National Forest, and the Sawtooth Ridge still retains some healthy stands of old-growth forest. But what hikers are most drawn to when they visit High Rock are its far-reaching and unsurpassed views.


Surprisingly, during our visit not only did we have clear skies to take in the view, but the wind was dead calm. I can’t imagine that happens many days out of the year! We certainly took advantage of it and extended our stay for much of the afternoon. No matter which direction we turned to look there was some incredible view to greet us. With such grand views, our lunch tasted all the better.

If time and commitments permit we’ll be back soon.

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