Gifford Pinchot National Forest covers 1.32 million acres along the western slopes of the Cascade Range in Washington state. It borders Mt. Rainier National Park and Mt. St. Helens National Volcanic Monument. Shown above is Iron Creek Falls, a 40-foot waterfall into a pretty alcove. As we were hiking out from the falls, we met a woman hiking in with a large bouquet of flowers. We asked if the flowers were for a loved one, and she said yes, they were for her husband who died recently just two days after they got married. She said he was the camphost of the campground just down the road, and this waterfall was one of his favorite places.
We dispersed camped in the forest while visiting Mt. St. Helens nearby. Gifford Pinchot is one of the oldest national forests in the country. It was set aside as part of the Mt. Rainier Forest Reserve in 1897, and then designated as its own protected forest and named the Columbia National Forest in 1908. It was renamed in 1949 to honor the first chief of the United States Forest Service, Gifford Pinchot.
Our dispersed campsite was next to a pretty blue, amazingly clear stream. Turns out this was also a favored watering spot. About a mile down the road in both directions were large informal campgrounds, and the “residents” made numerous trips to this stream to fill their water buckets. We love camping near rivers and streams because we enjoy the sound of the rushing water. Though we have mixed feelings about camping near a popular watering hole. On one hand, the extra traffic might mean that someone is less likely to break into our RV. On the other hand, extra traffic might draw more attention to our RV. And besides, we dispersed camp for the isolation, otherwise we’d just camp in an established campground.
We dispersed camp in another pretty spot in Gifford-Pinchot National Forest along a tributary of the Cowlitz River.
Tucked away near our campsite was an old-growth forest with large trees. Turns out there are nearly 200,000 acres of old growth forest in Gifford Pinchot, one of the largest concentrations of old growth forests in the continental United States. One surprising discovery of our trip is that our national forests are real gems. We can camp in them for free, they tend to be isolated and quiet, and they possess many remarkable natural features.
Of course the dogs love it when we dispersed camp because they can wander around off the leash.
Here the sun was setting over the foothills beneath Mt. Rainier and shimmering in the rippling waters of the Cowlitz River.