Finishing The Chinook Trail Bit By Bit – Panther Creek to Grassy Knoll Trail

After over two years I finally managed to do a bit of the Chinook Trail that I missed back in 2018. Things like work, distance, pandemics and well, life, tend to get in the way. However, with a bit of free time my wife and I did a 3-day, 2-night backpacking trip along the Pacific Crest Trail. We started at the Panther Creek Campground, where I got off the Chinook Trail back in 2018 due to a lack of water carrying capacity and an oncoming cold/flu, and over two days hiked to a campsite just north of Big Huckleberry Mountain. Along the way we passed the junction to the Grassy Knoll Trail, which is where the Chinook Trail goes as it continues east. After camping with a great view of Mt. Adams on night two, we hiked all the way back to the car on day three.

Unfortunately we got a late start on day one, at about 3pm, during a Northwest heatwave where temperatures were close to 100 F – starting off at the Panther Creek Campground we were in the shade, but with temps like that and a constant uphill slog, we were dripping with sweat the entire way. Otherwise it’s the kind of hiking you would expect on the PCT – well-maintained trail with plenty of signage. As I suspected in 2018, once you depart Panther Creek there is really no water anywhere. We were well prepared though – I think I had close to 10 liters of water in my pack.

With the late start and the scorching heat, we didn’t want to go too far on day one, so we stopped at a small, one or two site PCT camping spot just off Forest Road 68. There was no views and nothing special about the site, but there is a flat spot for a 2 or 3 person tent located a fair distance off the road that worked perfectly. We made a quick n’ easy dinner, drank a couple of beers that I packed – they were warm but tasted great and lightened my load a bit for the next day.

We got an early start on day 2 and continued east on the PCT – the trail leveled off a bit, and the early morning air felt nice. It wouldn’t last long as the heat returned with a vengeance. We passed a day hiker that was in a talkative mood – unfortunately due to the pandemic we had to keep a safe distance and didn’t want to linger too long. We continued until we reached a potential camping spot with an open field and a nice view of Mt. Hood. However, it was so early in the day we thought we really should continue a bit further, so we kept going. We soon passed the junction with the Grassy Knoll Trail. This is where I would have turned back in 2018 while doing the Chinook Trail, so I marked the occasion with a mental note that I had just completed an additional 9 miles of the Chinook Trail. Someday I hope to complete the stretch from the Grassy Knoll Trail to the town of White Salmon, and then the stretch from Lyle, WA to The Dalles, but that might be a mission for 2022 at this point.

We continued just a mile or two past the trail junction to a single tent PCT site that had a great view of Mt. Adams and the Big Lava Bed. The heat was still pretty intense, but there was some shade that offered some comfort, with just bunches of swarming bugs to content with. We got there fairly early, giving us plenty of time to rest, take in the view and have some snacks before calling it a night.

Knowing that the return trip to the car on day 3 would be long, but all downhill, we wanted to get an early start. Taking advantage of the cooler, early morning hours made the return hike pleasant, although tiring and test for our legs and knees. Still, we busted out about 12 miles in just over 4 hours, so not too shabby.

We really enjoyed this hike, despite the heat, and it was the perfect pandemic hike as there were just a few people on the trail, no other campers and there were great views of Mt. Hood and Mt. Adams. There are no real Instagram hot spots here – they were all at the Beacon Rock Trail – we drove by there on our way to Panther Creek and the parking lot was absolutely packed. It was nice to log another 9 miles of the Chinook Trail – at this point I’d estimate that I’ve completed 260 of the 300 miles now. I hope to hike the Grassy Knoll to White Salmon section in 2022, and am 50/50 on the Lyle to The Dalles section – I might hike it, or I may just do it on a mountain bike. We’ll see when the time comes!


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