Exploring Gifford Pinchot National Forest

The Ride

21st September – I woke up by 5:30 in morning and started the preparations. It was a cold fall morning and it was considerably colder from when I did the trip to Mt hood. Around 6:15 am I started mounting the bags on nineT and just as I was about to start, I noticed some issue with the lights. While it was fixed with some fiddling with the wiring, it lead to a little bit of delay and I started off from home around 7:15 am, about 45 minutes later than what I had planned. A good reminder why doing pre-check is important.

Had some issues with the lights. Fixed it by fiddling with the connections a bit
After fixing the issue, I started from home around 7:15 am

My first way point was Lower Lewis Falls, WA and there are two routes to get to it which are almost similar time wise, but very different distance wise. The first route is to take I-5 South all the way down to Woodland, WA and then onto WA-503. This route is a little bit lengthier but takes the same time as the 2nd route which is to cut right through Gifford Pinchot National forest. I’ll add some route maps below. 

The route to the left is Route 1. The highlighted one is Route 2 and the one which I took in the end.

I opted for the 2nd route because I wanted to drive through the National Forest. I had covered a small part of it when I visited Windy Ridge Viewpoint some time back and I wanted to try doing the entire route through the forest. To be honest, the 2nd route would have made more sense to do on the nineT, but we’ll talk about that later. 

A quick breather somewhere near La Grande. The sun is rising above the mountains

My first planned stop for the day was at Elbe, WA where I planned to fuel up before continuing. The route to Elbe is the same as that to Mt Rainier and this was the last gas station that I knew of on the route. I took the route via La Grande, WA to Elbe with very few stops in between and I reached there around 9:00 am. After fueling up, I soon departed from the familiar route to Mt Rainier and started towards Morton, WA. 

At Elbe Gas Station. The ‘Train’ you see in the background is one of my favorite places to dine at in this area

Elbe to Morton is only about 16 miles (~25 kms) and there is nothing special about this route. At Morton, I stopped at a small deli near a gas Station to get some coffee before going on. The cold morning was starting to get to me and I needed some warmth and caffeine to keep me going.

Stopped for a cup of Coffee. Needed the caffeine to keep me going

The next stop on the way was Randle, WA which is about 18 miles (~28 kms) from Norton and it is from here that I need to take the road to enter Gifford Pinchot National Forest. At Randle, I decided to fuel up again just in case.

Soon I was on the national forest roads and slowly making my way through the not well maintained roads – not that I’m complaining here. The roads inside here have a lot of detours and side roads and it’s easy to get lost inside without GPS. I would not recommend traveling inside without offline maps either as the network is very patchy inside. 

I did end up taking one of these detours because my Navigator pointed me to it. I usually tend to keep the Navigator’s setting to ‘Curvy’ by which it tries to avoid freeways and highways and focus on side roads. This setting was going crazy inside the forest roads and after I changed the setting back to normal, I was back on track. But the route it took me on was nevertheless a scenic one.

Found this river somewhere after the navigator took me on some side road
It feels like I’m an explorer when going through these kind of places
Somewhere on the way

As I drove further inside the forest, the road started gaining elevation and at a point I could see the top of Mt St Helens. This was actually the first time from all the visits that I saw the peak of St Helens, but ironically, this time I could not see the base. It would still be a couple of drives to here before I could see the volcano in its full Majesty

The peak of Mt St Helens
It would still be a couple of drives to St Helens before I could see the volcano in its full glamour

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