Tucannon River


Forest Service Trail #3135

Why? Easy trail with unusual vegetation for the east side of Washington State.

Season: Almost year round.

Ease: Moderate. It’s 4 ½ miles and about 700 feet up to the Bear Creek Trail junction.

Walking up the Tucannon River isn’t just a pleasant way to spend a day, it’s an entry into an environment not often found here, in the part of Washington that for the most part is dry, steep and open. Everything is green – or used to be, before the fires of 2005. Luckily, most of the fires never reached the river. Instead of huge burned acerages to walk through, there are just fingers of burned trees along the trail. That means that most of the special character of the trail remains. It’s still an amazingly green hike for our area, and the river is small enough here, near its source, to be just creek-sized.

I’m told that the vegetation along the trail mirrors that of areas on the west side of Oregon. Since I’ve never hiked those areas, I’m not that familiar with exactly what that means. But I do know that the Tucannon is one of only two places (the other is along Isabella Creek in the Clearwater National Forest) I’ve hiked around here where I’ve seen Devil’s Club, a plant I refer to as “thimbleberry’s evil cousin.” While it looks a lot like thimbleberry, it has thorns everywhere, even on the undersides of its leaves. In the fall, it has bunches of gorgeous red berries high above the leaves.

The trail also features what is perhaps my favorite tree, the Pacific yew, though I also admit to a big fondness for ponderosa pine. I always think I’m looking at small fir trees when I first see the yews, until I notice the beautiful peeling bark in dark grey, maroon and red. Sometimes there’s even new, bright red bark peeking out from beneath the outer layers. The other clue is the yew’s somewhat haphazard growth style as compared to the fir.

Oddly, while there are definitely still living yew along the trail, in some areas that were otherwise almost untouched, only the Pacific yew were burned.

The trail hugs the hillside and stays above the river most of the time as it wends its way in and out of a few drainages and up and down a few gentle slopes. I doubt it gets uncomfortably hot along the way at any time of the year. Not only is it well protected from the sun by its southeast direction in a deep canyon, but it also stays in the trees from start to finish.

I’ve hiked the trail a couple of different times of the year, and spring is best for flowers. One May we saw yellow violets, wood anemones, mountain kittentails, spring beauty, and waterleaf as well as a few ferns and some false morels.

As nice as the trail along the river is, don’t go there without taking a side trip up Sheep Creek that’s to the left at the trailhead. It will take you to one of those special places we all like to find but seldom know about. Getting there takes some effort.

Though there is a trail along Sheep Creek, it isn’t regularly maintained. It’s hard to find in places, goes through water in others, goes up and over large downed trees in others. And once you get to the destination, a roaring 20-foot waterfall in a box canyon, you can’t even see the waterfall without climbing out on yet another downed log.

Luckily the waterfall is only one of the canyon’s attractions, and probably its least distinctive one. I think that the canyon gives you the coast without the crowds. There are dripping rock walls with sprays and little cascading waterfalls. There are green – bright, bright green – mosses and plants growing on the walls and below the walls in the wetness. There are trees and bushes and all kinds of growth tucked into the narrow canyon, including of course the yew. All make it well worth the effort of getting there.

Trail Notes: When you near the junction of the trail along the Tucannon with that up Bear Creek, there’s a rather cool bridge across the river and the trail is right down by the river instead of above.

Directions: Turn left off highway 12 onto the Tatman Mt./Linville Gulch Road about 4 miles west of Pomeroy at milepost 399. 6.3 miles later, turn right onto the Blind Grade Road. When it ends 2.3 miles later, turn left along the Tucannon Road. Stay left along the Tucannon at its confluence with Panjab Creek. The trailhead is at the end of this road, 4.5 miles after the left turn.

Information: Pomeroy Ranger District, UNF, (509) 843-1891.

Maps: USGS Stentz Spring, Washington; Forest Service Wenaha-Tucannon Wilderness Map.

Connection: The Tucannon River Trail ends at the Bear Creek Trail, but it’s not obvious. You have to hutch uphill to the left a bit, then keep straight to head to Hunter Spring or right to head towards Diamond Peak, the Mount Misery Trail and the Melton Creek Trail.