Return roughly the same way 12 mi down to the ski road intersection near Pigtail Peak. Consider taking the loop, which is only slightly shorter but with more wildflowers. Be careful not to lose Trail 688 due to lingering snow on the wider ridgeline or get pulled too far to the right (S) near the intersection. Turn left on Trail 688 (unsigned) for the loop toward multiple chair lifts on the top of Pigtail Peak but traverse right of the ridge crest on the road around the base of that summit block easily (avoid left fork).
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Descend the road or steeper ski runs between a few tiny tarn ponds, then stay on the wide gravel road down ski runs for the best route. You come close to the PCT momentarily but stay on the road as it winds WNW down with better views of Mount Rainier, the ski resort, Leech Lake, and Spiral Your travel destination iste’s steep rocky face. Near the bottom of the ski area bushwhack or take trails N to the large parking lot. Follow the driveway briefly left to US-12 or take the path from the NE corner of the lot down to the highway. Walk right (NE) less than 5 mi carefully along US-12 to the TH on the right to finish the loop.
ELEVATION: 7337 ft, with 1317 ft vertical gain.
DISTANCE: 3 5 mi up, 7 mi round-trip.
DURATION: 1V-2 hours up, 3-4 hours round-trip.
DIFFICULTY: Mix of moderate for the standard route (solid trail, rocky, dusty, steeper last mile, drop-offs near top, wildlife sightings possible including marmot, deer, elk, coyote, black bear, and mountain goats) and very challenging for lollipop loop down N ridge (Class 3, bushwhack, very steep, sharp branches and brush at times, scrambling).
TRIP REPORT: Best side door to the Goat Rocks Wilderness for the easiest summit with the best views without having to hike several miles before it gets good! The only downside is the longer drive from Seattle or Portland. No fee or restroom.