June is a superb time to visit the Wenaha-Tucannon Wilderness in the Umatilla National Forest south of Spokane. The range is called the Blue Mountains for the way they appear on the horizon when viewed from a distance, but during the spring bloom it’s also possible to find trails carpeted in blue. Or purple, pink, white, or yellow. The Sawtooth Trail is an excellent spot to seek all of the colors nature has to offer, in their spring wildflower form.
The trail begins at Burnt Flat Corral, starting high at approximately 5,500 feet and making the entire hike moderate since the maximum elevation is roughly 5,900 ft. The rustic trailhead offers no amenities, but could serve as a car camp location from which to launch day hike excursions. The trail begins in a mixed forest, but soon opens up to parkland with fantastic views in the heart of the Blues.
At roughly the two-mile mark, there is an unmarked intersection with a spur trail leading left toward Lady Camp and Beaver Ridge. A difficult-to-locate spring might, with effort, be found in the vicinity of Lady Camp. Hikers will likely find it easier to pack along all necessary water for the trip. Backpackers will want to locate the campsite at Lady Camp. Day hikers can keep right to stay on the main trail, which from this junction on becomes mostly undulating over open terrain until the Washington-Oregon border.
Enjoy the flower-lined trail, and consider bringing along a field guide to aid in identifying all of the different wildflowers along the route. Once hikers reach the old metal sign marking the state line, it’s easiest to turn around and return to the trailhead. Forest Service maps indicate the trail continues all the way to the Wenaha River Trail along the Wenaha Wild and Scenic River, but the route down has not seen maintenance work in over a decade and is very overgrown. It would be a good challenge for a determined hiker, but it’s also nice to retrace one’s steps to see the trail in the reverse direction. Save enough time for a short side-trip drive up the Forest Service Road from the trailhead to visit Godman Springs, where the old Forest Service Guard Station constructed by the Civilian Conservation Corps in the 1930s is now an overnight rental cabin, and the nearby picnic shelter, open to the public, has a first-come, first-served free campground.
Round-trip Distance: Approximately 8 miles
Getting There: From Dayton, Washington, take the North Touchet Road southeast toward Bluewood Ski Area. Continue past the turn-off for Bluewood on Forest Road 64. At the junction with Forest Road 46, turn east. Proceed two miles, then turn south on Forest Road 420 to the trailhead. To visit Godman Guard Station after the hike, continue an additional 6.4 miles east on Forest Road 46.
Holly Weiler is a hiker, backpacker, trail runner, and skier. She writes the Hike of the Month column for Out There.
[Feature photo “Field of Lupine on Sawtooth Ridge Trail” by Holly Weiler.]