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Clearwater Wilderness

General Maps Contacts Area Management Wilderness Laws
Photograph taken in  the Clearwater Wilderness


The United States Congress designated the Clearwater Wilderness (map) in 1984 and it now has a total of 14,621 acres. All of this wilderness is located in Washington and is managed by the Forest Service. The Clearwater Wilderness is bordered by the Mount Rainier Wilderness to the south.


The Clearwater Wilderness is the northwestern outpost of a wilderness complex centered on Mt. Rainier National Park which includes the adjacent Norse Peak, William O. Douglas, Tatoosh, and Glacier View Wilderness areas. The wilderness is centered on the Clearwater River which courses north dropping from the heart of the wilderness through an untouched forest of huge Douglas Fir, Western Red and Alaska Cedar and Western Hemlock. A rich understory of ferns, mosses, mushrooms, huckleberry, salmonberry, devil's club and other plants make for difficult cross country travel. The thick vegetation makes wildlife difficult to spot, but deer, bear, cougar, elk and the occasional mountain goat roam the area. The most common wildlife for visitors to spot includes marmots and pikas. Eagles, ravens, grouse, and a variety of songbirds provide the background soundscape. Several small, remote lakes dot the wilderness. Most of the lakes are difficult to access due to lack of trails and a limited road system to the edge of the wilderness. The rivers and lakes are fed by abundant rain and snow arriving during the stormy winter months, the deep snow pack gradually melting by mid-July. Meadow areas of Bearhead Mountain, Celery Meadows and the Summit Lake area explode with color as wildflowers bloom in July and August. The Clearwater and Carbon trails loop 17 miles through the wilderness and connect with the Summit Lake Trail. The two most popular locations in the wilderness are Summit Lake and Bearhead Mountain. These points are accessed by good trails from the south side of the Wilderness and both of these locations afford tremendous views of the north side of Mt. Rainier looming a dozen miles to the south. Hikers seek out these destinations as quieter alternatives to similar sites with the National Park. ** Flooding in November 2006 washed out the road which led to the Martin Gap Trailhead on the east side of the wilderness and the Clear West Peak trail in the southeast corner of the wilderness. This has had a substantial effect on public access to the wilderness.

Planning to Visit the Clearwater Wilderness?

Leave No Trace

How to follow the seven standard Leave No Trace principles differs in different parts of the country (desert vs. Rocky Mountains). Click on any of the principles listed below to learn more about how they apply in the Clearwater Wilderness.
  1. Plan Ahead and Prepare
  2. Travel and Camp on Durable Surfaces
  3. Dispose of Waste Properly
  4. Leave What You Find
  5. Minimize Campfire Impacts
  6. Respect Wildlife
  7. Be Considerate of Other Visitors
For more information on Leave No Trace, Visit the Leave No Trace, Inc. website.

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