Indian Bar-Cowlitz Divide


Backpack - Indian Bar-Cowlitz Divide

Backpack to Indian Bar, drop your bag on a bunk in a historic cabin and join me for an afternoon or morning day hike to Panhandle Gap before returning home. 20 miles 5K gain including the Gap.

  • Strenuous
  • Challenging
  • Mileage: 20.0 mi
  • Elevation Gain: 5,000 ft
  • High Point Elevation: 6,800 ft
  • Pace: 1.5-2

Our backpack starts at the Box Canyon trailhead off Stevens Canyon Road. Drivers will need a National Park Pass and license plates noted on our backcountry permit so carpools are encouraged. Suggested meet points and time will be provided to participants. 

This section of the Wonderland Trail begins at Box Canyon, continues along the Cowlitz Divide, and concludes in the valley that houses Indian Bar. It will test your trail stamina, but the rewards are plentiful: swaths of old-growth forests, rolling alpine meadows, an epic in-your-face view of Mount Rainier, and the rushing waters of the Ohanapecosh River and Wauhaukaupauken Falls, which offer a cooling respite after your long, and sometimes arduous, climb and descent into this famed valley. 

The descent into Indian Bar includes a steep, staired, 200-foot drop with geologically-interesting exposed bedrock on either side of the trail, and leads to an absolutely jaw-dropping view of the bar, with its cascading waterfalls and extensive alpine meadows. While Mount Rainier will eventually become hidden by the ridges above you, Indian Bar itself is a sight to behold. Our home for the night is the group shelter built by the Civilian Conservation Core in 1940 under the supervision of Edwin A. Nickel, then-chief architect for the National Park Service Branch of Plans and Designs. The shelter has metal bunks and a loo but all standard backpacking gear sans tent is required.

Our hike to Panhandle Gap adds about 5 miles roundtrip and another 1600 in gain so we'll probably do in the morning, leaving some gear at the shelter. On a clear day, the Gap offers views of Goat Rocks and Mount Adams on the the southern horizon, with the summit of Oregon's Mount Hood often visible in the distance. 

The hike out is back the way we came, but with memories of a very special place and shared experience.  Indian Bar AND Panhandle Gap. What a treat!

Special note: this hike is usually accessible mid-July, and I've done the Panhandle on the 4th, but the trip will be cancelled should mother nature throw us a curve.  Spikes and poles are required. GPS tracks and additional information will be provided to participants. 

Leader permission is required as is recent experience with 13+ miles and 5K gain at 1.5-2 mph. Please provide specifics  if not on your activity history.

The leader will be in the backcountry May 6-13 and unable to respond to requests or questions during that period. Registration will open May 15. $5 for permits.


Indian Bar-Cowlitz Divide

Required Equipment

Required Equipment

The Ten Essentials plus overnight gear which may include:

  • Microspikes and trekking poles
  • Stove and fuel
  • Sleeping bag
  • Sleeping pad
  • Water filter
  • Cooking pot/pan with plate and utensils
  • Toilet paper and shovel or blue bag to deal with waste
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