Spot Check || Lion Rock Mountain
After looking through Google maps one morning for a quick overnight trip, I landed on Lion Rock, north of Ellensburg, off Hwy 97. Without really knowing too much about this place, other than it having a cool name, we hit the road.
Having just dropped in on a new truck, I was looking for somewhere to try out my newly acquired off road prowess. Nothing too crazy, but somewhere to get some mud on the tires and do some camping.
After leaving Cle Elum, we followed Hwy 97 south towards Ellensburg before heading towards Table Mountain Rd on FS 3500. The first few miles up the mountain are a nicely paved switchback that climbs up above the valley before giving way to packed gravel roads. Evidence of recent forest fires was visible everywhere, and after the prior year’s record dryness, it made sense.
Being fairly early into the season, patches of snow were visible as we continued to climb the mountain towards Lion Rock. Eventually we reached Lion Rock Spring Campground, a wide field for dispersed camping with a pit toilet. We later learned that in the summer this field becomes packed with RV’s and campers full of star-gazers, some even towing up massive telescopes with them. That explained the nicely paved road on the way up.
Past the campground, the road up to Lion Rock got much steeper, with rutted, rocky sections and a few snow patches to drive through. Even with balding stock tires, the truck did just fine as we crawled our way to the top. The view from atop Lion Rock is expansive, facing north towards Mt. Stewart and the heart of the Alpine Lakes region. And it was windy. A few dual sport guys who joined us at the top told us how Lion Rock holds the title for one of the windiest places around.
Of course this was after we had set up our tent at the top of the ridge.
Shortly after the dual sport guys took off, the wind and rain started up. We had seen it coming from the north so we weren’t surprised. Since we had been enjoying the view, grey layers of clouds had been creeping closer and closer. At this point, we decided to move our small tent down into the woods behind the exposed ridge for some protection. We were glad we did because soon the wind began to really blow and the rain stayed steady. Between our tarp setup and campfire, we were able to stay warm and dry as the weather rolled in.
In the morning we made our way back down the mountain and towards town but had to skip our original destination, heading north to continue on FS 35 to eventually join up with Hwy 97. Later I learned this route is part of the WABDR, but at the time it was too snowed in to take it. We’ll have to come back and try again. This whole area of the Eastern Cascades had plenty of potential for camping and exploring. It was not a place I had spent a whole lot of time, but somewhere I would definitely revisit.